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An Online Petition to Save the Redwoods

Part Two

Discovering a co-worker’s blog means having to find out if you’ve been written about. Along the way, however, you will learn things you weren’t supposed to know.

I was standing there behind her, taking all this in, and then she finally sensed that someone was behind her, and she turned and blushed and turned back and alt-tabbed to a spreadsheet, but it was far too late. It was a century ago. I was standing there, and she’d been writing on her blog, and I knew it, and she knew I knew it, and there was no way to make any of it better.

I should have immediately said: Don’t worry. I have a blog, too. I’ll send you the URL! But I didn’t do that, and then it was too late, and we just needed to plow through these next few seconds and find some way to carry on with the rest of our lives, and hopefully someday we would be able to forget this moment where the private creative inclination and the zombie drone office workday crashed and burned. I tried to be as polite as possible.

ME: I’m sorry to bother you, I just—[I shouldn’t have said that—it shows I know she is up to no good. I should have just acted like as far as I knew she was doing something work-related.]

CHARLOTTE: Oh it’s no problem! What’s up! [Too red-faced, too eager to help or shoo me.]

ME: These files, Debbie needs like 40 copies and stapled and all that? Could—

CHARLOTTE: Totally no problem, totally. [She grabs them away from me, not even looking at them.]

ME: OK, so—

CHARLOTTE: I’ll get it done right away, definitely! [She thinks I think she’s shirking whatever duties she was shirking. But I don’t care! At all!]

ME: OK, well whenever is fine—

CHARLOTTE: It’s no problem, I’ll just—

ME: OK, so—

CHARLOTTE: OK!

ME: OK. [Pause far, far too long, until finally: Exit.]

It was one of the most awkward and horrible office-based human interactions, of all time, ever. I went back to my desk and just sat there, thinking about what I should do. Could I email her and ask about her blog? That would be a terrible idea. Clearly she didn’t want a reminder of the scene we’d just had. Better to just forget about it. I could tell Andrea about it and get her opinion, but that seemed like a bad idea as well. I could at least respect Charlotte’s privacy and not blab to everyone about her blog, right?

There was really only one possible course of action: I had to read her blog. Unquestionably. If Charlotte had a blog, I needed to read it. I couldn’t not. There was no way to forget it existed. It was find the URL or die trying, so that is what I spent the rest of the afternoon doing.

I googled her name and got nothing. I googled her email address, both work and personal (which I had access to from when she’d originally applied for the job) and got nothing. I tried some random combinations of her first name and our company name in case she’d been dumb enough to put something that obvious on the internet, but she hadn’t. And that was as far as Google could take me.

This sort of e-stalking is probably frowned on by most, but it’s not that big of a deal. Everyone does it at some point. Yes you do. It’s just how the world works. It does not make you a stalker. People you hated in high school are probably googling you right now. Who cares? Let them. It’s like when you have a crush on a girl who lives in your neighborhood and you take the long way around to walk past her house, despite the inconvenience, on the off chance that you’ll run into her. Same thing. Although a bad example, maybe.

Unfortunately, as none of that had worked for me, I needed to step up my game a bit. So how did I eventually find the URL of her blog? I’ll warn you: It’s bad.

I found it by looking on her computer.

One day Charlotte was out sick, and it happened to be the same day that one of our directors was scheduled to give a presentation to a prospective client. There was a file on Charlotte’s computer that he needed and everyone was really stressed about her being out. I didn’t want her to have to come in, and I didn’t want everyone to resent her if this presentation didn’t go well and everyone’s yearly bonuses got negatively affected. So I assured the director I could retrieve the file from her computer. That involved me having to call her, since I needed her password in order to get logged in to her machine. I dialed the number and as it rang, the awkwardness of calling her at home suddenly dawned on me and I wished I had taken the time to think of a better plan first, sketch out a brief dialogue or something, but then she answered.

ME: Hi, it’s Mark, from work.

CHARLOTTE: Hi?

ME: I’m sorry to bother you.

CHARLOTTE: Mm-hmm?

ME: Joanna needs that file from your computer for the presentation.

CHARLOTTE: Oh. Crap. [Do Christian people use language like that?]

ME: Yeah. I’m really sorry. So rather than having you come in can I just log in and get it for him?

CHARLOTTE: Yeah, that’s fine.

ME: So then you can just rest and relax and not worry.

CHARLOTTE: It’s fine.

