“Congratulations,” he said, putting a yellow post-it note on my desk in front of me. On it was scribbled my new annual income, my new hourly wage. “Four percent raise. Pretty good.” He nodded, pleased with having acquired approval to give me a raise above the bank’s standard pittance.
I looked at the sticky paper, and I wanted to cry. “But it’s not even fifty cents,” I muttered to him, not looking up from the note.
“I know,” he responded, somewhat sympathetically. “I tried to get you more…” he trailed off.
A flat “yeah” was all I could manage. He walked into the back of the bank to refill his water bottle, while I went into my purse to retrieve my keys, my cigarettes and my sunglasses for what I felt was a deserved break.
As I walked through the back room of the bank toward the door, he stopped me. “I aimed up here,” his hand was poised just over his six-foot-three frame, “and they wanted down here,” his hand swooped down to his knees. “So we met in the middle.” I nodded, put my sunglasses on. “Hey, Laurie, it’s not that bad. It’s a good raise.”
“Well no, not really,” I said to my boss, my hand on the door. “I was counting on more to make up for the difference they took when they started making me pay that portion of my health insurance. Now I’ll be making less, not even equal to, what I was making before they went ahead and changed that little policy. So, no, really, it’s not that good.” My mind was reeling with how much I’ve put on my credit card already, how much money I’ve transferred out of my meager savings just to keep afloat. I was really hoping to go back to normal when my raise kicked in.
My boss shrugged his shoulders helplessly. I pushed open the door and was grateful that I had thought to bring my cell phone with me. I needed to bitch.
I unlocked my car and sat inside. I lit a cigarette. I dialed my mom at work. The line was busy. I dialed my friend. Voice mail.
I searched for someone else to call. Of course, I wanted to call Billy, but I wasn’t sure how he’d feel, me bothering him at work to bitch about my shitty pay. I felt like maybe it’s too early in the relationship to call with the sole intention of bitching. I don’t know what the rules are as they pertain to this certain situation. Do I bore him with the details of my daily life or will that make the magic dissipate? Does he want to hear it? Does he care? Does it matter? But I needed someone to talk to. And he is, after all, my boyfriend. Listening to me bitch is one of his duties, isn’t it?
I called Billy.
“Hey baby,” he answered. I was surprised. He was at work, and I hadn’t expected him to answer at all.
“Hey,” I responded, softly and weary. “Are you busy?”
“Yeah, kind of. Why? What’s going on?”
“Nothing, really,” I flicked cigarette ash out of my opened window and it flew back in at me. “I was just on my break, and I figured I’d give you a call.”
“Awww. You’re bored and you called me? That’s so sweet.” I couldn’t tell if he was mocking me or serious.
“Yeah. It’s true. I am sweet. But if you’re busy, I’ll let you go.”
“Well, let me call you back, okay?”
“Okay,” I replied. And before I knew it, I was flipping my phone shut. My third attempt to talk had been thwarted.
There may be nothing more frustrating than wanting to whine out loud and not being able to. But then again, moaning about my shitty pay may only serve to open up the Advice Floodgates. I know the solution to this problem: Get another job. I know, I know, I know. Go to school, switch careers, deal with a commute; Do something about it. I know all of that. But chances are I won’t do anything about it. And, in a few weeks, I’ll forget how irate I am right now; the fact that I love my job, its convenience and my boss will outweigh the fact that I’m quite literally scraping by. But for now, I just want to bitch.
Defeated, I tossed my cigarette and wandered back inside. I was going to bitch, and someone was going to hear me.
“I hope you know,” I said to my boss and I sauntered into his office, “that I’m not mad at you for this little raise.” As if it would matter if I were mad at him. “I just don’t understand how they expect to keep employees.” He was packing his briefcase and getting ready to leave. I could feel his disinterest. “And I know you don’t want to hear this again,” I continued. He hears the same string of complaints from me all the time. I don’t make enough money. They’re gonna put me in the poor house. I may have to start living in a cardboard box. If I start losing weight, it’s because I can no longer afford food. I’m sure he gets sick of them. “…but I just really feel like it’s unfair. I don’t live an extravagant lifestyle…But I shouldn’t have to sit at home every night because my employer doesn’t think I’m worth a decent salary. AND, I’ve been here four years. I wanted to stay until my five years guarantees that I’m vested, but at this rate, I’ll be so in debt that the 401(k) I’ll be vested in will have to get me out of bankruptcy.”
He nodded as he clasped his briefcase shut. “I know, Laurie. I get pissed off every December when I get my raise,” his tone implied that he felt drained, weary. Helpless. “The cost of living here is higher than they understand. And there’s a reason they have such a high turnover rate of employees. And there’s a reason they can’t hire anyone. But, what are you gonna do?” He stood up, clicked off his monitor, shrugged his suit-clad shoulders.
He didn’t abet me the way I would’ve liked. A proper bitch session would’ve included some sympathy, some pity. Some commiserating. I walked out of his office, unsatisfied.
He said goodnight, that he would see me tomorrow, and he left the building.
And now I need to bitch about my raise, and the fact that I had no one to bitch to. I have dinner plans with Nancy and Alex tonight. They better have their listening ears on.