It has happened to all of us. Well, perhaps not all of us, but certainly to me. It sneaks up and renders you powerless over making it stop and humiliated at it happening at all: crying at work. I do not think I would be exaggerating if I said that I’ve found myself with unstoppable waterworks and the resulting red eyes (and, in my case, nose) at least once at every job I’ve ever held. There are times it was justified, and others which came from a benign something or other that occurred at just the wrong right time.
Earlier today, we were at Staples looking for a desk chair to accommodate Barry’s new back issues. I’d begun to lose interest in hearing about the differences in the chairs and was happily catching up on Words with Friends when I felt the hysteria of a middle-aged female employee, rushing past us, her face contorted and red, hurrying to the backroom, trying desperately, yet unsuccessfully, to keep her tears at bay. Having no idea what had happened – a terrible phone call, a mean customer, attitude from 20something manager – my instinct was to follow her into the “employees only” area to help comfort her but, given the fact I am not, in fact, a Staples employee, I had no choice but to stay put.
While speeding through the doors which would provide at least a temporary haven and, hopefully, some cold water and tissues, she plowed into a male colleague who gave her a sideways glance and shrugged ever so slightly, no doubt wondering what her problem was. Given his decision to continue along, unfazed, in the direction he was headed, along with a countenance which indicated a profound lack of interest or compassion made it entirely clear that she was on her own.
I returned to my games, keeping a peripheral eye out for her return. It was probably close to ten minutes before she resurfaced from her unsanctioned break (retail can be brutal that way), her face bearing the tell-tale signs of a woman trying like hell to stop the crying. Trying so hard, in fact, that it actually made her cry harder. The dull black smudges from the mascara that had first melted off her lashes and then settled onto her skin where they would remain until she was able to get home and scrub her face clean, mixed with red blotches on her cheeks and a watery coating to her eyes. Her breathing and step were quick yet deliberate, clearly willing herself to pull it together, dammit.
I know that feeling. You are a hot mess and hoping like hell that no one notices while, in fact, no one doesn’t notice. You want to climb into a hole, give into whatever might have set you off and privately and unabashedly lose your shit. Only you cannot, because you are at work. Sonofabitch.
As I watched her scramble around the store, seeking solace, a hiding place or even an opportunity to turn back time to before her tears betrayed her, I continued to feel a pull to somehow help. Barry, having (I think maybe, but cannot be sure) decided upon a chair to buy, signaled to me that he was done and we began to head out of the store. I peeled myself out of the Tempurpedic chair that I’d been keeping warm (aside: damn, that chair is comfortable) and stepped directly into the woman’s frenetic path. In as low a register as I could, I told her, girl to girl, that my heart went out to her…did she need a hug? She declined the offer, thanked me and hustled back to the register bay, tears pushing their way to the surface all over again. We waited on line for her to log herself in and wave us over. I didn’t say another word knowing all too well how embarrassed she already felt. We slid our two items onto the counter, each sale priced at $2.00. I could see how hard she was trying to keep things together, avoiding eye contact, but remaining friendly and professional, her breathing deep and deliberate. Scan, scan, keyboard, keyboard, “$1.06, please.” I knew it wasn’t right. She knew it wasn’t right. It was girl code for, “thank you”.
Ugly crying (and trust me, this was ugly crying) at work (or, for that matter, in public or at any inopportune moment) stinks. Neither the crier nor the innocent bystander knows what to do, so most do nothing. Both the crier and the innocent bystander hope like hell that it will stop and stop soon, but it never does. It is an all-around Suckfest, right?
I am sure she will never see this. I am even more sure that if she did, she would be horrified all over again, having moved on from the stranger at Staples who tried to hug her. I wish I could remind her that it has happened to all of us and that I hope that whatever it was that unleashed the floodgates is firmly in her rearview mirror. Yeah, we’ve all been there, but that doesn’t make it suck any less.