Last Thursday at work, there was an incident with a stranger and I honestly thought I was going to be physically harmed. The aftermath was all sorts of terrible, which leads me to wonder if insensitivity is a normal practice among men, or if I just have the misfortune of not working with wholly sympathetic people.
I was at my desk and a stranger wandered off the elevator and onto our floor, demanding to see a psychiatrist. I asked him if he had an appointment, and he said No. I asked him if he had the name of a psychiatrist he wanted to see, and again he said No. He then asked if there were any doctors around – doctors who specialized in pain.
This man was obviously on something (you could see it in his eyes, the way his speech was slow, and his unsteady gait), and seemed to want something else – something more.
When he started asking questions to gain more information about the people on our floor, I told him that unless he had an appointment, I was unable to help him. Each time I had to tell him know, he got this look in his eye that made me feel that if he wasn’t on something, he would do something.
He was wearing a large jacket, a hoodie and was holding a can of some sort. He leaned on, and then through the window separating us and removed his hood. He looked so pissed off and I then realized that I was alone and had no way to call for help. I didn’t know if he had a weapon. I didn’t know if he would get violent. All I know is that I was really scared and there was no one else around.
Because he was leaning through the window, I was not able to reach for either of the phones (which were under the window), nor did I want to make any sudden moves because I didn’t know how he was going to react.
With my peripheral vision, I could see on the security camera monitors that no one was outside of their office on my floor and that no one was aware what was happening.
I was really scared, but knew I had to get help somehow. We communicate via buildings with g-chat throughout the day, and I saw my manager was online. I quickly typed to him that there was a sketchy person where I was and gave a full description of this man who was still leaning over my counter.
I am able to type without looking at the keyboard, so I was able to get out my message before he left the floor. My manager told me to call the lobby, but I couldn’t because (1) I didn’t have the lobby guys’ phone number and (2) I couldn’t call because the scary person was hovering over my phones. By time he wandered back into the elevator, I assume my manager was able to phone the lobby guys because he informed me that they got the sketchy guy.
I was proud of myself for remaining calm throughout the situation and handling it without harming myself or anyone else on the floor.
About 20 minutes later, my boss left for the day and he didn’t mention anything about what had happened. This seemed strange to me, as I would have thought my manager would have informed our boss of the situation.
I messaged a friend and colleague at another building and told her what happened. Her first reaction was to ask if I was okay.
It turned out, I wasn’t.
The reality of it all had finally set in and it dawned on me that I was actually really shaken up. I felt physically threatened while the situation was happening, but I had kept so calm until it got handled. Now that I was in the clear, I realized how really scary it all actually was and I broke down into tears. My friend/colleague called me right away and she stayed on the phone while I cried and tried to talk myself through it.
I decided to email my manager to tell him how shaken up I was and to ask him if we should tell our boss about it. I thought that since it was an obvious security breach (the guy got through 2 doormen in the lobby), that the boss should know. I sent the email, expecting to hear back from my manager since gmail indicated he was still online.
About an hour later, my manager came to my office. He stepped off the elevator and immediately made a huge joke about the guy who was on something who wanted more prescription drugs.
My jaw immediately dropped and I burst into tears again.
The manager was confused and asked what was wrong. I replied through tears, “Did you NOT get the email I sent you?!” And he was like, “No.”
So, I told him that I was really shaken up about what happened because I legitimately thought I was going to get hurt and then I explained the severity of the situation. He was surprised because he thought I handled everything fine. I told him I DID handle everything fine, but that’s because I was able to keep calm throughout what was happening. I told him about an hour after it was over, though, I wasn’t okay and that I was really, really distraught.
He gave me some line saying if he would have known, he wouldn’t have made a joke. But then he said that I had to understand that this is NYC and there are a lot of crazy people out there. (This is the same manager who told me when I was getting verbally harassed by one of our clients that I just had to understand that that guy was a dick and it’s just how he acts. Or when I was getting sexually harassed by a colleague that that colleague thinks he’s a lady’s man and I just have to understand that that’s how he is.)
I was upset for him making a joke out of the situation and being insensitive about it. But I was also frustrated that I keep getting the “Oh, you just have to understand that that’s the way guys are” speech.
How is that an acceptable explanation for things?
