Do you guys know that one person you work with, the one that nobody likes? Yeah, well, there used to be someone like that at my old workplace. I say ‘my old workplace’ because, well yeah, it’s not really there anymore. And I’m pretty sure I’m one of the few people that actually knows what happened.
Work is a strange environment. Sometimes the only thing you have in common with the people that you’re forced to share physical space with is that you walk on the same carpet from 9 to 5 that they do. It’s like having a whole shitload of roommates without any choice in the matter. Research by sociologists and psychologist into the nature of Work, capital double u, has found that factors like the working conditions and interpersonal relationships between employees are much more important determinants of workplace satisfaction than things most people would think of, like say, salary (which by the way, in my case, was shit).
I think the reason places like the break room or kitchen or whatever it might be called at your particular place of work can elevate the tension between employees is because they are shared spaces. You’re just trying to eat your fucking lunch without having to listen to that guy a table over keep slurping his fucking noodles and make you hate your life even more than you already do because you’re an office drone and your timesheet is overdue.
Or you’re trying not to be annoyed by the fact that someone keeps leaving big piles of dirty dishes in the sink and randomly eating people’s food out of the fridge. It’s worse than living with a bad roommate, because you’ll never be able to figure out just who that fucker is. You don’t even know who to blame, and even if you did, you probably wouldn’t know him anyway, the guy from cubicle 4451. It’s that kind of behavior that makes human beings sharing space with other human beings bring out the worst in them, and cause people to resort to measures of amazing passive-aggressiveness, like posting notes on the break room fridge written in ALL CAPS calling out the fucker who’s eating everyone’s food and hoping that bastard will stop.
In my old workplace, I don’t know who the hell this guy was – I’ll call him Steve – but I always seemed to end up having my lunch at the same time as him. It didn’t matter what the events of the day were, or if I took my lunch at 11:30 or at 2, it seemed like Steve was always there in the break room at the same time I was. I began to think that Steve either didn’t do any fucking work at all and just hung out in the break room all the time, or that he had some strange obsession with me, that perhaps I had slighted him in some way and he was waging the ultimate war of passive-aggressive psychological attrition against me.
I started to hate Steve because I don’t know what the fuck Steve ate every day but it STANK. Every time Steve was in the break room at the same time as me, he’d put his little Tupperware container in the microwave and hit the buttons BEEP BEEP BEEP and it would make that noise and then the light would come on and there’d be that hum and I knew that glass plate inside was slowly rotating, letting the ungodly odors of whatever fucking disgusting concoction Steve would soon devour seep out into the break room in a uniform manner, until it was totally permeated with noxious odour. It was like being in a fucking sauna of putridness.
For this, I hated Steve.
And I wasn’t the only one. Understandably, other people had the misfortune to experience this same thing I did. I started talking to other folks in the office and they knew exactly what I was on about. “Who the fuck is that guy, anyway?” – Tom from accounting. “I know, right? Like what the hell can smell that bad and possibly be something you would eat?” – Jenni from marketing. “I don’t know who the hell that guy is, but god, sometimes I can smell the break room from all the way down the hall and have to take my lunch at a different hour, just because of whatever fucking disgusting mystery meat he’s nuking in there.” – Jamie from IT.
So you probably think this story is about Steve, right? That Steve is the guy everyone hated and no one knew, and was the one responsible for my old workplace shutting down? That he was just some dude from outside sneaking in and nuking human flesh he’d hacked up in his basement, to devour in front of people for whatever sick and twisted reason it got off this closet psychopath?
Well, you’re wrong. Kinda.
I found out later that Steve was a support guy from helpdesk, ordinary kid working his way through college that just really happened to like Thai food and fish. And it’s true, as you can tell from my writing here, that no one really liked him because of his culinary preferences and their stench which we had to share in.
You see, the person who everyone REALLY hated, who was ultimately responsible for the end of my old place of work, was Diane. Fuck Diane. Some days I felt sorry for her, most other days I just wished she would die.
Diane was fat. Really fat. And a terrible dresser. Each day I had the misfortune of crossing paths with her it was like a fun game to see what fucking style crime against humanity she’d committed. Lots of bright bright colours that should never go together. Lots of ugly, baggy sweaters. Neon leggings which would never be appropriate in an office environment anywhere in the world at any time. And god, her hair – her horrible permed, dyed hair with the roots coming through – fuck.
Diane was loud. Her voice was low and grating, within it bitterness instilled from years of unhappy marriage and dealing with meaningless office bullshit and incompetent coworkers. I could hear her on the phone even though I was a whole block of cubicles away, bitching into her headset at some other drone who was, no doubt, only a few other cubicles away and hating his life because of her.
