Sunday, September 20, 2009

Project Nightmare

“You gave a seminar,” he said and I blinked at him. I’ve spoken in front of large groups of people many times since joining Industry and present to smaller groups at least daily. So while I wasn’t completely unsurprised to not remember this individual, I still squinted and tried to place him.

“You went to GradSchool, right? Gave a seminar on ThesisTopic?”

“Oh,” I breathed, finally remembering. “Yes. While I was trying to get this job, actually.” I briefly wondered if I could find the blog post (I can) and grinned at him. “It feels like such a long time ago,” I confided to our visitor as we walked to the lab.

“Are you happy? At IndustryGiant?” he asked curiously and I nodded immediately.

“I really am,” I told him. And that’s true. I’ve found my footing, established a reputation and continue to struggle toward a life where I don’t work constantly. Where I can flip a switch and at least dim the mental energy devoted to professional activities.

I know this has not happened, mostly because of the nightmares.

On Friday night, after finishing up the week with a disappointing though expected meeting, I returned home for another makeup experiment with Mary Kay and TinyFriend. We giggled over dramatic eye colors and nodded in approval over the lip liners. I went to sleep after meeting up with a few other friends for dinner, returning home full of mushroom ravioli and drifting into a deep sleep.

As morning approached, I drifted toward consciousness and had vivid dreams. I was at an art fair – the blown glass and paintings wonderfully colorful in their bright white tents – with a man. As we walked, he reached for my hand. It wasn’t an entirely unwelcome gesture, but I neither initiated nor encouraged it. And while I didn’t really mind being linked with him, it wasn’t something that made me flutter with happiness.

He was around. Not objectionable. So I settled and let him believe I returned his affection while I was actually mostly unmoved. We moved along, looking at art and smiling at people, and eventually found a quiet corner where he pulled me closer. I wrinkled my nose when he closed his eyes to kiss me, thinking I didn’t really want his tongue in my mouth. While I tried to quickly consider my options, he pressed his lips to my cheek, then my throat and paused and looked at me before moving to my mouth.

I winced as he waited for my response, feeling terrible that we’d reached this point and desperately unsure of how to be kind and fair to him without allowing him further into a situation I didn’t think I wanted. As we stood there, he looked increasingly confused and hurt and another man approached and said my name.

I turned to look at him, my companion mirroring my action as his hands remained on my hips. The newcomer reached out his hand, indicating I belonged with him and confidently waited for me to remove my hand from one man's shoulders to place it in his outstretched palm. My stomach cramped and mind raced.

I whispered an apology to the first man, swallowing against nausea when he looked shocked and hurt, apologizing again and again even as I reached for the new man. The flutter of sexiness he otherwise would have caused was lost in my horror that I’d hurt someone, more by carelessness than by design, and was unable to find a way to fix it.

I pulled myself from the dream on a shuddering sigh, going through it again so I wouldn’t forget the details. I turned to my side, curling into mounds of pillows, and whimpered softly.

“Katie,” one of my colleagues said on my right, having worked with me on this proposal supporting a project from a much smaller company. “This will put them out of business.”

I nodded miserably, nearing the end of that Friday meeting that caused my bad dreams. “And I hate that,” I finally said sadly. “But we considered it, understood it, but it doesn’t change our business priorities. We just can’t do it until 2011 and maybe not then.”

“But,” my right colleague said – a man who is below me on the organizational chart, though not a direct report – “they worked on this with us. They need this to survive.”

“Katie,” another voice demanded attention from my left – this one from my level in the organization – and I looked at him sadly. “I can talk to them with you. Play the heavy.”

“I’ll let you,” I said sadly. “I understand – this was the expected outcome here and I tried to warn the company after our initial meeting. But I’ve never made this sort of catastrophic decision for a group of people before. And it is a good project.”

He nodded, regarding my sympathetically. I turned to my right and winced at his expression of defeated misery. “I’m sorry,” I told him. “We tried. I…” When he refused to look at me, I swiveled my chair and swung my gaze left.

“I’m sorry, too,” the man offered. “We make these kinds of decisions. And it sucks. You did your jobs to explore it and you presented it. And it doesn’t make sense for us right now. Our first priority is us, yes?”

“Yes,” I replied. “I’ll set up a call for you to help me tell them, OK?” Left nodded, pausing to rub my shoulder briskly, his affection clear but decision unchanged.

I waited while Right rose and exited the room without a word or gesture. I sighed, picking up my notebook and pen and moving sadly to my office to begin the next call.

I went to get tea, deciding on an orange ginger packet, to soothe my upset tummy as I muted my line on the conference call. I watched the bag as I dunked and swirled it in the hot water, wishing I had a Care Bear. Definitely not a motherfucking tea party, I decided, punching the mute button to let them hear me and offering thoughts on a different project.

Finishing that call and motioning someone through my open door, I reached for my mug and took a humid, orangey breath. I shook my head when she looked concerned, probably noting my guilty and sad expression.

“I’m fine,” I stated, anticipating her question. “What’s up?” As I added more items to my list and offered insight into next steps for another initiative, I decided I do like my job. There’s very little time to dwell on failures before any number of other issues demand time and attention.

And since ‘the failures haunt my dreams’ sounds overly melodramatic, even for me, we’ll pretend I didn’t sleep with Tenderheart tucked comfortingly under my chin last night.

1 comment:

Amanda@Lady Scientist said...

Those decisions must be really hard to make. I had to make the decision (a little while ago-- and I didn't blog about it) to discontinue an undergrad and it was hard. This decision must be so much harder.

The other thought I had is that, as a biochemist-type-person, I totally need one of those mugs. So, thanks for linking to them :-)

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