I used to work with this guy, I’ll call him Mike. Mike had been there for a long time, like twelve years or more when I started. Mike was a short man, and about my father’s age. A white man with leathery tan skin and big ears that stuck out from under his short and proper haircut. Mike was from Texas, and had a high pitched voice and a slight west Texas drawl. He was a story teller, and he would occasionally tell about his time in the minor leagues, or on the front lines in Vietnam, or riding a camel across Turkey, or when he was a bouncer in San Francisco in the sixties, or some other tale that no one really believed. But he was a talker and he rarely stopped no matter how deep he found himself, or how many eye rolls came his way.
Being a talker like he was wouldn’t have been so hard to put up with, but Mike also had this way of acting like he was my supervisor even though he was not. We were coworkers. I checked. Coworkers. He was prone to coming over to me and checking my work, to checking up on whether I’d taken a break and how long that break might have been. At first I didn’t really mind. In fact at first, he was a bit helpful. He knew the procedures and policies I was expected to learn. But I’m a quick learner, and a hard worker. And I’m also not the kind of person who reacts well to rigid authority. Especially when it comes from someone who doesn’t even hold a position of power over me. Mike was a nosy, bitter little coworker. And I became a bitter coworker as well.
We eventually worked together for about seven years. After a year or so I had come to really dislike him. I battled him. I resisted him. I taunted him. When he asked if I’d been on break, I’d respond, None of your business. He’d bring paperwork of mine to me with his red pen marks on it from where he’d found missing info or something else he saw as an oversight, something which if he’d looked online, where it mattered, he would have seen that info in place and in full. He’d present it to me with a stern though high-pitched lecture and I’d wad it up and toss it in the round file while staring him in the eyes. After about three years it got to be too much. This was in about ’09, well into the beginning of the steep downturn in the economy which hit our industry hard. The pressure was on, the pay was down, and every day I showed up to face this miserable little man, and I tell you I hated it. I hated going to work. I spent a lot of time and energy arguing with him in my mind while not even at work. I was going a bit mad.
I confided in a friend about it. A man who I know from an organization I won’t go into, but needless to say it exists to help people help each other through troubling times, especially people like me who suffer from addiction. This friend of mine was my confidant and a mentor of sorts. When I told him about the resentment I harbored, about the amount of energy I was putting into it, he said we needed to do something to stop it. To end the suffering. To find me some relief. He told me I had to pray for the mother fucker.
Now I’ll tell you right now that I don’t necessarily believe in god. But because of this organization I belong to I’ve learned that I don’t need to believe in any god to pray. And I’ve learned that when I pray I tend to feel better. So my friend told me I should pray for Mike. I told him I’d already prayed to have him be less of an asshole. I’d prayed for him to be transferred, I’d prayed for me to find a different job. No, no, he said I needed to pray FOR Mike. I needed to find out about Mike and pray for specific things for him. He reminded me that there was probably a world of things that Mike kept inside from which he could use relief. This friend of mine had helped me through some serious shit before and I respected his opinion, and I took him seriously. So I decided to do it. I decided to fucking pray for fucking Mike.
One day I heard Mike complain about his commute to work, so I found out where he lived. I learned that he had to drive over an hour each day to and from work, through horrible traffic. I prayed for him to find relief from his commute.
He mentioned his daughter one day in front of me and I got the impression she was in some kind of trouble. I asked him about it and for some reason he decided to tell me that her and her boyfriend were meth-heads. They were both in and out of jail, in and out of treatment. They’d stolen from him and his parents and his neighbors. They’d been at it for years. They had a child that he and his wife had adopted and were raising. I had not known this. He told me how hard it was and he almost cried in front of me when he told me about his grandchild who he had to keep away from his own daughter for the child’s safety. Tears filled his eyes, his voice cracked, but he held it in. My breath caught in my throat, I thought I might break down. So I prayed for him to find relief from what his daughter was putting him through. And I prayed for his daughter to find the relief I found from addiction.
And then one day he mentioned his wife to me. It was their anniversary, he said he was taking her out for dinner and that he looked forward to seeing her dressed up. The way he talked about her he sounded like a young man newly in love. I asked how long they’d been married, and he told me, and then he told me that she had cancer. He was a talker, but he’d never let anyone at work know about it. He told these ludicrous stories about his travels as a young man, but not about what he was going through now, right now. That his wife whom he obviously was in love with, was dying of cancer. He was caring for her, and for his little grandchild, all while we were each seeing our paychecks dwindle at this stupid job selling building materials. He was bearing all of this on his own. I prayed for his wife and I prayed for Mike to find relief from the stress he must be dealing with from the combination of all this. I saw how the way he was at work, it was just his attempt to control the only area of his life where he felt he had any control at all. He wasn’t so much a nosy and bitter little man, he was struggling, he was profoundly sad, he was very scared, and he felt alone. All things I’d felt myself at times.
Life is so strange. I don’t know why he told me these things. I only know that the more I found out, the more I prayed for him, and the more I prayed for him, the more he confided in me, and ultimately the more he confided in me, the more I liked him. At about three years into this job, I absolutely hated going to work each day, largely because of him. And when I left, at about seven years in, he was one of the people I looked forward to seeing each day, and one who I knew I’d miss the most.