She gave me her password, waited while I logged in, then explained to me where to find the file. Once I’d found it, we said our perfunctory goodbyes and that was it. My takeaways from the conversation were: 1) She didn’t actually sound that sick, and 2) She sounded more irritated or upset. Not upset at me—well, probably that too—but she’d already sounded distressed about something when she answered the phone.

She was conflicted about certain movies and TV shows, like Harry Potter and Buffy the Vampire Slayer: She felt like enjoying them might conflict with her faith. After I moved the file to a folder on the shared drive, I was about to log off, but my hand sort of lingered on the mouse. It was like I wasn’t really thinking of anything, I was just giving my brain room to turn something over. Then without really consciously processing what I was doing, I opened her browser and looked at the history. And there it was. That was how I found her URL. And if that’s a gray area, it’s admittedly not a very gray area. I had permission to be on her computer, but while I was there, I did things I was not supposed to do. That is just not a good thing to do to another person.

I am bad. I am evil.

I just wanted to know her better. I don’t know what else to say.

I went back to my desk and settled in to read her blog. There was a lot of writing to get through; she’d started the blog long before she started working here. It was kind of cute to read her “I have a new job, I’m so excited” post. Poor lady. And, oh my God, was she Christian. God’s plans this, at church this weekend that. She was consumed. She hadn’t lived in this town very long, and she was so glad to have found a church that she really liked, full of people that were so accepting. Good for her.

There was other stuff as well. She was conflicted about certain movies and TV shows, like Harry Potter and Buffy the Vampire Slayer: She felt like she really wanted to watch them, but that enjoying them might conflict with her faith and be a negative influence. She’d give a lengthy and somewhat dry series of bullet points each Monday morning, outlining how she’d spent the weekend and what she’d accomplished or failed to accomplish. Pictures of the sky and cats. The occasional apology for not updating her blog more often. What had happened at different church services and prayer meetings and Bible studies and other assorted church-centric functions, nice people she’d met there, things that she was praying for, appeals and solicitations to others reading her blog to pray for whatever random person was experiencing whatever random ailment.

She did talk about work occasionally, and had nicknames for some of our coworkers—fairly clever ones, at that. “Label” was clearly Georgia, a woman in the IT department who had “Georgia’s [noun]” written on a piece of masking tape and affixed to every single item in her cubicle that was not bolted down. Georgia’s scissors, Georgia’s tape dispenser, Georgia’s chair, Georgia’s picture frame, even. But “Aquiline” threw me off because there are two men with kind of strange noses and Google couldn’t quite give me a decent grasp of what constitutes aquiline. But then she mentioned Aquiline’s bizarre grasp of the English language, and that right there is Angelo, my friends. “My cousin from San Diego is just your atypical surfer dude.” “It wasn’t my fault I got lost, I followed the directions he gave me, laterally word for word.” 100 percent Angelo.

No real mention of me, though. Which I guess is good? There was one brief reference to me from her post on her first day on the job (“Someone showed me around the office.”) That was it. I guess that’s good?

Another important thing I learned from her blog: She’s married. Who knew she had a husband? She seemed kind of young to be married, so that was interesting. His name is Kelly and he works a computer store or something. Bizarre that I didn’t even notice her ring, but I checked later when she was making coffee and sure enough. They hadn’t been married very long, maybe a year or so, but it didn’t sound like everything was all lovely and happy. He was a Christian too, but didn’t always go to church with her. She mentioned a few times trying to get him to go to pastoral counseling. He played different video games than her, and liked different kinds of movies. Not what I would have pictured for her. Not that I pictured anything in particular.

Also: Something bad happened to her, and that’s a big part of why she started being so religious. She didn’t always go to church. It wasn’t totally clear what the inciting event was, but it seemed like it was something family-related.

Everyone has friends who have websites. Blogs act as a natural extension of the conversations we have in real life. When you’re hanging out with your friends, someone will make reference to something they wrote on their website, or pieces of face-to-face conversations will become incorporated into something they write online. The relationships online and off are intertwined. Now that I was reading her blog, I felt like I knew Charlotte a lot better. I knew what movies she rented on the weekends and whether or not she’d liked a new restaurant that had opened recently. But we weren’t any better friends in the real world. These weren’t things I could just strike up a conversation and engage with her about, as much as I wanted to. If I still worked with Joseph (the Bird Guy), he would be stopping by all the time to tell me about how Penelope Ladyfeathers had almost learned a new word. And I don’t even care about that. Why didn’t Charlotte ever want to come by my desk and tell me about something strange or annoying one of our coworkers had done, or about how much she liked a movie we’d both seen over the weekend? Those were topics I was actually wanting to have a conversation with someone about.

