Like all women who have a strong masculine side to their business style, Tracy had fervid enemies in the office. Her arch nemesis was named Greg. He was as arrogant as he was narcissistic. He was always dressed to the nines and kept his movie-star physique in tone.
This day, their argument got ugly during a heated debate in a policy meeting. Tracy was advocating an aggressive course of action while Greg was arguing for a more conservative strategy. At one point, Greg punctuated his argument with an insult.
“Why don’t you shave off your chest hair, Tracy,” he said. “Do you ever miss having balls?”
“Not me,” she retorted. “How about you?”
The region chief, who chaired the meeting, intervened at this point and steered them back to debating business strategy without the insults. The meeting ended in Tracy’s favor, but something stuck to her head.
When Greg made the comment about chest hair, she responded in a way that was completely different from the way she responded to Jerry. Greg’s insult bounced off her like a tennis ball off a battle ship. The retort came to her spontaneously. But Jerry’s words felt like animal waste shoved down her throat. She could take an insult from an equal, but she could not take the same words from Jerry because he was … Jerry.
She mulled over this. Did she find Jerry’s words more offensive because she felt that Jerry was lower than her in some way? She slapped Jerry across the cheek on an impulse, but such an action would have been unthinkable with Greg. What did that say about Jerry and what did it say about her?
The more she thought about it, the more she felt that she owed Jerry an apology. After agonizing about making a phone call, she sent a text message to Jerry asking him to meet at the usual coffee shop. She rehearsed a speech in her head while she waited trying to get the words right. She concentrated on her apology speech so much that she did not notice Jerry coming in.
Tracy turned with a start when Jerry said hello. His face was swollen badly and her first thought was “Did I do that?” and her second thought was, “Did he go to work today with a face like that?” She was so shocked at his appearance that she forgot to ask him to sit down. He awkwardly thrust out a large bouquet and mumbled through his swollen mouth “I’m sorry about what I said yesterday.”
Tracy tried in vain to recite the speech she had just practiced but between Jerry’s face and his flowers, her thoughts became completely confused and words eluded her.
“You … you are so sweet,” stammered Tracy.
“I have to go,” said Jerry shyly as he turned away.
Tracy tried to call out to Jerry, but she could not. She stood up, but her feet would not move. Her hand clawed the air, half reaching for Jerry, half waving at him. As she watched his back disappear beyond the door she felt that she could never fathom his devastation or loneliness.
“You are so sweet,” she said after him.