No one liked Diane. Not even Diane.
She got really upset some days. I heard her yell and scream and could fucking FEEL the awkwardness rising like warm air from my fellow drones’ cubicles around me. You know when someone’s voice changes, when they are just on the very edge of breaking down into tears? Yeah, there was a lot of that too. VERY AWKWARD.
It was pretty clear to everyone that knew who Diane was that she had emotional problems.
Between Diane’s all out being a horrible fucking human being and Steve’s nauseating microwave specials, I was hating life more than just because I had to reboot my computer four times a day, because it kept freezing and IT wouldn’t fix it or give me a new one. I thought about quitting a lot. Or about stabbing Steve or Diane with an icepick.
So yeah, Diane is the one everyone hated. And she’s the one who was ultimately responsible for the company folding after what was unimaginatively dubbed “The Break Room Incident”. Kind of an understatement.
I think I was the only one who really put two and two together and realized that there was a previous altercation which really set off The Break Room Incident, which I also happened to be around for. I don’t think anyone else experienced the former and the latter. And I don’t think anyone else had PTSD, or can’t sleep at night, or has panic attacks and recurring nightmares like me, because they didn’t see what I saw.
Diane was often in the break room at the same time as Steve and I, which made things worse. On the plus side, she kept quiet while we sat there stewing in the disgusting vapors of whatever rancid disaster Steve was devouring. But I still had to be in the same room as her, and listen to her drinking ridiculous amounts of soda from that fucking ginormous cup from Seven Eleven, and eating whatever fucking boxed processed combination of salt, fat and sugar which to her constituted food. I made the mistake of looking up one time and could see the anger in her face, the pure frustration. Have you ever seen a very fat, very ugly woman in a bright yellow knitted sweater angrily chewing? I have and it’s horrible.
And then one day, she went off – the precursor. Diane had already been in the break room when I arrived – boxed food with 2500 mg of sodium: check. Fluorescent green cardigan: check. Crows feet and a dour expression and being a total bitch – check.
I sat as far as fucking possible away from her and tried to eat my meal with whatever tiny amount of peace I could muster in this hell of an environment that I called work.
Then Steve came in. Steve came in with his headphones on, totally oblivious, and took the lid off the Tupperware container BEEP BEEP BEEP HUMMMMMM and I felt like vomiting. Through my nearly gagging I shot a cautious look over at Diane as she was sitting close to the microwave and Steve. Oh shiiiiiiiit. She started getting up. This was going to be bad.
“HEY,” she said. This was going to be a fucking train wreck. I couldn’t look away. Steve was still oblivious to Diane not a foot away from him, still plugged in, still rockin’ out to Megadeth or whatever the fuck he was listening to. BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP he pushed the button and the door opened and he took out the steaming container that smelled like shit.
“HEY.” Diane said, again. This time, he heard her. Slowly, he took out his headphones. “THAT FUCKING STINKS.”
Steve was, needless to say, a little surprised.
“That fucking stinks,” she said again. “and I SWEAR TO GOD if you nuke any more of whatever disgusting crap you’re about to eat when I’m in here, I WILL PUT YOUR HEAD in that goddamn microwave so you can smell it.”
Diane brought her big flabby bear paw of a hand up and smacked the container Steve was holding up into his face. The hot, steaming, disgusting sludge which he called food exploded everywhere, all over him. Diane stormed out. Steve stood there in shock, reeking and coated in his brown sludgy foul-smelling lunch. I left, and took the afternoon off. That night I dreamt of Diane’s demon eyes and sinking into an ocean of brown mire that was Steve’s lunch.
About a week later is when the incident happened.
I came up to the break room for my lunch and I could smell the foul miasma floating down the hallway. Fucking Steve, I thought. As I got closer to the break room, I saw Diane leaving at the other end of the hall. I found out later I was the last person to see her before she disappeared.
I got closer to the break room and the rancid smell got even worse. Jesus Steve, what the fuck are you eating today? It smells like a fucking slaughterhouse in here.
When I entered the break room reality tilted. There was blood everywhere. The sink, the counter, the white paint on the drawers – they were all splattered with bright crimson. Steve’s body sat on the floor in a pool of blood, leaned against one of the counter’s cupboards, a giant knife sunk deep into the ribcage. The police report would later state that Diane had stabbed him over 43 times.
The microwave hummed and rotated the plate inside, oblivious to the carnage of which it was a part.
Diane said she’d put his head in the microwave, and that is exactly what she did.
I have a new job now. I eat lunch at my desk, and I still can’t sleep.