It was Monday, June 6, 2016, just a few days before my anticipated vacation.
I would meet, and work with my new district manager for the first three days of the week.
I literally just met the man, shook his hand, exchanged a few niceties, and advised him of my impending departure just a few days away.
I had been granted longer than normal personal time off for a cross country road trip that had been planned for many months. It had been approved prior to his transfer to our office. I would be leaving on Wednesday, June 8, after my work day was complete.
“Great…” I recall him saying with a slight grimace on his face. I glared at him with furrowed eyebrows. I hoped he hadn’t noticed! I wasn’t sure if he meant that, or if he was being sarcastic. It wouldn’t be long that I realized he was indeed, being sarcastic.
I asked for clarification of his last name. He said, “Wine…you know, like the drink.”
I hoped that first impressions were overrated. He wasn’t sure about me, and I definitely wasn’t sure about him.
Within the first few minutes of meeting him, it was obvious to me that his distinctive management style was very unorthodox. It was actually…weirdly refreshing! He was very tough, yet very fair. He didn’t mind telling it like it was.
Aside from my first impression, I liked him right away. It would take his larger than life personality to keep this big train rolling! “This ought to be interesting,” I thought to myself. “Buckle up buttercup!”
With thirty-eight agents, six staff managers, and three ladies in the front office, he quickly took control of the place! He would actually run the office. He would not allow the office to run him. He was very comfortable in his role as our new district manager.
As Senior Administrator, I sensed he appreciated my work ethic, organizational skills, loyalty, and dedication to this large, well known insurance provider. Although neither of us ever verbalized it, I feel we both quickly tossed our first impressions of one another out the door.
It was very empowering to work side by side with someone having similar business related instincts and intuition. He was indeed a keeper in my book!
On his very first day, he took many of the cumbersome duties I had been doing for previous managers in the past.
“Why are you doing that?” he asked.
“I’ve been doing this stuff for years,” I curtly replied.
Nodding his head in disagreement, he said, “You shouldn’t be doing any of this.”
“And?” I thought. I’m not sure what he wanted me to say, so I waited for him to clarify.
“If it is not your responsibility, I will be doing it from here on out,” he earnestly stated.
“Hallelujah!” I verbally shouted!
I was eager to give up these burdensome tasks. I promptly handed them over and got back to my other enormous responsibilities.
He turned and walked away with a stack of files that ebb and flow across my desk. I wouldn’t skip a beat.
“I hoped I hadn’t just scared him away!” I thought to myself.
Did I really just think that? Are you kidding me? I seriously doubt this man scares easily. I think he and Chuck Norris are best friends!
I listened to his every word…sarcasm and all. It easily placed a hearty laugh deep in my belly, and definite pep in my step. I had never worked with anyone quite like him before. I spent the next couple of days trying to convince the other two ladies how awesome he was going to be for this office.
On many occasions throughout these three days, I would literally laugh out loud, even when he was being serious. He would scowl at me through the tops of his eyeglasses.
“Oops, sorry,” I would say. I would turn away with a respectful grin on my face. Maybe the fact that he had just eased such a burden from my daily workload made me extraordinarily giddy.
I’m sure he must’ve thought I was nuts, but in reality, this little thing I call work, I actually enjoy. It was a place I was very comfortable and familiar. After more than twenty years of service, it should be.
On Wednesday, June 8, at 4:30 p.m., I would bid Mr. Wine and my other coworkers an exuberant farewell! I would embark on my long awaited road trip that very evening. “See y’all in twelve days!”
My whirlwind road trip to Arizona was simply amazing! God’s wonderful handiwork was so brilliantly displayed in every mile of our trip. For the duration of my vacation, I felt 100% perfect. After 4,614 remarkable miles, the wheels quickly turned.
I would be perplexed having to return to the office on Monday. In this very familiar place, I would now have to fly by the seat of my pants…I mean “power suit and high heel shoes.” I would definitely need a wing and a prayer.
I would be polar opposite of whom Mr. Wine had met prior to my leaving. This alone would give him a very unique perspective of my mystifying journey into my alternate universe.
It’s funny how God knows which people to place in our lives at just the right time. I would’ve never thought this very open, honest, unconventional person would play such a big role in my real life story.
The strange feeling of something taking control of my body activated the glint of a colorful neon sign in the back of my mind. The warning “flicker” seemed so distant, but it was as if I could hear the buzzing sound a neon light would make when powered on. Hopefully, this would end up being just an anomaly.
I had an entire weekend before heading back to work on Monday. I would spend it trying to relieve pain and swelling in my feet and ankles. Ice packs would quickly become my new best friend.
It was Monday, June 20, 2016. I noticed on this day, I would start talking to myself audibly, but under my breath. It would be a coping mechanism for me.
