Chapter 19

Letter of Resignation

It’s hard to retrospectively pin down the onset of my brain tumor symptoms, because I spent the better part of a decade fighting to escape the gravitational pull of a narcissistic husband and a couple of bosses who made demoralizing me a sport. There is great potential for overlapping side effects, particularly those pertaining to mood and mental health.

In 2011, a freelance gig I took to write a coffee table book for the 75th anniversary of an auto parts supply business turned into a full-time job offer. I hadn’t been looking to leave the synagogue, but it felt foolish to turn down the additional pay. Non-profit service suited me best, but the for-profit grind was way better at paying the bills.

As Balkamp’s new Publication Standards Editor, I spent my most productive hours proofreading catalog copy in a dark, dusty cubicle. It was dark because the in-house marketing department I worked for kept two-thirds of the overhead lights in the room turned off. My new boss, Glenn, an affable but ineffective middle manager who sometimes referred to himself as Glennie, explained that turning some of the lights off reduced monitor glare for the graphic designers.

There were about a dozen cubicles lining the perimeter of my new department. The low ceiling and lack of windows ensured that not a single tiny ray of natural sunlight made its way into the room. Somehow, though, with only a few buzzing fluorescent lights, a single houseplant managed to survive on the island of counters in the center of the room. The drain flies that came for a drink every time the plant was watered were the most alive thing in the room.

The Balkamp building was originally just a one-story warehouse with a few front offices, but a portion of the warehouse was later sacrificed for additional office space. I don’t think it was intentional, but the additional rooms had a FEMA trailer aesthetic. Plywood and construction-grade carpet were laid over a lofted metal grate surface, and paper-thin walls were erected atop the “floor” to make “rooms.” The carpet was gray. The cubicles were gray. The desks were gray. The counters in the middle of the room were gray. The walls were gray. The warehouse dust I inhaled was gray. With no daylight to signal the passage of time, 9 a.m. felt just like 5 p.m. and every weekday was a slow, banal drag.

So while Balkamp employees in departments with overhead lighting merely succumbed to a highly contangious high-functioning defeatism, I was blessed with an additional other-worldly pallor and—bonus!—I exhibited all the disabling hallmarks of seasonal affective disorder for twenty-seven consecutive months.

In the ladies’ room one day at work, I overheard a couple of employees talking about a coworker who died the day after he retired from Balkamp. The haunting story consumed me, and my biggest fear was that I, too, would barely make it out of the place alive.

Legend had it that relocating headquarters to a building with windows for all was out of the question because selling the current building meant at best disclosing the toxic waste buried on site and the parent company taking a loss, or at worst forced mitigation of the toxic waste resulting in an even bigger loss.

I don’t know if the toxic waste rumors were true, but Indiana isn’t exactly known for its commitment to environmental protections, and I have believed much less likely stories in my lifetime, some of them previously detailed in this very memoir. When I had my first migraine with aura on the job—seeing squiggles in my field of vision, unable to read words on the screen, losing feeling in my arms—I assumed I was dying and my job was the reason why.

Company culture at Balkamp only made me bitter and despondent. What long-timers hailed as “family atmosphere” was just some good ol’ boys polishing the turd of sexist paternalism. They tried force feeding me proverbial carrots, pressuring me to attend so called morale-boosting events or inviting me to be a team player if I gave to United Way. There were sticks too. So many sticks. I received “occurrences” for clocking in a minute after 8 a.m. but wasn’t allowed to clock in more than 4 minutes early. If I accumulated too many occurrences in a rolling calendar year, I could be fired. Driving to work every day was like being told go find my own switch out back.

Glenn would wistfully recall the days in the not-so-long-ago past when the dress code stipulated that women had to wear skirts and employees weren’t allowed to eat lunch at their desks. “When I first started here,” he said once, pointing casually at the bento and thermos on my desk, “everyone had to eat lunch in the breakroom.”

Then there was Barbie. The woman wasn’t technicallymy boss, at least not according to the organizational flowchart tucked away in my desk drawer, but she was the same paygrade as Glenn and together they middle-managed the marketing department like two dysfunctional parents in a conservative Midwestern household.  

Barbie did not like me and had been exhaustively condescending from day one, which I came to attribute to two things: an insecurity over her lack of a degree but elevated position and her weird tendency to see all people with boobs as competition. It was no secret I didn’t like her either, but I felt my disdain was justified. She had a knack for delegating needless, inane tasks to me just to remind me that she could.   

“I need a spreadsheet,” Barbie once emailed me. “Count how many days passed between all of these sets of dates. I need the information for a meeting later.”

“Here’s the spreadsheet,” I emailed her back a few minutes later, explaining to her that maybe she could use next time. (I was proud of myself for not replying with “We both know you can count to 60, Barbie” but still received an email from Glenn warning me that I was being “curt.”)

Then there was the time Barbie pretended identifying foreign languages was part of my job description. “I need you to tell me what language this is.” She interrupted me while I was setting up poster-sized address labels in InDesign for the guys downstairs to print—an unending and massive project wholly unrelated to my actual job that Glenn and Barbie had initially billed as “temporary” when they delegated it to me. “We thought you’d be best for this project,” Glenn thought he was flattering me. “We don’t want to irritate the graphic designers. It’s kind of tedious work, and you know InDesign pretty well.”

“It’s French,” I said to Barbie glancing at the hardcopy in front of me and recognizing a few of the words. The “that’s not my fucking job, and you know it, Barbie” was implied but probably not inferred. I pretended to be thoroughly engrossed in my label making.

If Barbie had an ounce of respect for me or my work, she would have asked something like “Is there any chance you know what language this is?”  But she was clearly trying to gotcha me, the proof was in the prissy way she tossed her hair off her shoulder when she sauntered back to her office.  

For these reasons and so many more, I had already been job hunting for months when Dan’s dad died. But it wasn’t until Glenn denied my bereavement leave request that I realized what horrible people I worked for. Glenn reasoned that I didn’t qualify for bereavement because Dan and I weren’t married and his dad wasn’t actually my in-law. Of course, the reason we weren’t married was because I had to cancel my wedding to attend my fiancé’s dad’s funeral.  

I was mad at myself. I fought for months to free myself from a demoralizing relationship with Rodney only to be subordinate to Barbie and Glenn’s garbage-ass-ness. I was so mad at myself. When I accepted a job offer for a technical writing position in Champaign, IL, I vowed I would not give the customary two weeks’ notice at Balkamp.

When I told my dad how I planned to leave, he was concerned that I might be burning bridges. But I wasn’t a reckless teenager rebelling against authority, I was a grown-ass woman with enough self-respect to refuse to prioritize being polite to people who repeatedly treated me like shit.

Instead of a single paragraph resignation letter, I wrote a scathing two-page letter outlining the reasons I quit, and I emailed it to Glenn, Barbie, and HR on Friday evening right as the dismissal alarm sounded over Balkamp’s public address system. Then I slipped out the back door quietly.

On the way home I switched the CD player in my car to disc 2, track 3.

Been down one time
Been down two times
I’m never going back again

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