Then at around 10 p.m. she thought she’d heard a noise somewhere in the apartment. She was sure it was an intruder, someone was going to kill her. My desire to chat and engage with her grew as details about her life outside of work (which seemed increasingly not that great) emerged. Her husband’s career, or lack thereof, seemed to be a source of tension. They had moved to this town so that he could go to grad school, but he’d changed his mind for some reason and dropped out after a few weeks. Then he got the job at the computer store, which had been a huge irritation for Charlotte, since that was what he’d been doing in the town where they used to live, and now basically they’d moved and she’d had to find a new church for basically no reason. And his job now required him to work long hours, the end result of which was that she spent a lot of time alone on evenings and weekends.

She wrote about one weekend in particular where a friend of hers was out of town and Kelly was working very late. By Saturday evening, she realized she hadn’t actually spoken to another human being all day, and then at around 10 p.m. she thought she’d heard a noise somewhere in the apartment. She was sure it was an intruder, someone was going to kill her. She sort of had a sense her mind was exaggerating the situation, but she wasn’t sure if maybe she should still call the police, just to be safe. She called Kelly’s cell phone to have him calm her down and reassure her, but he didn’t answer. She ended up leaving him five messages, and then just sat in her bedroom crying for the rest of the night, until he came home after midnight and found her like that. She said it’d been a while since she’d had dark thoughts like that, and I don’t know what that was a reference to. Reflecting on it later, she tried to remind herself that it was a just a test (from God), and that she’d basically passed, although she hadn’t enjoyed the experience at all, and didn’t really appreciate having been put through it (by God).

The following Friday I tried to get some information about what she had planned for the coming weekend. I didn’t want her to have a repeat of what’d she’d been through. If she told me she didn’t have any plans, I would invite her to do something. Just hanging out somewhere, doing something. Nothing fancy. Very low-key. Clearly not a date or anything like that. Just being friendly. But stopping by her desk and inquiring about her plans for the weekend wasn’t really within the traditional parameters of our relationship, so I did so under the pretense of dropping off some papers that someone needed to be filed. Our conversation went like this:

ME: Jack gave me these to give to you.

CHARLOTTE: Cool, thanks.

ME: So what’s on deck for this weekend?

CHARLOTTE: Oh, different things, the usual, you know.

ME: Oh, cool.

CHARLOTTE: Yup.

Was she going to ask me about my plans? Was that really all she was willing to tell me about her weekend? OK fine, let her have another panic attack and hide under her bed all weekend. I stood there nodding and smiling for another year and that was that.

So, whatever. It had been dumb to ask about her personal life, not only for the uncomfortable interaction, but also because Andrea asked me about it later.

“Were you just having a conversation with Charlotte?”

“No, not really.”

“What were you talking about? You were smiling.”

“Not on the inside. I was just trying to be friendly and ask what her weekend plans were.”

“Why were you being friendly? Why do you want to know what she does on the weekend?”

“I don’t.”

“She goes to church on weekends.”

“So?”

“If you join her church I’m not going to have anyone here to talk to. It will be me versus everyone.”

“Jesus, Andrea, I’m not joining her church.”

“Tell me if she gives you any church literature, so I can counteract it with anti-church literature.”

“I don’t want any literature of any kind, from either of you.”

“I have awesome literature.”

“OK fine. I will keep you posted.”

Charlotte’s blog the following Monday didn’t reflect anything out of the ordinary, so I guess she made it through without a freak-out. The major issue was frustration surrounding her husband’s unwillingness to go to church with her. He was also a Christian, but not quite as dedicated a Christian as she was. He went to church, but not regularly, and didn’t seem to be getting as much fulfillment out of it as she was. One weekend in particular, I guess he’d promised her he’d attend with her on Sunday, but then was too tired from work when Sunday morning rolled around, and she went on her own and was sort of stewing about it all day. Her friends at church could tell something was bothering her, but she just played it off as being stressed about work, didn’t want to get into it with them. She felt guilty, like his not attending was a failure on her part or something, because it had come in the way of her relationship with her friends at church, and by extension, her relationship with God? Something like that.

At this point I was checking her site about five times daily for new updates.