No…I’m not crazy. Honestly, this would keep me from going crazy. It was actually quite comical at times. I would often address my “body snatcher” in a discreet, but very direct manner.
I pulled into my familiar parking space at the office where I sat for a moment. Once I mustered up enough gumption, I begrudgingly opened my car door. After gently placing my swollen, burning, prickly feet on the ground, I would mumble a few words under my breath.
“Ow, Ouch, or Owie,” would become very common words in my already very common vocabulary. Maybe you were thinking something else.😇
I would limp helplessly from my pretty red car to the front door of the office. Halfway across the parking lot, I felt the warm, humid, South Carolina breeze on my face. I also heard the rustling leaves on the trees laughing at my misfortune.
I hoped no one was looking. I would try to hide my limp once I got inside. I told the trees to “shut-up.” I was in no mood for a pretty day. I flippantly dismissed the rustling of the green leaves and all the birds singing around me. I was sucked into my own mind for a moment of silence as I approached the door.
The metaphorical neon sign flashed and buzzed perfectly in sync with my heartbeat, and also the throbbing sensation in my feet.
I quietly mumbled to myself, “fake it ‘til you make it sister.” I entered our newly renovated office.
I wore a long, colorful, maxi-skirt with a deep pink shirt and adorable size 7 sandals. The skirt covered my hideously swollen ankles. No power suit and high heels today.
I absolutely LOVE my high heel shoes! “Not today sister…maybe tomorrow,” I told myself.
“What would my new manager think of me today?”
I walked through the foyer and clicked the combination passcode to enter the main office. “Game on!”
“Good morning!” I said in a softened, high pitched, happy voice. Every morning for over twenty years, I would always say this with a smile on my face, and a smile in my voice. I did the same today.
I did not want people asking what was wrong with me on my first day back to work. It’s so unlike me to be in a foul mood. I would fake a big, white, toothy smile and talk about my road trip adventures.
Mr. Wine had definitely not changed a bit! He was just as contrary and feisty as the day I met him two weeks ago. I still turned my head to try and hide my smile hearing some of the things he would say.
You can’t be upset or mad at him. He was just telling the truth! He was the man that would say what everyone else was thinking.
In all that he had going on, he found time to ask if I was ok.
I would reluctantly say, “I’m good. I’m just busy trying to catch up on some paperwork.”
He would leave me alone and wouldn’t pry, but he would see right through my facade. Maybe he noticed the limp I so desperately wanted to hide when I wasn’t sitting at my desk.
The first four days back to work weren’t all that terrible, but they weren’t all that great either. It seemed I had one foot in the real world, and the other one was getting a cosmic foothold on the edge of another world.
On Friday, June 24, my “body snatcher” would rear its ugly head. My cosmic foothold would give way in an unforgettable fashion!
This was the day my coffee mug got heavy.
On this day, my sweet, accommodating, princess personality would quickly take a nose dive into the quicksand that would birth me into my alternate universe.
Early on, other than my husband and son, no one would really know that I was in a real life crisis.
Just like that…in the blink of an eye…from my exiting the office on Thursday, to my entering the office on Friday, I would be a totally transformed person. My personality was unrecognizable. I did not even know this woman, nor did I even like her! How could this happen so quickly?
I would no longer be capable enough to “fake it til I make it.” The only good thing was the pain and swelling in my feet would magically disappear.
The only bad thing was, more intense pain and swelling would just move to my fingers. Not my hands…just all ten digits. It was a very pronounced distinction. I remember it like it was yesterday.
THE WORST IS YET TO COME
Mr. Wine didn’t really know me at all, but he would quickly realize that something wasn’t right. Having a front row seat from the outside looking in, would give him a definite cause for pause…and a real reason to react.
Our candid, quirky, district manager methodically took aim at my unwanted guest. He had no qualms about addressing it head on. He would be, and still is, a crucial and important part of my story.
If not for him, I fear I would’ve been forced to take advantage of my short or long term disability options. If it had been most any other manager, (no offense to any other manager I had before) I definitely would have explored invoking that very option. To date, I have not missed one day of work due to rheumatoid arthritis.
I feel that God placed him in my life at this particular time just for my “work sanity.” Mr. Wine’s unusual candor and strong personality kept me grounded and focused at all of the most necessary times.
My amazing husband of thirty years would have everything covered on the home front. More to come on him, for sure!
Pain changes people, but I strongly insist…“carry on, and smile along the way.” Sometimes I may still even laugh out loud.🤣
While at this little place I call work, I can say for the most part, “I’M GOOD, I’M GOOD.”
If you’re wondering…I did obtain permission to print this article and use Mr. Wine’s real name. I should still have a job when I go back to work Monday!
“Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” Hebrews 13:2 (KJV always)