The Office Wife, February 5, 2017, Issue 2, Olivia Gaines
Taneeka James, MBA- Procurement
Thirty days of Vicki’s life sped by in that first month at American Conglomerate (AC). As the executive assistant to the board of directors at American Conglomerate, each work day she rode the elevator to her office on the 35th floor seemed far above the maddening crowd but not nearly high enough to avoid stepping in the daily bullshit of life. At one point in her week, it unaffectedly felt as if someone had backed a laden truck full of manure to the front door and unloaded it on the marbled entryway. True, shit travels downhill, but the smells always waft upwards.
Vicki’s nose was full of the stench. Trying to rise above it all was difficult since all the crabs on the bottom of the barrel were yanking on her ankle. Finding a balance between the demands of her new job and the demands of her life took a great deal of effort. If one could be honest, Vickie was bordering on exhaustion. Entering the building each day with a look of determination on her face was part of the job. Being a professional was mandatory, and being human was a given. On days like today, it was difficult being a nice person and a professional when men like Willie Johnson believed her to be an easy target.
“You are looking mighty fine in that red dress Ms. Vicki,” he said with a lecherous smile. Willie, also a board member, a recent divorcee and feeling the lightness of his new-found freedom took it upon himself to make a play for her. He was also a life-sized pain in her ass. A month in and the stupid man was forgetting himself.
“And you would look mighty fine in a court room explaining why you felt it necessary to sexually harass me,” Vicki responded.
Willie sputtered as if he’d eaten a Habanero pepper and tried to wash down the heat with a cold Coke. “I meant no harm, Ms. Vicki, I was simply complimenting you today,” he lied.
Vicki stepped closer to him.
“You are a member of the Board of Directors. It is no more appropriate for you to compliment me than it would be to tell Mr. Herman he had a nice ass. Stop being insipid and remember where you are,” she said in a hushed tone of voice.
“Jesus!” Willie said.
“Stop blaspheming and get back to work–over here bothering me with your nonsense,” she mumbled walking to her desk. This week’s schedule reported Willie traveling to Poughkeepsie. Why he was still here getting on her nerves was beyond her comprehension, but he was here. Getting on her nerves.
Lately, everything was tickling a nerve ending.
A nice cup of tea should do the trick.
Making her way to the break room, Vicki heard the sound of someone crying in the lady’s room. It was loud. By the sounds of it, the person crying had reached the snotting phase. That is the level where the tears, snot, and sadness all intermingled into one big flow of gooey liquid.
“Hello,” she called out as she entered the restroom. “Do you need some help?”
“No,” a weak voice called back. “I’m okay.”
Vicki sighed deeply, moving further into the bathroom when she wanted to turn, run and go the other way. She couldn’t. Someone needed her help.
“It doesn’t sound like you are okay,” Vicki responded, walking down the row of silver doors until she came to the one which was closed. A pair of very expensive pumps, hung from underneath the door. Dark, hose covered legs were attached to the shoes. Only four women were on the board. Of the four, just one was black.
“Ms. James, is everything all right?” She asked.
Taneeka James, by anyone’s standards was a sharp, savvy woman going places. Widely respected in the company, she was appointed to the board at the age of 32 after saving the company millions by switching a supply chain provider, which put her in contact with a farmer, who worked with a small company which shortened the processes of distribution in South America. It put her on the fast track. Rumors swelled throughout the company that once she finished her two years on the board, she would be able to pick where she wanted to work in the world. Someone had even mentioned a vice president position in the corporate main office.
Each time Vicki saw the young woman, her face was filled with determination. The drive she had for AC was envied by some while mocked by others. Crying in a bathroom stall was unlike the tenacious Taneeka.
“Ms. James, seriously, it can’t be that bad,” Vicki said softly.
“Oh yeah? Wanna bet,” Taneeka replied.
Vicki decided to have some fun at her expense.
“Oh no! You are pregnant with your boyfriend’s baby and your husband is sterile.” Vicki asked.
“Say what?” Taneeka responded. Vicki noticed that the sobbing had eased.
“You gained ten pounds and your doctor has placed you on a no carb diet,” Vicki said.
“No…what are you talking about?”
“Please tell me you don’t have cancer!” Vicki yelled.
Taneeka flung open the door to stand in the stall staring at Vicki as if she’d lost her everlasting mind. Vicki greeted her with a wide smile.
