By: Shannon Ralph
I recently returned from an eighteen-day vacation with my family to the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee and the Atlantic coast of North Carolina. A wonderful time was had by all, and I have numerous stories to share from that trip. However, before I get to that, I wanted to share a little story about something to which I am fairly certain you can all relate. Something we all have encountered, regardless of our sweet, winning little personalities. No matter how much love we put out into the world—no matter how much good karma we try to rack up—we all inevitably end up with at least one person who just rubs us entirely the wrong way. Someone whose mere existence on this Earth drives us nuts. Someone we would happily avoid for the rest of our natural born lives. Yes, I too have a person like that in my life. A previous co-worker. My arch-nemesis.
I’ve always wanted to write a blog where I had to change the names to protect the innocent. In this case, my nemesis is far from an innocent, but for the sake of my own catty pleasure, I will change her name for anonymity purposes, regardless. Let’s just call her Prissy Flutterbutt.
Prissy and I worked together several years ago and, while we were quite civil to one another, she represents everything that is vile to me in this world. Okay, that sounds a bit extreme, doesn’t it? Borderline maniacal, huh? Sorry. She gets under my skin. She is one of these people who obviously has insecurities, so must make herself feel better by tearing others down. You know the type, right? She considers herself more intelligent than most of the human population, despite ever-mounting evidence to the contrary. She cuts people down in this smarmy, snarky, perfect English, I’m-better-than-you-because-see-how-witty-I-am (though I would argue that there is a distinct difference between wittiness and cruelty) sort of way. I am sure she is a perfectly pleasant human being outside of work. Okay, I am not “sure.” Actually, I suspect the opposite is true, but I am trying my best to be nice here. She has friends (I think) who I am sure adore her. Just because I am not one of those people does not mean that Prissy does not deserve the respect owed to all humanity. That being said, Prissy bugs the living shit out of me.
We have not worked together in a good six years or so. Apart from a twin pregnancy, raging hormones, and morning sickness that lasted all day, she was the primary reason I quit my previous job. For the most part, when I quit the place of employment we shared, I was rid of her. For the most part. We do, however, live in the same general area of Minneapolis, so we will occasionally run into one another, much to my chagrin. The day we came home from our trip was one such occasion.
We returned home after eighteen days away to find that we had absolutely no food in the house. Because we were going to be gone for so long, we either ate or threw out anything that would spoil before we left. All that remained for us when we returned from the trip were a few Ritz crackers, three exceedingly black bananas we forgot to toss, and some stale tortilla chips. Try as I might, I could not make a dinner for my family out of those meager findings. I am not even sure Martha Stewart would be up to the task.
The kids were hungry and the following day was the fourth of July, so we knew stores would be closed. Against our collective wills, Sophie and I donned our flip-flops one last time and schlepped out to our local Super Target. Those of you who know me understand that Target is my nirvana. My oasis of calm in a crazy world. On that particular day, however, I looked like crap. The air conditioning was out at my house when we arrived home from vacation, and it was 100 degrees in the shade in Minneapolis. I was exhausted. I had driven for four days straight to get home from North Carolina (6 hours a day for four days). I had stayed in four different hotels and a condo and my brother’s back bedroom over the eighteen days we were away. I had slept in a total of seven different beds. All I wanted in this world was to get in and out of Target as quickly as possible, and get home to sleep in my own bed.
Of course, fate has a way laughing at all of our desires, doesn’t it? It ended up that I needed more at Target than I initially thought. Target was packed. Sophie had to pee not once, but twice. By the time I finally got to the dairy section—the last section of the store that I would be visiting on that particular day—I was just ready to get out. And who passed right by me as I was arguing with Sophie about our family’s need for blue Go-gurt? That’s right. Prissy Flutterbutt. I held my breath and kept on walking. She didn’t see me, right? Wrong.
“Shannon Ralph!” I cringed and turned around. “Well, hello there, Shannon.”
“Hi, Prissy Flutterbutt.”
“How are you doing? How long has it been?”
“A loooong time.” Thank you God for that, at least.
We chatted casually. She was, of course, completely put together. Dressed in a nice suit, obviously having just come from work, she did not appear to have aged a day. I looked down at myself. I was dressed in shabby capris and a tacky wrinkled t-shirt. I think it even said “Coors Light” on it. Classy, huh? My hair was wild and frizzy after two weeks’ of saltwater and chlorine. My gray hairs were particularly prominent as they curled defiantly around my face. I was sweating after traipsing around Target for almost an hour. The black hairs that had erupted on my legs in the five days since I had last shaved were glaringly noticeable in the overhead flourescent lighting. I was a good thirty pounds heavier than I was when I left my previous job. In short, I looked like absolute hell. I wanted to shout, “I look good when I go to work, too!” But I am afraid that would have confirmed her suspicions about my mental stability. I made a point of telling my arch-nemesis that I had just returned from the beach, as if that would keep her from snarkily judging my appearance.
Then I looked down at my daughter. Sophie’s hair was dirty. Despite daily washings, it was difficult to get the saltwater and chlorine out of her fine dishwater-blonde hair. Her bangs hung in her eyes. She was wearing mismatched clothing because every outfit she owned was still packed away in our luggage. She was climbing on the cart like a monkey at the same time she was holding up her leg at a completely un-lady-like angle to show me a slash of dirt and/or grease that she acquired from God only knows where. Prissy looked down at her and said, “What a pretty little girl.” I know what she wanted to say was “Doesn’t your mommy bathe you, you poor little urchin?” Of course, Sophie was not fazed at all by the compliment. She simply gave Prissy one of her typical anti-social sneers. That’s my girl!
We chatted for excruciatingly longer than I would have liked. How are you doing? Are you still working at the same place? How is your daughter? She knew where I was working, which annoyed me to no end for some reason. The fact that she knows anything about me inexplicably irritates me.
And then she said, “So…you’re at United, huh? How do you like it? You know, you just hear horror stories about that place.”
“No, I like it.”
Obviously, Prissy was surprised to hear that I did not have any “horror stories” to report about my current position. For a moment, she appeared to be speechless—a condition I had never seen in my nemesis. I had refused to become an accomplice in her snarkiness.
There was a point in time when I equated “playful” jabs and hurtful sarcasm with intelligence and wit. There was a time when I even looked up to my nemesis as a model of the strong, independent, intelligent woman. Those days are long gone. We need a little more kindness in this world. Self-deprecating wit is worth more than biting sarcasm as far as I am concerned. And a greater indicator of intelligence, if you ask me. Eventually, Prissy simply responded, “Well, I guess it makes a difference who you work with.”
I smiled politely (no easy task) and we said our goodbyes without a single word about keeping in touch. I have no doubt she will be reporting to the powers that be that poor Shannon has completely let herself go. And perhaps I have. Then again, maybe I haven’t let myself go so much as I am just letting myself be. Be the person I lost track of for a while, but has always been under the surface. As I approach forty years old, I am finding myself more comfortable in my own skin. More confident in my choices. More content with my life. Less willing to allow people into my life who bring me down.
As I walked away with my scrappy, dirty little daughter in tow (blue Go-gurt in hand), I thought, Amen, sister. It makes all the difference in the world who you work with.