She knew it was irrational. She knew that. She also knew that if she didn’t get over it, and fast, her life would change very rapidly, and not for the better she’d wager a guess.
There was a time when this overwhelming fear was not even an afterthought in her life. Like the discarded piece of gum you pass for weeks but fail to really notice until one day, you step in it. Jane had been the picture of normal in those days, a buzzing little worker bee just like the hundreds of others in the surrounding hive of offices. Then one day, she believes it was a Tuesday but can’t be certain, upon entering her office and flipping on the lights, a fear like she had never experienced grabbed her and held fast, like a disobedient child who refuses to relinquish a stolen sucker. Her heart slamming in her chest, breath refusing to come, Jane had slammed the door shut and stood in the still-abandoned hallway waiting for normal breathing to return.
“What has come over me?” she had remembered thinking. She was thinking it now as well. Somehow, in a matter of 24 hours, on that Tuesday morning over two weeks ago, Jane had developed a debilitating fear of- paper. This, as you may imagine, was a problem – especially if you happened to be the newly hired executive assistant to the director of marketing at one of the largest newspapers in the country, which Jane was.
Somehow, she had managed to conceal her terror while still maintaining her job. Using her sick leave, working from home and even faking a ‘pest problem’ in her office so it would have to be fumigated and therefore vacated for several days had worked as temporary solutions. But her options were running out and her boss was growing impatient with his assistant that never seemed to be in her office. Now, standing once again in the hallway outside of her office, Jane struggled to work up enough nerve to turn the key in the lock and open the door. “What are you so afraid of anyway, sissy britches? A giant paper cut?” she said to herself, her attempt at humor falling flat even within the confines of her inner dialog.
Exhaling, Jane began to turn the door handle when a voice behind her stayed her hand, “Hey Jane, good to see you! Where have you been?” the familiar voice asked. Turning to see her friend Jillian, from two offices down, Jane signed in relief at the well-timed distraction. “Hi Jillian, been battling a cold but I think I may have finally beaten it,” she replied.
“Oh no! Well, I’m glad you’re feeling better- though you do look a little pale, now that you say that. Well take it easy and if you need anything you know where I am!” Jillian smiled and made to head back to her office.
“So what’s been going on around here, anything I missed?” Jane called after her, not ready for the distraction to end.
“Oh! I almost forgot to tell you. Big overhaul happening… it’s all anyone can talk about,” Jillian said excitedly as she moved closer to Jane. Lowering her voice she continued, “So apparently, some big wig got it into his skull that the paper needed to be more green. You know, environmentally friendly, or whatever? Well now, thanks to this brainiac, the powers that be want everything to be switched to digital. So that means we have to convert and then get rid of anything we were keeping a hard file of. It all has to be saved electronically. The only paper they want in this joint is the actual paper. Can you believe that?” Jillian was obviously very put out with the entire concept but Jane wouldn’t have noticed. She couldn’t believe her good luck! The paper was going to be gone! No more stacks of it on her desk. No more drawers full of files. No more printer jams. No more FAXES!!! Jane was practically giddy with the thought. Now if she could just manage to convert and then get rid of all that paper, she might actually survive this job. Thinking she could handle dealing with the finite amount of paper materials in her office, she was bolstered with a wave of confidence.
Waving to Jillian as she entered her office, Jane almost didn’t see the stacks of files and documents that were waiting for her in her inbox. Setting down her purse, she was about to boot up her computer when her phone rang. “Good morning, this is Jane speaking,” she said perkily.
“Jane, glad you’re there, could you come to my office?” the voice of her boss immediately brought Jane down from the clouds.
“Right away Mr. Dobson,” she promptly replied. Walking to his suite around the corner, Jane knocked and walked inside upon hearing his usual answer to her knock, “Come”. “You wished to see me, Mr. Dobson?” she asked meekly. It had been a month and she still felt slightly intimidated by the wizened enigma that was her boss.
“Yes, how are you Jane? Feeling better I hope?” he asked without looking away from his computer screen.
“Oh yes, I believe I’m almost completely recovered, thank you,” she said, unsure of why she was blushing at such an innocent inquiry to her health.
“Good, good. Glad to hear it. Jane, I have a special assignment for you. I’m sure, by now you’ve been informed of the company’s paperless initiative?” at this point Mr. Dobson looked over to make sure Jane agreed before continuing, “As you can imagine, the company has amassed quite a bit of documents, not to mention archived papers that will need to be converted and I’d like you to head up that initiative”.
“I’m sorry, sir?” Jane managed to choke out.
“Me? In charge of all that paper?!?! Oh my stars, the room is spinning,” she thought as her knees grew weak and her heart climbed into her throat and settled in.
“I wouldn’t trust anyone else to do it,” Mr. Dobson continued as he waved to someone behind her to enter the office. “You can get started with these,” he said as he gestured to the man who had just entered.
Jane turned to see a clerk from downstairs, and in front of him, a flat dolly stacked high with boxes of old newspapers.
The Not So Fantastic Reality:
The above story was inspired by the following tidbits I encountered today:
ONE: Today was one of those days at work where I thought I would actually lose myself in the stacks of miscellaneous papers and files that were piling up on my desk and being thrust at me by students who (as usual) waited until the eleventh hour to turn in their assignments. I thought we were supposed to be moving towards a paperless era? What the humperdink happened? I feel like there is more and more of this stuff every day, and the trees, dear God the trees!!! Anyway, as I muddled through the paper river that was my desk, I thought about what it would be like to be terrified of something so pervasive and benign as paper. What would they do? I mean this stuff is everywhere. I certainly would be looking for other work if that affliction were to strike yours truly. In the meantime, I’ll just thank my lucky stars that my fears are limited to heights, small spaces, crowds, and cockroaches, ya know… the normal stuff.
Love & Squirrels.