Digital Ischemia

08/07/2018

Chronic Creepiness and Complicity

Filed under: Shorts — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Teepwriter @ 17:00

“I didn’t think you’d remember little old me!”
This is how I imagine that affected vulnerable voice, out of that great dough-ball head, atop the massive balloon that just didn’t work as effeminate, let alone endearing.

This is not my #metoo moment. I wouldn’t elevate chronic creepiness to that level of trauma. But how do I make sense of socially inept people misreading one another, or simply drawing a blank in their repertoire of professional behaviour? Remember? How could I forget all those insinuations, false assumptions, unreciprocated intimacies?

How could I forget you saying ‘I just changed your password because I knew you wouldn’t mind’ and because you could, with your super-user privileges. I lay on my sickbed, mind whirling through personal files I had legitimately kept on there, alongside work files. Financial details, personal photos, things I should never have had to consider passwording individually as they were in my allocated private space. You could have looked at any of them. You could have copied the whole lot to some offline drive for your later investigation. I felt sick. I didn’t think you were malicious, just somehow you kept acting like we were close. We weren’t. No one thought so. I wasn’t giving mixed messages. Other colleagues volunteered that they found you weird. You were like a naïve stalker: constantly pushing boundaries under the misapprehension that I shared your ‘more than colleagues’ feeling.

I was happier in those old times, fifteen years ago, when the boss saying “I’m not here to make friends” was a sign of good management. Now the vogue is to appear to be super friendly with every colleague. Otherwise they won’t be motivated to do anything for you. Even if that’s their job. What price professionalism?

I let you visit my house four times, because it seemed that I ought too – I felt some bizarre workplace pressure to ‘bond’ with team-mates, especially ones based in other offices at the other end of the country. The first time I thought you might genuinely be interesting, someone I could get along with outside the workplace. At the door you greeted me with a kiss on the lips and a packet of melted chocolate as my partner sat in the living room. Neither was pleasant. I was stunned. You said you’d left it in the car not imagining the sun would be so warm. You’d already cut the corner and begun drinking it. I declined by making a joke of it. Did you think we were going to share it? I put it down to social clumsiness.

When I visited your office you invited me to your house for tea with your family. Again, not my choice as I like to recharge in the evening, especially after a long journey away from home. But it seemed antisocial to decline. It was awkward. Your family was friendly but slightly baffled why I was there; your wife seemed tired. You were peculiar, pouring me special local brews then pulling them out of my hand when I seemed to get too open about work. Insisting I see your personal library closet which you had created by partitioning one of your children’s already small rooms. Insisting I saw the full extent of your garden and the various engineering projects therein. I returned to my hotel feeling utterly unenriched. I didn’t repeat the experience.

After my partner and I had moved to a larger house, you appeared to have trouble getting overnight accommodation to attend a meeting at my office. I again felt workplace pressure to plug the gap. I had a spare room now. My boyfriend had no problem with you; he knew you slightly and was so wrapped up in his own workplace troubles he barely engaged. After tea, I tried to be sociable before washing and sleeping. As I sat on the sofa, trying to find an interesting conversation topic, you took the opportunity to kneel in the floor beside me and read poetry to me. You needed the brighter lamp, you said. I didn’t want a bright light on; I didn’t want poetry or your enthusings. I don’t read poetry, much less appreciate it. You seemed to expect me to relish your science fantasy word world. I just wanted to escape but already I felt too uncomfortable to leave you roaming my personal space unattended.

When one of your parents died, you took your family to the other end of the country for the funeral and the sad business of tidying up a person’s effects. The journey was long so a third time I felt some workplace pressure to oil the wheels between colleagues. I offered you a pitstop on your route home as you were travelling at the weekend. I made some snacks and hung about. Your family all trooped in, tired and awkward, some of whom I’d met once at your house. They weren’t hungry; they’d been eating crap from every service station. They didn’t want a seat; they’d been sitting tightly packed for hours. They didn’t want to speak to someone they had no connection with right after a funeral. I wasn’t surprised my lame jokey attitude fell flat. I didn’t know how else to behave.