“At least I got you to stop crying,” she said to Taneeka. “Come one over here and let’s hug this out.”
Vicki opened her arms to the young lady, uncertain if she would step into the embrace or curse her up one side of her head and down the other. Instead she stood still.
“Don’t be shy. No one is in this bathroom, but the two of us. Come on and get this love before I start charging you an admission fee,” Vicki said to the woman.
To her surprise, Taneeka stepped forward and flung herself into Vicki’s arms. It was so forceful, it would have knocked Vicki down if it weren’t for the granite counter top behind them. She held onto the young woman as a fresh set of tears marched from her ducts, making an imprinted trail down her cheeks. After five minutes, Vicki stepped back and pushed her away.
“Okay, enough of that shit. It’s time to shake it off, make a plan and move forward,” she told Taneeka.
“You make it sound so simple,” Taneeka said.
“It is that simple. What makes life complicated is that we are always trying to make every circle fit into a square simply because it looks pretty to us. Life isn’t pretty. Sit down, figure out a game plan and get moving,” she said with authority. It was difficult to believe that a woman who represented the entirety of procurement for a multi-billion dollar conglomerate was in the lady’s room crying.
When Vicki accepted the position, many of the departments the board members represented required extensive research. Taneeka’s role in procuring involved the procedure of selecting vendors, establishing payment terms, strategic vetting, selection, the negotiation of contracts and actual purchasing of goods. Her role in overseeing procurement from the board perspective focused more a concern with acquisition all the goods, services and work that is vital to organizational policies that are in place to make sure AC is sourcing from companies with similar ethics, and that the sourcing materials that are not environmentally hazardous.
“So, with all that said, Ms. James, why are you crying?”
She inhaled twice.
Taneeka looked down at her feet.
She shuffled her feet.
Vicki was getting impatient and she really wanted her tea. Please don’t let this be about some chuckle headed boyfriend. It wasn’t. It was over her chuckle headed husband.
“Malik, that’s my husband, is all over me about the credit card and my spending. On top of that, I can’t cook, the house is a mess, and I overshoot my budget every month. It has become a point of contention in our marriage,” she confessed.
Stunned was the right word to describe what Vicki was feeling.
This powerful, black woman, sat on a commode in the bathroom crying, because she couldn’t cook and couldn’t balance a checkbook.
A woman who made purchasing decisions and wrote policies for one of the largest conglomerates in the world was falling apart in the bathroom because she was a lousy wife.
“I need some tea,” Vicki said.
“Are you leaving me?”
“Yep. I thought you had a real problem,” Vicki said as she washed her hands.
“I do have a real problem. I am a lousy wife,” she said to Vicki.
Vicki walked away from Taneeka, headed to the break room to make that cup of tea she so desperately needed to get her through the rest of a crappy day. The last thing on her list was listening to a woman who made six figures, wore clothing she couldn’t pronounce and live in a neighborhood where she couldn’t even get a job as a housekeeper.
“Vicki,” Taneeka called behind her. “Wait a minute, please.”
“No. I am going to make myself a cup of tea. Would you care for one as well?”
“Uhmm, yes,” Taneeka responded.
“Good. Get cleaned up and I will see you in the break room,” she replied.
It was the start of a relationship that few could explain, yet most women could understand. Vicki had somehow become Taneeka’s office wife. By adding Taneeka as a friend to her Pinterest board, Vicki was able to offer her guidance, friendship and a camaraderie in a job were there were no such things as friends. Vicki taught a wife who could not cook how to prepare fresh meals in her home. Some of the meals were via crock pot, stove top or oven created with simple, easy to follow recipes. Taneeka’s shopping habit now was relegated to one new pair of shoes or a purse every six months, which eased the tensions in her home. Vicki encouraged her new friend to start a cash only diet. This type of spending meant if she didn’t have the cash in her hand to buy an item, she would not be able to charge it either.
The two women were seldom seen together in the office. It would not be appropriate for a board member to seem so friendly with the support staff. Taneeka James and Victoria Lawrence, spotted once on a Friday afternoon in February sharing a cup of tea, were not seen together in public again. Yet the bond between them was strong. A bond which would later come under fire.
But, for now, the conversations between them developed through comments on a Pinterest board, where the two women interacted daily and shared a private life. Photos from vacations, family functions and personal milestones were posted to a private board visible only to their eyes.
It was the best type of relationship. A relationship closed to prying eyes.