When I was 18 years old, I was living on my own in a shitty 1 bedroom basement apartment in Bradley, Illinois and I was working 3 jobs. One of those jobs was a full time position as a bank teller. I was the only guy working at this bank full time and it was clear my presence was unwelcome from the start.
Lisa, one of the other tellers, ignored me completely. Jenny was downright mean to me. But Kelly was always cool. I still find myself repeating her quips:
Kim the Asst Branch Manager: “Hey Kelly, can you get the drive thru?”
Kelly: (while filing her nails) “I’m busy. What? No. I can’t I’m busy.”
I say those exact words to my kids all the time now and it still makes me laugh.
One morning, before I could even sit down and count my drawer, Kim asked me to meet her in Susan’s office. Susan was the Branch Manager. I didn’t know what I’d done wrong but I knew I was in trouble. As I walked into Susan’s office I looked over my shoulder at Kelly expecting her to give me a goofy face or something. She looked like she was going to cry.
Kim: “Michael, how do you think it’s going here?”
18 year old Me: “Ummm… good? I haven’t been short in my drawer at all and I’ve been on time. How do YOU think I’m doing here?”
Susan: “Michael, how do you think you are getting along with your coworkers?”
Me: “I do my best to be friends with everybody. It’s been easier with some than with others. Kelly is awesome though.”
I was starting to feel relaxed. Just talking about Kelly made me feel better. She was really a good friend when I needed one.
Kim: “Michael we have had complaints from the tellers. They say that you aren’t matching up with the group very well.”
Me: “What am I doing wrong? Did I say something wrong?”
Susan: “No – nothing like that. No one thinks you have been unprofessional at all they just don’t think you are adjusting to the group is all.”
Me: (starting to feel really isolated) “Well, what do they want me to do differently?”
Kim: “They just feel like you are always trying to talk to them or be part of their conversations. They just…”
Kim and Susan looked at each other and Susan nodded – giving Kim the permission to disclose the rest.
Kim: “They just don’t really like you. They don’t think you are a good fit for the office. It’s not that you are doing anything wrong – it’s just that they don’t want to be friends with you.”
Hot tears rolled down my face. The thought, “I’m crying at work” made more tears follow the first. I tried to respond. I wanted to say anything. But when I opened my mouth to speak all I heard come out of me was a sob.
Susan looked ashamed.
Kim looked giddy.
Me: (still sobbing) “Kelly?”
Susan: “NO. Kelly loves you. She really is your confidant.”
Me: (no more tears) “Is that all?”
Susan: “Yes. That’s all, Michael. We didn’t mean to upset you.”
Me: “I’m going home for the rest of the day.”
I walked out of Susan’s office and looked behind the counter at the 3 tellers who were staring at me dumbly. Kelly saw my puffy eyes and she contorted her face again like she was about to cry. I now know that her face was communicating unadulterated rage.
Kelly stood up and leaned forward with both of her hands on her desk. She was a big woman and she filled the space she worked in as she squared her shoulders.
Kelly: “It wasn’t me, Michael! I love working with you!!”
In that moment she turned and pointed her finger directly at Jenny’s face. Her finger was inches from Jenny’s nose.
Kelly: “THIS BITCH. Jenny is the only one talking shit and if she does it again I’ll BEAT HER ASS.”
Her voice boomed through the bank. Jenny cowered. Kim and Susan came rushing out of the office to see what the commotion was. I walked toward the exit silently, afraid I would start sobbing again.
Kelly: (grabbing her coat) “Where are we going?”
Kim: “Michael has the rest of the day off.”
Kelly: “SHIT me too then. I’m with him.”
As we walked into the parking lot she hugged me. I cried some more and she put her hand on the back of my head.
Kelly: “So where are we going?”
Me: “I’m just going home.”
Kelly: “And tomorrow? Do we quit?”
Me: “I can’t. I need this job or I can’t pay rent.”
Kelly: “Fine. Then we work. But we do it together and we never take an ounce of shit from any of them.”
Kelly, my love,
I don’t know where you are anymore. I bet your son is so big now. Wherever you are, I’m sure you are busy. I hope you know I’m still making it – and I’m not taking an ounce of shit from any of them.