In the midst of this awkwardness, you suddenly, clandestinely, asked if you could speak to me in private. I reeled in the wave of creepiness all over again. I had thought I was safe from that inappropriacy in the vicinity if your family. You clutched my upper arm, brought your face too close and whispered that you had noticed an absence of shoes in the porch – my partner’s were gone. I suppose you were trying to be tactful by not raising a painful subject in public. I fumbled that we had separated and I had imagined you had learned by some workplace osmosis. My subtle implication being: I didn’t want to specifically tell you for fear you would think it a personal intimation and my ‘availability’ applied to you somehow. Nor were you one of my trusted confidantes.

When I was off sick for a few weeks, you took it upon yourself to be my official team visitor, to bring me a thoughtful card from everyone else, a couple of genuine queries, and an extra long cable so I could use my laptop in bed. I found out later this wasn’t sanctioned by our manager; she wasn’t even aware. My housemate was puzzled by your behaviour: the way you just entered my bedroom, plonked everything on the bed, slumped on the carpet alongside me, and waffled on about the office and your home life. I was so fatigued I couldn’t even work out if my discomfort was reasonable, let alone form a coherent sentence to eject you. Your wittering seemed merely harmless, thoughtless, self-absorbed, right up until you suddenly noticed I wasn’t wearing my glasses. “I never noticed how big your eyes are,” you mused. My whole body clenched with energy I could ill afford.

After the chat waned, you began setting up the laptop for me, seemingly generously. I wasn’t interested; I didn’t want to use it at that moment; I didn’t need help in any case. You then casually notified me that I’d need to change my password. My exhausted, over-blathered-at, hypoglycaemic brain registered anxiety at this development but couldn’t simultaneously process implications. I just weakly acknowledged. You knelt expectantly beside my bed, as if for a pat on the head, but probably for reinforcement of your trusted status. I stared into space, willing you to go.

My housemate became agitated after an hour and a half; I hadn’t had any breakfast and the doctor was due. That thoughtful concern gave me a welcome chance to twist your overstay into overkindness and engineer your leaving. Yet you stood in the hall rambling on in your over-intimate fashion for another twenty minutes.

Over the following days, my panicked mind raced through what you had given yourself access to, for the spurious reason of copying over a work file you wanted access to. I pushed myself to log in before I felt up to it, just to see for myself if there was anything to see in my personal drive, any spoor of your presence. I checked last modified dates but didn’t see any since I’d been absent. If only there had been a last accessed date field. But even that wouldn’t be conclusive as, as I’ve said, you could’ve simply copied out the files.

During that convalescence I spent much time and energy contemplating whether to make a formal complaint about your abuse of privilege. I fought against upsetting the ‘team dynamic’, against giving more issues to our overburdened manager, against damaging your career disproportionately, against over-formalising an issue that had probably arisen from my own social ineptitude. I should have been more blunt with you. I didn’t have the energy for difficult conversations.

With increasing hindsight I recognise your social awkwardness, but yours seems paired with under-sensitivity to others’ reactions. My version has over-sensitivity; I blame myself and try to change my algorithm every time, when often it’s just someone having a bad day.

I resisted further hints about accommodation and visits, and kept emails and text messages strictly professional. I became frighteningly twisted in my wording, learning avidly from the business speak fashion of each month: I didn’t want to ‘mask your genuine need for business accommodation’ by putting you up.

The workplace got more stressful, a new manager exerted more pressure on all of us, my illness recurred. I felt my position too precarious to make any more waves. After an extended absence I had to resign my job and trust my colleagues to sort out my desk cabinet. I told my favourite desk buddy what was my personal stuff and what was for the company to retain. Unfortunately, inevitably, you involved yourself and several important items went astray. Some were delayed in reaching me by a few weeks, some disappeared altogether, some were delivered out of the blue three years later.

In the middle of a summer heatwave I found at the porch a company bag containing some of the missing items from my desk and some random financial documents which should never have left the office. Apparently you had also left the organisation and in the sorting out these had turned up. When I enquired of ex-colleagues, tact and unconcern covered any embarrassment and left the circumstances uncomfortably unexplained. The wave of anxiety rose again.

There were plenty of other little abuses of the working relationship, exacerbated by my failure to establish boundaries. I understand the desire to know more about someone, and the easy temptation to abuse professional privileges to gain that information, or just the frightening ease of internet research, in order to seem insightful and attractive. The boundary is no doubt different for different people. And we’re all inconsistent. And complicity creeps up on you.

I hope you don’t remember me.

Leave a Comment »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

If you spot a typo, I shall gnaw off an unworthy phalange.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: