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I’m Better Off With a Cat

by Melissa R. Mendelson

I remember that day at work. It was my birthday. It was four months after my major heart surgery. A co-worker sat before me, and I was parked at my desk, watching the activity outside in the hall. I was supposed to be training this co-worker on travel vouchers, but I thought it was a distraction.

I thought that after working in the Business Office for over two years, they would remember my birthday especially with what I had just gone through, but it was getting late. And I finally excused myself to walk out into the hall and peer inside that conference room, where they should’ve been, and they were there. They were just in a meeting instead.

Maybe it shouldn’t have even mattered. It wasn’t a secret. Everyone knew what I had gone through. Some felt it safe now to even say, “You looked like you were at death’s door,” but nobody helped me.

When I was sick, they kept their distance, and the supervisors continued to bombard me with work, including the mail room, which I shouldn’t have even done. But they got me a chair. I could sit at the counter and sort the mail.

Wasn’t that nice of them, and I didn’t do anything about it. I could have gone to the union, and a few co-workers agreed on that. But I didn’t want to. I was under the illusion that we were all friends, and I didn’t want to disturb that. And I guess after everything I went through and being here for so long that maybe, they did forget my birthday, and maybe, I should too.

I was going back into the hospital anyway. The surgeon was closing the hole in my heart that had developed from the heart surgery. Maybe it was better just to focus on that, but luckily, it was a one-day procedure. And I would be back next week, or so I hoped.

I just couldn’t wrap my mind around it. I didn’t really hear from my friends. Some of them were there after the surgery, but were they really there? They lived two hours away from me, so I know that made it hard. And my family was there for me, and then again, they weren’t. They kept their distance too, and only when the complications began, then they helped me.

But when it came down to it, I was alone. I only had myself to rely on, and the recovery was tough, especially with Hurricane Sandy thrown into the mix. During that time, my family and I had to leave our home for two weeks due to no power and heat.

I lost vision temporarily in my right eye. It turned out that was from a blood clot, which, thank God, did not burst. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be writing this, and that’s how the hole was discovered. So, maybe this was the year not to celebrate my birthday, but I had come to rely on those co-workers as friends, people to talk to. They just weren’t listening.

I know I wasn’t in the right frame of mind. My mind was too busy digesting everything since when I first got sick back in March and spiraled down into July when I had the surgery. I hadn’t heard from my friends, so I talked to my co-workers. They seemed to be with me, and maybe, after the surgery, I was lashing out a bit.

But didn’t I have the right to be angry? Maybe I said a few things that I shouldn’t. Maybe that was what started the rift between me and my co-workers, and it just grew from there. And them forgetting about my birthday wasn’t what hurt the most anyway.

I would never have known about it, if she hadn’t slipped. Maybe they didn’t tell her that it was their secret. Maybe she didn’t think it was right and, during that day at lunch when we all ate together, she brought up the Christmas Party. And the room went silent.

It wasn’t like I wasn’t there a year ago, celebrating the holidays with them because I was, but now it had become some kind of secret, one that they did not want me to be a part of. And the conversation switched quickly to another topic, but now I knew about it. I knew that they were all going to gather together once more to celebrate the holidays, and I was not invited. And that hurt me.

I remember being sick. The dizzy, light-headed spells. The moments, where I couldn’t catch my breath. The two TEE Procedures done at Good Samaritan Hospital. The heart surgery done at Weill Cornell. The second heart procedure at Columbia Presbyterian. The complications. The wound vac. The angry, red scar that bit deep into my chest that I am only now having repaired cosmetically.

I remember all of it, but that’s not what hurt me. What hurt me was that the people that I worked with for so long, whom I considered friends, proved to me that they were nothing but co-workers. I guess my father was right when he said, “People at work are not your friends. If you want a friend, then buy a dog.” Since I’m not a dog lover, I’m better off with a cat.

Copyright © 2016 by Melissa R. Mendelson

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