08 December 2019

this also happened

Imagine a young woman in her 30s. She fluently speaks three languages and presented a most impressive CV with her job application.
She successfully completed three interview rounds, two entrance tests, four language tests and everybody in your department congratulates her and you and each other by now. It has been a while since we found someone so eminently suitable. This is the future, some whisper behind her back.

For the next two months she is assigned to you for assessment and introduction into the usual procedures necessary to figure out the academic research world with its slightly outdated rituals. You meet for several hours every morning. You set up her schedule of the required training courses - privacy, data protection, hygiene, safety, fire drill, the lot - and she dutifully hands over the earned certificates.

You spend a hilarious morning practising the university's communication terminology. Her telephone manners are impeccable. Her translation exercises come up tops. She does not bat an eye when her first editing assignment runs to 95 pages with a 48 hour deadline. She meets it without a hitch.

And when you first watch her rapidly formatting into neat tables large data of what looks like apples and pears to you, she takes your breath away. You shake your head and tell her she is a genius. She barely smiles.

She is also very attractive, dresses impeccably and is always on time. Her desk is neat, she cleans her keyboard diligently as instructed.

When asked after the first six weeks, what strikes you beside her exceptional skills, you reply that she has this tendency to think that the glass is half empty and that she rarely smiles.
You don't tell anybody about her daily complaints about the weather or the public transport. It's November after all. And when she grumbles about how nobody says hello or seems to like her, you reassure her, remind her that she has only just arrived, that things will work out in time.
Others call her moody behind her back, some shake their heads, mention that she has a lot to learn, socially.

In between work assignments, you share cups of tea, hand over the contact details of a really good dentist, download the weather app on her phone, direct her to a decent second hand bicycle shop and let her look at pictures of your grandchild.

And then one day, you arrive at work and this is what you are told. Earlier that day, several staff members here and elsewhere on campus, called your boss to complain about ongoing aggressive calls and emails from a person working at his institute.
Yes, it was her.
And when she was called into the innermost sanctum, aka the director's office, for clarification, she let out, at the top of her voice, what several of those present called a long shrill string of obscenities and defamatory statements about all and sundry but especially about yourself.

She called me a witch, a deranged woman with a death wish and the intention to mentally torment her. Be glad you didn't hear this, my colleagues tell me, her words were beyond rude. They hug me, they tell me to forget her. That she is ill, clearly.

She was fired on the spot and has since disappeared. Her desk drawers were stuffed with debris, unfinished notes, rotten apples.

I wish I could call her, see if she is ok. But she has already changed her phone number and her email address no longer exists.


  1. This reminds me of something my beloved therapist said to me once. I was going on and on, comparing myself to the mother of a friend of my daughter's who volunteered for so many good works, who was the scout leader, the class mother, the perfect everything. My therapist listened and finally she said, "When I hear about someone like that I suspect deep pathology."
    I have found this to be true quite often. And yes, that woman was ill. Which does not mean that what she said was not incredibly hurtful. I, too, hope she is okay.

  2. Well. I did not see that coming. I wonder what will happen to her in the long run.

  3. What a sad story, Sabine. I admire you for trying to find a way to be supportive and communicative with this person. I am sorry that her illness chose you as her emotional target. Your kindness and helpful nature will not be deterred by the words of an unstable person. I hope she finds help and learns to recognize true goodness when it has been offered.

  4. This is so incredibly sad. I hate that she was so viciously unfair to you, and I, too, wonder if she is ok. Perhaps this helps explain why I am drawn to people whose quirks are plainly visible. They aren't hiding much.

  5. I'm so sorry for you, and for her.

  6. Sometimes when something is too good to be true, it really is. I've felt betrayed by people I put my trust in easily, and now have become a bit jaded and certainly more cautious to see what their motivations might be. So sorry you had this encounter.

  7. That is freaky and awful and unsettling. I'm sorry.

  8. so shocking when that happens. I hope you don't take her attack to heart because it clearly wasn't about you. you weren't the only target. she is clearly an unhappy person but so weird that she changed her phone number and deleted her email.

  9. Wow. What a story. Definitely some mental illness is involved!

  10. Holy shit. So sorry.

    May she find help.

  11. That would be hard to forget. Easier said than done. Sending love.

    Mental illness is cunning and baffling, sending out waves of emotional turmoil in its wake. It helps to write about these things that happen and not carry them alone. I haven't forgotten the times I have been the target of those with mental illness but, as a result, I have learned to recognize mental illness more quickly and avoid being a target. Coincidentally, I've just had to set boundaries with a person with mental illness -- a brilliant woman who sounds very much like the woman you worked with. I hope they both get the help they need.

  12. Some people have a talent for offering a really good interview but beyond that there is only a shell. After a good record in appointing deputy editors (who all went on to higher levels with my blessing) I got sucked in. He too had mental problems. One thing is you may well become unjustifiably wary when interviewing the next candidate.

  13. What a disturbing experience and how very sad that a young woman with such obvious ability is also so deeply unhappy and ill. I hope that she will be able to receive the care that she obviously needs. (Glad that you have moved on to more cheerful subjects such as tasty bread and forests!)