So, once upon a time, two years ago, I had a fairly cushy corporate job. It was in a field I genuinely enjoyed, with people who seemed decent enough - likable, even. I’d never worked in an office before, and found the prospect exciting.
My boss had a young (paid) intern working for our team when I started at LargeCorp. She was a good kid, naive, like she’d just gotten off the MetroNorth from Scarsdale. But I liked her. Her name was Stephanie, and she did an assortment of tasks, from making copies to doing light research. Sometimes, the results of her work would land on my desk. I had no issues with it, as Stephanie seemed to know what she was doing, and never grumbled at being run around by the more senior staff members.
One day, Big Boss and I were having a chat in her office, and she disclosed to me that she feared she’d have to fire Stephanie. I was taken aback, but listened as Big Boss trotted out a list of the intern’s flaws - shoddy work, missing the point, and general unprofessionalism. “She reminds me a little of me years ago,” Big Boss sighed. “Right down to the Talbot’s Petite dresses.”
A week later, Stephanie was gone. She’d left town, actually, and gone back to Scarsdale. Whether or not Big Boss actually had gone through with canning her I never found out. If the rumor mill was to be believed, she’d endured a breakup and high-tailed it home.
Either way, I remember sitting at my desk, thanking my luck stars I wasn’t her. I may be many things, I thought. But at least I’m not Stephanie.
Fast forward about a year to when I sat in Big Boss’s new, swankier office at LargeCorp, as she told me that they would not be renewing my contract. I was crestfallen but not ultimately that surprised; Little Boss, Big Boss’s right hand, has wanted me out for months. The same allegations that had been pointed like lasers at young Stephanie had been trained on me. Most of them, I felt, were invalid - or at the very least deserved a closer look.
Through it all, though, I began to get paranoid; what if I was a terrible employee? But my father, never one to let me off the hook if I’ve truly screwed the pooch, added it up for me at dinner one night before Big Boss closed down the show. I described a few instances when information had been withheld from or simply misstated to me, ultimately resulting in an error on my part. I was bewildered, and said as much, crying over my overpriced but delicious gourmet burger. Dad, looking me in the eye, said, “they’re setting you up. Oldest trick in the book.”
It likely wasn’t personal, he told me. They needed to eliminate the position and, thus, me. To do so, they needed cause, and quickly drummed up more than enough. I’d made mistakes, sure, but none that warranted what had transpired. “It’s the nature of the beast,” Dad said.
But it hurt. And it felt personal. And I thought of Stephanie.
And it wasn’t the last time. Not a week after hearing my fate at LargeCorp, my long distance (I know, I know!) then-girlfriend backed out of moving to my home state (even after having secured an apartment), Stephanie hovered in my memory in her perky pink dress. She was there again when, my job and my girl gone, I scanned the medicine cabinet late into the night as I fought back a new and terrifying urge to grab all the Tylenol bottles and toss them down my throat. And AGAIN, just recently, when ExWonderWoman finally sank the knife into our would-be, on-again, off-again, relationship, citing - oh, irony - my lack of full time employment as her chief complaint against me, I became Stephanie all over again. In the same breath that I’d been the love of ExWonderWoman’s life, her “home,” her “destiny,” she’d decided to stack the deck against me and there was nothing I could do. “It’s been two years,” she said. “If it was meant to happen, it would have happened by now.” My own anger roared in my ears, met swiftly with sadness and, eventually, a tearing grief.
And maybe she’s right. Maybe she’s not, who knows? What I do know is, however, that we are all Stephanie at some point or another - especially when we falsely think we can never be. As long as the rug is there, it can be pulled out from under us - yes, whether we’re wearing Talbot’s Petite or Old Navy, our mother’s borrowed pumps or year-old sneakers. We are. We are all Stephanie.