Like hundreds of thousands of people across the globe, I spruced up my “office,” aka the kitchen table, to make it feel a bit more…officey. I put a cup full of pens next to my computer, dug up some old, half-used notepads and moved all the plants in my house over to the two windows closest to the fold up table I started working on, giving the room a cozier feel.
Being locked in my house over the weekend, everything was clean. More than clean, sparkling. Surgery could be done in any room. Cleaning was a great way to kill time and anxiety about COVID-19. Okay, not just cleaning, but cleaning with wine was the ticket.
Although being suddenly told to stay at home had been a shock to the system for many, I was ready to work from home. In a previous life, I was a background investigator and teleworked for three years. So I already knew the key to staying sane was routine, which I set on day one. My pandemic routine was to wake up, workout for thirty minutes, shower, dress like I still had a job, eat breakfast, do chores, and make a pot of coffee all before starting work at 0900.
Okay, so the workouts weren’t great, but one had to make due when all the gyms were shutdown. And for me, that meant finishing the transformation into my mother by incorporating jazzercising into my morning routine.
Finishing the last of my chores to restore the house to its aseptic environment, I grabbed a steaming cup of coffee with both hands, blew on it to cool it down and kissed Nick on top of his head. I held back from launching into the latest coronavirus update, saving those sort of updates until Nick had his coffee too, because I learned quickly Nick wasn’t ready for any sort of human interaction until after that first cup.
I bent over and looked at Nick, smiling when I caught his gaze.
“I need to change offices. You’re entirely too perky in the morning,” Nick said. I brushed off the comment. Troll hair. PJs still on. Purple bags under his eyes. It was clear Nick was not adjusting well to his new telework schedule.
“I’m adjusting great.” Nick said, reading my thoughts, or more likely the judging look in my eyes. “Now get out of my office.”
Nick’s office was the dining room, which was attached in an open floor plan to the living room where I worked. His desk was immaculate when he started his first day of teleworking, I made sure of that. I gave him the good desk with the good view, in the room with all the shelves. And his desk was an actual desk, with supplies and drawers and everything. I wanted him to be as comfortable as possible while working at home.
Just not that comfortable.
At his desk, Nick now had two laptops in front of him- his work computer, which had his emails up, and his personal computer, that he was playing video games on. There was also two half-drunk mugs of coffee, a can of Monster, and trash, miscellaneous trash, despite the trash can I placed right next to him.
I headed back to my ‘office’, finding solace in a good cup of coffee. I woke up early enough this morning that before starting work I could even knock out thirty minutes of German lessons, using the online program I bought a year ago with the good intentions of using daily but never seemed to get around to before now.
By mid-afternoon, I needed human interaction. The morning video conference I found myself surprisingly looking forward to was cancelled. I hadn’t spoken in hours. Maybe it was time to finally get a cat, I thought to myself for the umpteenth time since the quarantine started.
I grabbed an apple from the kitchen counter and headed to Nick’s office. The morning had been quiet. Dull. I needed something interesting to happen and it was clear from our morning interaction that having mid-day sex with my co-worker was out of the question. I wondered how many other people had illusions of rabbit-like sex with their spouse at the beginning of the global shutdown. Maybe I was foolish to think there could be a silver lining to all this, a sex-frenzy silver lining. I thought perhaps working together may light a lustful spark we hadn’t felt since we were dating. Maybe even invite some roleplaying scenarios, like the sexy secretary. But by week two it was evident we weren’t co-workers in a porno. No, our working relationship at the house was much more mundane, like co-workers who were perfectly civil to each other, but really we’re just trying to make it through the nine-to-five grind without any explosive arguments over who used whose white board or what was the appropriate use of ‘Reply All’.
Nonetheless, I was bored. So, to keep things interesting, it was time to poke the bear.
“You took two naps today. I wouldn’t say you’re the “ideal” telework employee,” I said, munching on an apple while I stood next to Nick. Unsurprisingly, he was on his gaming computer, not his work computer.
“Tell it to my supervisor,” Nick answered without looking up from his computer.
I took another chomp of my apple. “What are you going to do if your boss tries to Skype you?” This was my main motivation for continuing to wear my business causal outfits, even while at home. Getting caught on video chat while wearing pajamas or a t-shirt with a tagline saying something like ‘four out of three people struggle with math’ was a noob mistake. And, as much as I hated to admit it, my mother’s insistence that ‘if you dress good, you feel good’ dictated my actions even now.
“Bandwidth is really inhibited when you have everyone using video, so my work only uses audio in our meetings,” Nick said, still not looking up from his game.
That was actually pretty genius. So many of my video conferences in the last couple of weeks were torture sessions due to audio delays and video issues. I would have to remember to put the bug in my boss’ ear about a ‘no video policy’; and then I could wear PJs to work too.
Shoulders shrugged, I tossed my apple core into the trash next to Nick before walking back to my desk.
It was true that the world was on fire. A pandemic and economic uncertainty. I worried about my older mother, my older brother with a new born, and my younger brother’s job security.
But teleworking….teleworking was an introvert’s dream.
No co-workers to argue with or steal your supplies. Food, coffee and tea within arm’s reach. In my down time, I could sneak in more German lessons or sit outside and read. I even managed to sneak in hikes on particularly slow days. Best of all, I finally had time to enhance my culinary skills by having more than twenty minutes to cook dinner.
I was becoming healthier. Happier. More centered and at peace.
But not Nick. Nick was turning into a pile of mash potatoes.
He ate through the majority of our food stockpile.
And he was bored. So bored.
Before the pandemic, Nick was fit. No, not fit, cut. He worked out five days a week ever since we met seven years ago. But he hadn’t worked out since being quarantined. He vehemently declined my offers to try jazzercising, and less surprisingly, my offers to go on a run. The most I could get Nick to move was when he agreed to join me on hikes.
He was tired and bored and grumpy.
He was not a great co-worker.
“I can’t take it anymore. I’m switching offices. I’m heading to the bedroom.” Nick already had his computers folded up under his arms and a can of Monster in his hand when he approached me in my office.
“You can’t take what anymore?” I looked up, confused. The scent of cinnamon apple wafted between us from the candle on the mantel behind me.
“You! Where do I file a complaint about you playing Britney Spears at full volume all day? God, and the endless chatter. And sometimes,” Nick said, his eye twitching, “sometimes you just sit down next to me without anything to say. You are enjoying this way too much. I’ve never seen you so peppy. And anal-retentive. It’s like your quirks are gaining strength with every day we’re locked in here. I can’t take it. I’ll be in the bedroom.”
Nick took a deep breath, realizing he may have been too harsh. “I need to call my boss anyway, and it’s going to be hard for me to lubricate the conversation in order to have him bite off on a project I want to work on with Ms. Spears singing about wanting to get laid in the background.”
“Did you just say ‘lubricate the conversation?’” I said, raising an eyebrow.
Nick shook his head and headed towards the bedroom. “Shout if you need me,” he said, not looking back.
I sat there, flabbergasted.
Then it sunk in.
He was right.
Teleworking turned me into the annoying co-worker. The one you put on your headphones when you’re around in an effort to drown them out. Now I remembered why I quit my background investigator job and found a job in an office. I was driving my husband nuts. I barely talked to people, so I ended up unloading everything on my husband. Everything. All of my frustrations and need for appreciation and mindless gossip. It all came out like a firehose the moment he walked in the door. And this quarantine was like hooking back up that firehose.