My sister recruited me out of college onto a Y2K project that led to a two year gig as a Technical Writer. A far cry from the creative writer I envisioned myself as, but nonetheless, a real job with benefits AND a solid income (as my sister pointed out).
My first week on the job, she called to ask a favor. One of the Y2K recruits was caught sleeping on the job, released from the contract and escorted off-site immediately. She needed to collect his personal belongings. She wanted me to meet one of the client’s Executive Account Managers to retrieve the box and save her the trip downtown. I was hesitant to help out.
I couldn’t navigate the building too well and I was wearing a denim shirt (which I didn’t realize was a no-no until that morning when one of the old guys on the project enlightened me that “no denim” meant NONE, not even a denim shirt). Last person I wanted to meet was an EXECUTIVE.
She convinced me he wouldn’t even notice my denim shirt and I agreed, reluctantly. I was supposed to meet him on the 27th floor. He had dark hair and would be carrying a cardboard box. Easy enough.
The building had three elevator banks, each servicing a set number of floors. It took me two elevator rides (and ten minutes) before I finally figured out which bank took me to the 27th floor. By the time I arrived, he wasn’t there. Sigh.
I returned to the 1st floor to catch an elevator to my floor, and headed to my desk. I called his assistant. This time I should go to the 5th floor and meet him in front of the Immigration sign. I couldn’t miss the sign and he would wait for me there.
I quickly navigated back to the 1st floor to catch another elevator to the 5th floor. Sweating, wrinkled, and frustrated I exited the elevator and found the sign, just off the elevators, but no man with a box.
Anxiously, I paced in front of the sign. I heard a stairwell door creak open, so I poked my head around to see who it was, but it was only a little cleaning lady carrying her supply tote. I smiled and returned to the sign. She followed me to the elevators, hit the down button and then sloooowly slid down the wall as if she was exhausted. All the while her eyes just fixated on me.
The empty elevator came and went, but she never boarded. She just sat there, back against the wall staring at me. I shifted uncomfortably. Then, all of a sudden, she burst into tears and became HYSTERICAL for no apparent reason. I just wanted to collect the box and be done.
I asked if she was OK, but she just kept staring and crying. Shaking and sobbing, looking straight through me the whole time. The man with the box was a no show, and the floor was a ghost town, except for this cleaning lady and me. This was shaping up to be a nightmare.
As I stood there contemplating an exit strategy, it suddenly dawned on me. The staring, the shaking, the sobbing: DIABETES! She must need insulin. BAD.
Panicked, I abandoned post and started trying office doors. They were all locked, most with cypher locks. So, I beat on one of the doors (like a crazy woman) until some guy poked his head out, irritated, and asked if he could help me. I told him the lady needed help, maybe even insulin. He assured me he’d call for help and promptly slammed the door, leaving me all on my own again.
I returned to the lady to let her know help was on the way. She was still hysterical, but held her hand out like she wanted to get up. Against my better judgment, I lent a hand to hoist her up. Bad move. She latched onto my arm and yanked me down with her. Next thing I knew, she was totally wrapped around me in a bear hug, and we were rocking together as she sobbed on my shoulder.
My first week on my first job; One could only hope my sister wouldn’t be collecting MY box soon.
People started filing in from nowhere, and suddenly there was a crowd watching us. Nobody offered to help; they just watched us, sobbing and rocking there on the floor.
Finally, the elevator opened and two paramedics hustled out with a stretcher. They peeled us apart and quickly strapped her onto it. Before they carted her off, I stood up and handed them her supply tote, like it was her purse and she couldn’t live without it.
And just like that, I was left standing there, disheveled, amongst the lingering crowd of rubberneckers and gossipmongers (that were nowhere to be found until now). I tried to smooth out my wrinkled denim shirt (covered with tears and makeup; both mine and hers) and shaped my sweaty hair while the crowd started to disperse.
Then I noticed a dark haired gentleman holding a cardboard box below the Immigration sign. He looked at me and quietly uttered, “Nicole?”
OMG, the EXECUTIVE with the box!!
I forced a smile, nodded my head “yes,” and wiped enough sweat off my hands (onto my pants) to offer a handshake. He shifted the small box under his other arm, and shook my hand. There was a brief awkward silence. I wasn’t sure how much of the previous chain of events he had witnessed.
Unable to think of anything to say or do, (and without pause for further explanation) I just snatched the box, thanked him and jumped on the next elevator down (pretty confident he didn’t notice the denim shirt). I transferred elevators and bee-lined to my desk. There, I composed myself and pretended like nothing happened. I told no one.
Later, my sister called, frantic.
Her: Are you OK???
Me: Yeah, why?
Her: Um, the client called.
Me: Did they say anything about the denim shirt?
Her: NO. But they mentioned the PARAMEDICS. Are you OK???
Turns out, that was just the beginning of the dreaded client calls to my sister, which, all too often, started with “Have you seen your sister today???”