9. Servant Leaders, part 1 (Allison)

            Allison could describe Lev, her boss, as the type of woman who could give her cat an eating disorder. Perfect makeup, work performance, credit score… but her nails were bitten to the bone. For her, enough was NEVER enough. Late at night, she screamed into her pillow for being so shackled to her standards, but if she didn’t hang so high, who would protect her from the wind and fury below?

            Allison lifted her coffee to lips as Melanie frittered on about her Nervousy of the Day. She wasn’t sure what made her want to blow her brains out more: the office manager’s anxiety or the ex-admin’s endless gloating about the wedding. But that could have been a migraine. She seemed to have one constantly since graduating from college two years ago.

            “I actually miss Lev,” Allison said, interrupting Melanie mid-tremor. Lev was at a conference for mid-level managers, learning how to become more insufferable with her kind.

            Her coworker’s mouth dropped. “Are you serious?”

            “You have to admit, she’s kind of fun to have around. Like a dog that barks at the mailman.” Allison took another sip of coffee.

            “You tried to murder her,” Melanie said after some time.

            “You’re missing the point.” Allison rolled her eyes. In the end, it’s on me. Melanie didn’t understand. She couldn’t understand. You didn’t have to like someone to appreciate them, and sometimes, Lev’s brashness made her all the more appreciable. It worked Allison up, and at least the fight gave her something to do.  

            “Shall we go?” Allison said. Melanie nodded, putting on her mask as they left the café. Today was their first day at Procyon Lotor, a startup that specialized in increasing the misery of workers’ lives. The pandemic had ripped apart society at its seams, and thanks to remote working, the Levs of the world desperately searched for some way to prove they were still useful to their companies. Procyon answered that call by taking bringing the mid-level managers to the employees’ living rooms using video surveillance, keystroke recording, and screenshotting.

            But that wasn’t important now. What mattered was that she had received her first promotion and that her sorority sisters would take her out for a celebratory brunch later today. The woman of Pi Pi Iota Nu were her rock in this foggy wasteland, and Allison’s eyes brimmed with hot tears at her love for them.

            Another woman passed in front of her and Melanie. A crisp trench coat warmed her and her serious phone call, confirming Allison’s worst insecurities with the words “book deal” and “royalty negotiations.” The woman passed them by, and the recent graduate gripped her coffee cup so as to not empty its contents all over that prim outfit.

            Really, Allison wanted to empty the cup on herself and forget who she had once been in some frothy baptism. Once, she would have died for activism and infamy. Now, a job sufficed. To dream is to hurt; to give up is to not feel at all. It’s relaxation, in other words—gratitude.

            That stranger reminded her how she used to believe she was special. Now, those who succeeded in their dreams did so by accident: I am way more talented than that idiot! And if that was not the case, their success could be explained away by other intangibles: rich parents, sex appeal, an arbitrary God.

            Dreams were burdens; she thought as she stepped through the front garden of Procyon’s gated campus. They hung around your neck to remind you who you could have been, and she wished she could shake hers off into the rain-drenched succulents before she was dragged into the mud with them.

            “This campus is so nice!” Melanie said from under her umbrella. Allison grunted in response as they stepped through the corridor. The elevator door sliced into their line of sight, and Allison saw a janitor mop up the dirt their shoes had tracked in before they were carried up.

            The elevator dinged again, and the doors slid open.

            Sounds and light washed away the rain and decay from outside. Like platters at a buffet, laptops and notebooks colored the rows of desks that extended down the open plan. Plants, not suffering under Melanie’s excuses, refreshed Allison’s eyes before they rested on the couches dispersed throughout the room. The masked employees stood out the most: they grouped to chat, folded their shoulders in front of laptops; leaned on the walls by their espresso machines. The difference of here to her old job was stark as the walk from the parking lot to the zoo, and all it took was an innocent little gas leak to get here.

            An elfin woman floated to them. “Hi there,” she said and extended her hand. “Mackenzie.”

            Allison reached for it before Melanie’s pudgy hand snatched it from her and pushed Allison aside. Every muscle in Allison’s face worked in unison to prevent her from rolling her eyes in this new woman’s face. Eventually, Melanie’s eagerness subsided, and Allison was able to shake hands with a woman who she presumed to be her future boss.

            “Welcome to Procyon Lotor,” Mackenzie said. “This is your first time here, right?” When they both nodded, she said, “I’ll show you around.”

            This office was unlike any space that Allison had worked in, which made sense, as this was her first job after a prolonged internship. Meeting rooms lined the walls and surrounded rows of desks bathed in natural light. Framed photos of the raccoon logo brought color into the space that smelled of Getting Things Done.

            “These are your desks,” Mackenzie said. Sitting on each of them was a card with a star on it. Wishing you a bright, Procyon day…

            “I thought the mascot was a raccoon?” Melanie said.

            “Right,” said Mackenzie. “But the Procyon is also one of the brightest stars in the night sky, and we wanted to play on our mission of guiding employees, as you will be one of our own. Welcome, by the way, to the family.”

            She smiled at them, and Allison smiled back. When Lev used to say they were a family, Allison imagined it to be the type to beat you, but with this woman in this energetic office, she felt hope stir inside of her. Maybe life could not blow, and she could have a career here.

            Allison then wondered how Lev was doing at her leadership conference, and, for the first time, wished her well.


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