The Magnet

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For some reason, I feel compelled to tell you a story.  I warn you in advance that this story does not have a happy ending.

During the great uncertainty at work last year, many of us took the time to clean up because there was always the chance that if you were on the out list, you’d be given a short time to gather your belongings and hit the bricks.  So it made sense to consolidate a little bit – especially for those of us who had been there for many years.

I had gathered many trinkets over the course of the years.  A lot of them were project related.  You launch a product and usually there are gifts and swag to celebrate.   Most of that got pitched.  I did enjoy working on them and there is something gratifying about seeing something you’ve worked on get launched.  But, honestly, can you see cluttering your home with that type of stuff?  Like creating some kind of shrine to your work life?  I don’t think so.  You end up like Springsteen’s Glory Days – where time slips away and leaves you with nothing but boring stories.

And you have to know that we INFP’s tend to attach a lot of meaning to inanimate objects.  In some ways, these objects hold memories and bringing them out can bring back a lot of good emotions.  So it was hard to toss stuff but it had to be done.

During the purge, I found a magnet from a music festival that dated from 2011.  For reasons that I will explain, I kept that even though it was not a festival I had attended.  Well, I was going through some books today and came across it and, for some reason, it triggered a need to tell this story.

If it wasn’t clear, the magnet was a gift from someone who worked for me who had attended the festival.  To tell her story, we must go even further back in time.  I can’t remember the exact date but it was about 10 years ago when I was still new to being a manager and was still finding my way.

We had an open position for a contractor.  Back then, we didn’t put contractors through an extensive interview.  The agency we worked with took our requirements and found people to send our way.  It wasn’t a matter of qualifications because she matched the degree we needed so it was really just looking through the resume and asking a few questions to attempt to get a “feel” for that person.

I noticed a gap in her job history.  Per the interview stuff I’ve read, that’s the kind of thing you need to question so I did.  Her answer involved a husband and three kids and they had just moved to a different state to start a job and then the husband died leaving her with the three kids and she needed to move back home to get help from her parents and that it took awhile to get settled again and to look for work.  Seemed perfectly plausible.

Did it win her the job?  No, she wasn’t the type of person who engendered a lot of sympathy.  There was definitely the “mad at the world” vibe about her but, given her story, it seemed like there were reasons for that.  Anyway, nobody raised any strong objections so I hired her as a contractor.  It sounds bad but contractors can be dismissed, so, if she didn’t work out, we could always move on.

Was she a great employee?  No.  I have to be honest and say that.  She was the type of person who always saw the downside and would complain about pretty much everything.  But she did her job and didn’t really cause a lot of disruption.  The rest of the group is pretty easy going and they didn’t seem to have a problem.  She did her best to fit in – going to lunch with them and she dressed up for Halloween like the rest of them.  Throughout it all, she shared many stories about her kids (sometimes taking calls during the day from them) and the problems she had with them and things they did and it all seemed really normal.

She also told us all she was Jewish.  I remember one Christmas we were going to an Italian restaurant for our group lunch and it is a place where they serve family style so, for a big party, you had to select certain appetizers, entrees, etc.  She came into my office one day to ask if I could make sure there were at least a couple of non pork dishes on the menu.

Well now we have to forward to Labor Day weekend of 2012.  We were at home with my parents who had come for the weekend and we were eating dinner when the phone rang.  It was someone from my team with the awful news that this person had died.  She was mid 30’s and not in the best shape and had some kind of recent problem that required the use of a cane but there were no obvious reasons for someone that young to die.  I remember getting off the phone and telling my parents and thinking about her three kids and what this was going to do to their lives.

Work the next week was not fun.  We spread the word and people in the department actually took up a little collection because we’re nice people.  The viewing was the night before the funeral and my whole department was going to the funeral.  I remember having a dance lesson the night of the viewing and I really feel awkward at those things and it was out of town so I convinced myself I didn’t need to go.  But several people did.

OK, I realize I’ve used a lot of words and you are probably wondering what the point is but here’s where things get a little weird.  Come to find out that there were no kids and no dead husband.  She lived with her parents in a house that was nothing like she described.  The whole life she presented to us was a lie.  I can only imagine the confusion of the people who went and the awkward moment when someone talked to her parents.

We never really pressed to find out what the heck was going on but there had to be some kind of mental illness going on there.  Worse yet, when people were cleaning out her desk, they came across some personal things that lead us to believe that maybe she took her own life.  Again, we’ll never know for sure and that isn’t the type of question you ask grieving parents but it seemed to fit the facts as we knew them.

The funny thing is that my strongest memory of her is a couple of times she came to my office to show off photos of her new dog (a basset hound).  She loved basset hounds and there was a picture of her with the dog in her coffin so I know this was real.  I don’t know why that’s stuck with me.  Maybe I just want to look for the positive in everything.  Maybe because it was real and it was about the only connection I had with her.  She wasn’t the soft and cuddly type except when it came to that dog.

I don’t know why I kept the magnet either.  I know she talked in glowing terms about the music festival so maybe some part of me wants to hold on to something that provided some happiness in a life that didn’t seem to have that much.  I hadn’t really thought that much about her until I came across the magnet again today.

I’d like to end this with some kind of uplifting remark but I don’t have any.  I’m bad  at closing things and putting a nice wrapper on things.  It saddens me that this was a person who needed help and somehow didn’t get it – could be she never sought it out.  Not really sure why the universe decided she should cross our paths and there seems to be no lesson to be gained.  As I said, I have no idea why I’m doing this – maybe in some small way her story needs to be told.

And, I had another chance to get rid of the magnet today.  I put it back on the shelf where it was.  Maybe someday it can go but it didn’t feel right today.


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