I have a friend who made a tremendous mistake at work the other day. I feel for him, because it was very embarrassing, and very unintentional.
I know how it feels.
Back in 1993 I was 23 and extremely dumb. I lacked social skills, thought I was the world’s greatest writer, listened to no one, walked with a strut. Within the confines of The Tennessean’s Living Dept. (our features section), I was … well, I wouldn’t say I was a leper. But I was the annoying little brother many colleagues surely wished death upon.
One of my closer friends in the section was Sheila Jones, the department recptionist whose desk was adjacent to mind. Sheila and I were an odd couple—she probably had 10-to-15 years from me; talked real slow; was a short African-American woman with a husband and three kids; born and raised in the south. Somehow, she took a liking to me. I genuinely loved her. A sweet woman.
Anyhow, Sheila and I used to talk mild shit. Nothing big, just slight trash talk about this and that. Well, one day I was the last one to leave the department late into the evening. And, before taking off, I sat at Sheila’s desk, pulled up her keyboard and typed in something like “I see you, bitch.” In the context of our relationship, I seemed fitting. I’m sorta scratching my head now, wondering how that’s possible. But at the time, well … uh … yeah.
Fast forward to the following morning. I’m in my apartment, and the phone rings. It’s Sheila. “Jeff, you didn’t type something about me being a bitch on my computer, did you?”
Uh … why?
“They’re having an investiagtion in the department. Catherine [the editor] wants everyone to come in.”
I arrive at the office. It turns out Sheila has someone who’s been sorta stalking her. I am mortified. Beyond mortified. I’m told what’s going on—they suspect this stalker guy sent Sheila a threatening message; they’re going to find a way to fire him; etc.
I pull Sheila aside. “Sheila, it was me,” I tell her.
“Sheila, I’m so sorry. I meant nothing, you know that.”
“Jeff, I’m just relieved. I’m not mad.”
“Sheila, please don’t tell anyone. Please.”
“Jeff, you have to tell Catherine.”
She’s right. I knock on her door. I close the door behind me. “Catherine,” I say, “I sent the message.”
“I sent it. I meant it as a joke … we’re friends and …”
Catherine tees off on me. Rightly. I’m crying. Mortified. She sees this. “Jeff, you can write. You’re talented. But you need to grow up.”
A horrible day.