The first time I met Al, he had on a blue button-down Oxford cloth shirt and the requisite red 1990s power tie. His hair was shorn flat in the style called a high and tight, just like Arsenio Hall and Bobby Brown wore back then. And he was a little chubby, although I'd never have described him that way at the time. For some reason, his driver's license, these 11 years later, still bears a picture of him from those good old days. We get it out and snicker at it from time to time. Most striking, though, were Al's HUGE teeth. I mean, not huge in a bad, horse-teethy kind of way... Because all those huge teeth translated into this amazingly warm, engaging, bright smile.
This was the day Al had come to my office to assume the role of Manager (eek!). He was going to be my new boss. And only two short and sheltered years into my career in financial services, I still reeled at any alteration to my work environment. At that point in my life, getting a new boss was as cataclysmic as getting a new set of major organs. I was petrified to the point of quaking.
Along with this major upheaval in my worklife, back at the homestead, I'd just that same week reached a decision with my then-husband, Paul, that we would likely divorce. Racked with guilt and feeling extremely vulnerable and inadequate on a personal level, the last thing I felt ready for was having to put on my professional, got-it-all-together image and present myself to the person who would be calling all the shots for 40+ hours of each week.
But the day arrived, and the hour rolled around, and into my office walked New Boss Man. He took the visitor's chair and left me in my command-central seat on the "working" side of the desk. I immediately sensed his warmth and authenticity.
But, thanks to my diminished confidence in myself and my complete rookie status in this situation, what should have been a light-hearted and casual get-to-know-you chat still proved, for me, unbelievably threatening, and I immediately felt myself click into defensive mode. All of his innocent questions about how I viewed my job, what my career goals were, what I liked in a manager, sent me warbling on stiltedly with the answers I thought a man in his position would want to hear.
Well, I don't think I was even remotely honest, and as I recall, I ended up having one of those out of body experiences where your mouth keeps grinding out words but you have no control over the output, and what's coming out sounds like an 8th grade Latin student's translation of The Iliad.
At last, the meeting drew to a close and I reflected I may have gotten out of it unscathed, but alas, Al posed a final question. "Is there anything else about you that I need to know?"
Being completely paranoid about Corporate Management in general, I saw this question as an attempt to get me to "fess up" about something personal in my life.
I assumed that my old manager had already shared the sordid details of my divorce (which in retrospect was about a .08 on the sordidometer, but what does a 26 year old know?), and if I didn't share those same sordid details with this new guy, I'd immediately be labeled dishonest and put on the "fire ASAP" list. (Knowing Al as I do now, probably what he really wanted to know was did I love college football and did I cook my boiled peanuts with a ham-hock or not. He did get those answers much later and I must've passed his test because, hey, we're all married up now!)
So, with nary a pause for breath, I rattled out through racking, face-contorting, snot-trough wiping, hiccuping sobs the 18 month plus saga of the failure of my marriage and my fears about being -- sob -- alone -- sob -- for -- sniff, sob, ever.
So professional of me, and such a great first impression, don't you think?
Well, at the close of the meeting, Al seemed perfectly comfortable and happy to have met me. He remembers that meeting fondly and says he thought I was "the cutest little girl [he'd] ever met."
He even remembers exactly what I was wearing that day, right down to my swinging blonde ponytail and my loverly faux pearl jewelry.
But I wouldn't know what sort of impression I'd made on him until years later.