Unlikely office pals
I never thought I’d get along with the office bully. By “bully,” I mean the kind who likes to tease and insult others, but never seriously — usually only as a form of endearment or affection.
On the first day of training in my new teaching job, I made sure to avoid the outspoken girl with the cool haircut, large piercing eyes, pretty face, petite frame and fashionable outfit.
She spoke in confident English with an American twang. I was the complete opposite in both appearance and personality: shy, large, unkempt Lex, constantly apologizing and mumbling — the classic introvert.
Our differences became more obvious as we settled in the faculty office. She’s always a head-turner with all her cool dresses, while I carelessly wear my comfortably loose polo shirt with rolled-up sleeves.
A former dancer, she’s very graceful in her movements, while clumsy, unathletic me would sometimes trip and bump on the desks.
I like to work silently in my corner, while she would sometimes burst out singing with her ukulele. She likes to tease and playfully jab at everyone, while I’m often reserved and self-effacing.
She’s into the arts, while I like reading and studying. She has a flamboyant, extroverted personality and is ready to take the microphone and perform whenever the need arises. I, on the other hand, prefer to be the wallflower.
She likes spending her breaks doodling on and decorating her notebooks, while I retreat to reading my books or studying Excel for statistics.
I’m a conservative Catholic, while she’s more liberal in her views. One time, I saw her pro-LGBT Facebook posts, and said to myself, “Nope, we’re not going to get along.”
So I always kept my distance, because I found her intimidating (which is kind of funny because I’m physically much larger than her).
Things changed when, one semester, we were both assigned to teach the same literature subject. At this point, I was forced to interact with her on a regular basis.
Working together on our lessons, I started trying to talk to her in Hiligaynon (I’m a Tagalog in Hiligaynon territory). She would sneer at my wrong pronunciation, forcing me to say the words correctly.
I humbly obliged, as I am always eager to improve my Hiligaynon. From then on, she would always correct my attempts to speak in the vernacular (she doesn’t do it nicely, may I add).
Little did I know that her harsh corrections would be the start of an awkward but memorable friendship of sorts.
We slowly discovered that we actually had a lot in common, starting with our androgynous nicknames (mine is Lex and hers is Jerry).
We liked a lot of indie stuff: indie music, indie movies, indie art — for the common reason that they’re really good but underappreciated.
We entered the quarter-life just a month apart, and we were older than most of our fresh-graduate colleagues (in other words, we could already be “titas”).
We were both figuring out what to do with the rest of our lives, and whether we were really happy with our teaching career.
We found out that we both yearned for meaningful, substantial conversations unmediated by the screens of instant messaging.
In our conversations, we’d lament how our generation is increasingly becoming more distracted, frivolous and shallow because of social media.
But then, ironically, a few moments later, we’d tag each other in memes.
We also discovered that we liked reading the Brain Pickings website, which collects articles about how to live a meaningful life.
Our conversations now ranged from the most mundane (like memes and puns) to the existential (like the purpose of education).
I quickly became the target of her most hurtful insults, but then someone explained to me, “That’s really how she is; she shows her love that way.”
She’d greet me in the morning with, “Hello, fat person!” Or when I pass by her in the hallways, she’d roll her eyes.
She’d see me snacking and remind me, “Aren’t you trying to lose weight?”
Probably the worst was, “Look at you; you’re much larger than everyone else. Don’t you want to do something about it?”
Luckily, I’m not overly sensitive with insults and teasing; usually I just receive them with a sheepish, apologetic smile.
Never a day passed without her commenting about my size, or mocking my attempts to speak Hiligaynon — but, I’d like to believe I’m improving a lot because of her.
Even though we were really different, I think we’ve been learning a lot from each other — at least on my end.
On her birthday, I gave her a copy of Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning,” as my favorite book genre is nonfiction.
For my birthday, meanwhile, she gave me a book by Neil Gaiman, the master of adult fantasy.
I’d like to believe that our choice of books is symbolic of our differences — me, the serious realist, and she, the winsome artist with a melancholic streak.
We have radically different views about God, religion, gender and freedom of expression, but through her, I’ve learned to be more open-minded about other ideas.
We may disagree on many things, but I believe this is precisely what makes our conversations more interesting and substantial. Through her, I’ve learned how to dialogue with people who have ideas different from mine.
I eventually grew to know and admire this person who had gone through a very difficult time in her life, but managed to become strong, mature and wise because of it — while I, on the other hand, with my relatively privileged upbringing, tend to complain at the smallest inconveniences.
In a society where people flatter each other but talk sh—t about you behind your back, it’s nice to have a friend who will announce your imperfections to your face. When I’m starting to have an inflated, egocentric view of myself, it’s really helpful to have someone to keep me grounded.
I never thought I would get along with the office bully, and never did I think she would help me become a better person. But here we are now—fast friends.
* * *
Lex Adizon, 25, is a teacher from Bacolod City.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.