Or rather, how am I to be expected to just take that as an umbrella excuse for the reasons why I have experienced such things AT MY WORKPLACE?
So, later that afternoon… like, 15 minutes before we were done for the day, my manager FINALLY sent out an email to all the staff and my bosses saying what happened. I immediately sent out a follow up email to clarify things he left out. One of the first email responses was “oh, those doormen need to do a better job.”
No, “I’m sorry that happened to you, Katie” or “Oh my gosh, that’s scary. We need to figure out how to prevent that from happening again.”
I left the office that night and all I wanted was a hug from my mom. Too bad she lives in MN.
While on the train, I got a text from a female colleague who I’ve only known for about a month. She took the time to look up my phone number and send me a text saying that she was sorry that I had to go through that and that the next day she would give me a huge hug. I burst into tears on the train, grateful that someone at work cared.
On the walk home from the train, I called my mom. She could tell as soon as I said “Mom” that something was very wrong. I recounted my story again and she was PISSED that there was no sort of protocol and that no one was handling the aftermath in an acceptable way.
Later that night, the colleague who stayed on the phone with me at work called and we talked about it some more. She told her mom about what happened and her mom also agreed that there needed to be some sort of protocol set in place because that shouldn’t happen again.
The next morning, I had to go back to the same office. I thought I was going to be okay, but I broke down a couple times while I was getting ready.
Once at work, I read through the chain of emails from the night before. People were chiming in their two cents of how they thought I should have handled the situation. I wrote back, tears streaming down my face that I couldn’t just “call someone” because the guy was literally leaning over my phones. I couldn’t just “yell for help” because no one was out of their offices and if I would have made any sudden moves, he looked like he was going to hurt me. I told them they weren’t there and that I handled the situation in the best way that I knew how, but how there needs to be some sort of protocol or panic button so that this doesn’t happen again.
My boss walked in about a minute after I sent the email, so obviously he hadn’t read it yet. The first thing out of his mouth was that the doormen were slackers. I told him while that might be the case, that there was more to the story and that I needed to talk to him. He said, “Okay” and expected us to talk right then and there. I knew I was going to cry again, as I was already welling up, so I asked if we could go to a conference room. It seemed to shock him that I was getting so emotional, so he said we could talk out of sight from the rest of the people on the floor.
So, in the conference room I lost it again. I told the WHOLE story again and said how I know I was calm and fine in the moment, but as soon as the shock wore off, I was really shaken and scared. I told him about how it upset me that people were just blaming the doormen. I told him my mom and other (female) people were upset that we didn’t have any sort of protocol in this kind of situation where one physically can’t use a phone or yell out for help. I told him about my manager being insensitive and treating it all like a joke (which – I get that he didn’t read the email, but it’s still not something to make sport of). My boss then gave me the same “he’s a guy. We’re guys, we’re insensitive” speech and I almost lost it again. I told him I’m tired of being told that “stuff like this happens because it’s NYC or because this guy is a dick.” I said I wasn’t just some girl from the sticks and while I don’t like getting verbally or sexually harassed by clients and colleagues, it was something else to feel like I was going to be physically harmed.
My boss told me I could go home, but I told him I couldn’t afford not to work. I said I would be fine, but told him straight up that I would probably burst into tears at random points throughout the day. I went back to my office and got to work.
Awhile later, I was told that someone would cover for me and that they would still pay me and let me go home early. (This NEVER happens… we don’t get any sort of sick days or anything. You either work, or you don’t get paid.) So, I gladly accepted the offer and RAN out of there as soon as I was able.
I went out with some friends on Friday night, but then spent the rest of the weekend in my room working on some writing projects and watching movies.
I’m doing better now, but I wasn’t at the time. I had never been in a situation before where I thought another person was going to actively harm me. It was really scary and I seriously would never wish that upon anyone.
I’m grateful for my female colleagues and my family for calming me down and understanding that what happened was crappy and terrifying. I’m a strong person, but it’s nice knowing that there are people who have your back and are there for you when you need a shoulder to cry on (even if said shoulder is over the phone).
So – after a mostly relaxing weekend, I have my chin up and I’m plowing forward. I have another friend’s birthday shenanigans this weekend, I get to see my siblings and friends in a few weeks, and then I’ll (FINALLY) get to see my parents next month. Thank goodness… I could really use a Mom hug.