This is a true story about one of my most memorable mistakes. Marlene was probably twenty years older than me, but I didn’t see it, and I didn’t know what it meant. She was my idol and my goal was to have what she had, the corner office, the windows, the oriental rugs. She was at the top of her game. Men came to her for advice, favors, and that magic signature. She could sign off on anything and make it a reality. When the president came to speak, she was the one to manage him. Her people met with his people, they made spreadsheets and flow charts, and she nixed them all. Nothing was good enough for her. That’s what made her so great. She could blow up an idea with one eye brow.
I followed her for a year working on a special project. We traveled together and I got to see her prey on the account reps and sales guys who took her out to lunch and waited without complaining when she was an hour late. She wore Chanel suits and high heels, her lipstick was always perfect, and her hair was blond, that Jean Harlow blond that made her ageless. I never thought about how old she was because I thought she was beautiful. And she knew that. She played me into waiting on her hand and foot because she knew I worshipped her.
After a meeting of budget cuts and layoffs, she lit up one last cigarette to savor her dominion. Suits clustered around her like guppies. I’d point to my wristwatch to remind her we were late for our next meeting. If I stood too close to her, she blew smoke in my face. I should have known then she didn’t respect me. But after a year as her assistant, I took it as a sign of affection.
I’d never worked with an older woman before, never really thought about aging. In my mind she was just like me. We were girls. Then one day she looked different to me, bigger, a lot bigger. Her skirt was like sandwich wrap. Her belly bulged over her hips. She came around and stood in front of her desk, leaning against it with her ankles crossed and her arms folded, and I had only one thought. It was the only thought I could have looking at her. My mind was flooded with a giddy anticipation.
“Oh, Marlene,” I gushed. “You’re pregnant. I’m so happy for you.”
The look on her face was a bullet through my head and I knew I’d stepped in it.
“No,” she snapped. “I’m not pregnant.”
The next day I was transferred to a department in our distribution center. Never saw her again. Never understood. Until now.