I recently received word via the retiree grapevine that a former coworker died on February 12th.
To be kind, I won’t use her real name, and in truth that doesn’t matter – anyone who reads this will recognize her, for Roz was a complex and difficult person.
When we met, I found her interesting and quirky, with a borderline addiction to books like myself. I thought there might be potential there for a friendship – but soon enough I realized that there was something not right. Roz had a peculiar talent for saying the wrong thing at the right time; during our tenure as colleagues she told a single female co-worker that she was “lucky men didn’t find her attractive,” as they were all pigs; called another co-worker a “man-whore”; informed our boss, one of the finest, kindest & most caring people I have worked for that he was the “worst boss ever”; and asked me , 3 days after my mother’s death if she was “a gossip like you are?” (She also once asked me if , growing up on a farm, I had ever had sex with the farm animals. Everyone within earshot was too stunned to react, but somehow I mustered the ability to respond, asking if she meant” our own farm animals, ‘cuz that would be SO WRONG!”)
At first we brushed her acidic comments to a lack of social skills, but gradually we began to realize that there was a method to her madness. She would ask seemingly friendly, innocuous questions about our lives – volunteering little or nothing in return – and store the information so that later, when she chose, she could fire a volley to injure someone. More than once, when her arrows hit home, I would catch her with a small, self-satisfied smile.
We all tried to be kind to her, to find some way of making her feel happier, or at least accepted – we remembered her birthday, invited her to the theatre with us, made an effort to include her at work in our general day to day interactions, but nothing helped.
She said inappropriate things to strangers, too, and in the end her behavior proved to be her undoing at work. We were all giddy with relief when she left for another location – no more waiting for the next blow to fall, having to guard our conversations.
I could not say that I was surprised to hear of Roz’s passing; she made it clear in the 20+ years we worked together that she didn’t care about her health, and we had heard she was not well. What I did feel, and heard it echoed by coworkers who remembered her, was sadness.
Roz once told me about a movie she had seen and loved because it was “so depressing.” Perhaps for her, there was only beauty in sadness and ugliness, but all of life is beautiful, beautiful and brief – I’m sorry she missed the good stuff.
If there’s a next time, I hope it’s better.