The office was a strange and alienating terrain for me when I arrived in it at 23. I had dropped out of university years before, expecting something to happen to me that would focus my future and simultaneously bestow a great windfall. It hadn’t. But I was sick of being poor and I had a boyfriend I wanted to play house with. When a temporary admin contract at a medical institution in Dublin came up, I jumped at it.
Immediately, I felt overwhelmed, and self-conscious about my stupid little outfits – pastiches of what professional women wear, which I had cobbled together from Topshop sale racks and charity shops. I was prickly, wary of saying the wrong thing, unable to relax.
Everything changed when my friend, whom I’ll call John, joined the company. He wasn’t a close pal, but we were part of the same social scene in what I still considered to be my “real life”.
At first, I was concerned that having him around would expose me and my hokey performance of “office employee”. In fact, it did the opposite. Lunchtimes, which I had previously spent eating yoghurt alone at my desk, became something I looked forward to. We developed a routine, visiting the nearby “fancy burger place” as a Friday treat (where I would order a sad, bread-free beef bowl, meals in my early 20s being largely characterised by a lump of protein eaten smugly while mumbling about carbs).
Once, on our break, we went to the pub and ordered frozen margaritas, which turned out to be flamboyant comical things, whipped into excessive domes. We were so pleased with ourselves that I asked a stranger to take a photo. We went on a work hen do together, where everyone wore nurses’ hats and waved grotesquely realistic penis toys. After we left the work crowd, we got a rickshaw down Grafton Street, speechless and wheezing hysterically.
I don’t mean to suggest that John splintered us off from the wider office: he was instantly, effortlessly liked by everyone, and working there never seemed to cause him the anxiety it did me. Rather, it was through John that I found office solace. He was an abundantly creative person – playing in several of the best Dublin bands, wearing an appealing lopsided smile and a denim jacket I coveted – but he did not seem affronted by the fact that he also had to work in a job unrelated to his creativity. It changed my perspective: I’d barely produced anything creative at all, but had arrogantly and pre-emptively felt afraid that I never would if I was working in an uninspiring job.
I’ve since written a novel, which was published last year. I’m still terrible at being in offices, still worried I’m going to be “found out”. But, in all the years since, I’ve never felt cooler or more part of a gang than when taking advantage of built-up flexitime to clock out at 4.30pm on a Friday and leave with John, denim jackets on, to go to discuss the events of the week. He not only made the office into something that didn’t terrify me, but made me happy and hopeful, too. I’m yet to meet anyone else capable of such sorcery.