I mostly do my job from home these days, but I go in to the the office a few times each month. My cubicle in the office has tan walls, with a black overhead and black file drawers. It is just like everyone else’s cubicle, but I helped choose the colors. Years ago, when the company was updating the building, I sat next to Jen, the facilities manager, and those are the kinds of things she let me help with. We also chose carpet and made friends with the guys from the cubicle vendor who spent weeks on site setting up tan walls and black drawers. Usually I don’t think about that stuff, but I was thinking about it today.
Back then, I worked in the office every day. As admin to one of our vice presidents, I didn't have any team members and since there were no other facilities people, neither did Jen. Because she was in charge of facilities, she always managed to find a place for us to relocate and remain cubicle neighbors, even as other departments were shuffled and people were moved around the building.
We talked each other through many a work-week and commiserated about everything from bosses to car problems to relationships. We ate lunch together most days. She talked about the trips she and her partner took to the lake and I talked about home improvement projects. We shared memories about our families and growing up. I found out that she has almost no photographs from her childhood because they were destroyed when her dad’s house burned down years ago. I know that she always knew she liked girls and never even tried dating a guy. I know that she and her prayer buddy from church prayed with each other every day on their way to work, each from her own car with phones on speaker.
When I told her I was expecting my first kid, she was thrilled. She loves kids. She put up with me and my hormones every day and managed to contain her laughter on her side of the cubicle wall when I turned into crazy-pregnant-bitch over stupid work stuff and gave people a piece of my mind (They totally deserved it, but I swear it was the pregnancy hormones. And because I had never been like that before, she thought it was hilarious). She was one of the first non-family people to visit me in the hospital and hold Luke after he was born. Weeks later, she put up with my incoherent ramblings when I returned to work from maternity leave, a blurry-eyed first-time mom, still trying to figure out what to do with the beautiful, maddening baby at home who woke up every two hours, all night long, for months on end.
When I transferred to a different job on a team and had to move to the other side of the building to sit near them, we both got very busy with new responsibilities and things changed. We still tried to do lunch from time to time, but it was difficult to coordinate schedules. We both had too much going on. I didn't even hear it from her directly when her job was outsourced and they let her go. We played phone tag a few times after that, but then nothing. I haven’t talked to her in several years.
I know this is what often happens when people work together every day and see each other all the time and know each other’s stories and then move across the building or to another company across town. You think you will keep in touch, but you don’t. Life is busy and hectic and there just. isn't time. And when you've had as many jobs as I've had -- working at least two jobs from the time I was seventeen until Luke was born when I was twenty-six -- it is impossible to keep track of every single person.
But today, when I walked in to the office and sat in my cubicle with the tan walls that I helped her choose, I thought of how nice it would be if Jen were on the other side of the wall and I missed her. A lot.
There are some people it is not okay to lose touch with. There are some people you have to keep track of. There are some people who are worth the effort and who deserve better than giving up after the second missed phone call.
I have to do better. I don't know if I'll be able to get back in touch with Jen. We have some mutual friends who might have her current number, so I'm going to try. But whether I can or not, I was reminded this morning that regardless of what job I have or what other busy stuff I have going on in my life, it really is the people who deserve to be a priority. Losing touch with people who are that important to me is not okay. I may not have a calling in a job I'm passionate about, but my job has allowed me to meet and get to know some remarkably wonderful people.
That is worth keeping in mind. That is worth making the effort to stay in touch. That is worth making sure I do better.