As I looked at the Xerox image of her hand, I smiled and remembered what prompted it.
More than 21-years-ago, back in my accounting days, I was the accounting manager for a pharmaceutical manufacturer located in Pleasant Ridge. We had a customer that wasn’t paying its bills and they requested copies of invoices — all 200 of them.
Someone had to stand at the Xerox machine to make those copies, and Teri was the person I called on to do it. I’m sure it wasn’t much fun, but when Teri returned to my office, she was smiling.
As I looked over the copies and came to the last one, there was a copy of Teri’s hand — middle finger extended. She was having a little fun with me.
That was how she was — quick with a joke, quick with a smile and one of the most likeable people I have ever met. She had curly blonde hair, brown eyes and some freckles around her nose. She was always the last one to arrive in the office in the morning and usually a few minutes late.
I once joked with her — imagining her driving down the freeway trying to get to work on time with her hair blower plugged into the cigarette lighter as she’s frantically blow-drying her hair. Teri got a kick out of that.
She was as cute as she could be but painfully thin. Back in 1988, when I was her boss, this led to a problem. Because it was a pharmaceutical manufacturer, security was extremely tight. I don’t think there were security cameras in the restrooms, but the security people pretty much tracked the comings and goings of every employee.
One Friday afternoon, I got a call from the head of security and met with him in his office. He told me someone was vomiting in the ladies restroom, located near the accounting office, every afternoon.
The person doing the vomiting wasn’t cleaning up her mess very well and he had it narrowed down to one of two women who worked in my department. He asked me if I had any suspicions as to which one it was.
I did. I didn’t tell him which one I thought was doing the vomiting, but I was pretty sure it was Teri.
Sometimes members of the accounting department would go out to lunch together, including Teri. This explained why she was so quiet after we got back to the office. This explained why she was always sucking on mints in the afternoon.
I told the head of security that I would take care of the problem, knowing when I said it I had no idea how to do so.
That weekend, at the Public Library downtown, I studied up on what this was all about — why people do self-induced vomiting. The more I read, the more I was convinced that Teri was suffering from bulimia.
On Monday morning, I still didn’t know how to bring this up with Teri but knew I had to do something before lunch. Feeling almost panicked, I finally decided to simply be straight up about it.
I took Teri to the conference room, shut the door, sat down with her and held her hand. I remember exactly what I said.
“Security is telling me that in the ladies room near the accounting office, someone is throwing up in there almost every afternoon. Teri, I need to know. Is it you?”
She looked at me for only a few seconds and slowly nodded her head yes. Still holding her hand, Teri told me she was bulimic. I asked her if she was getting help for it. She told me she was.
I told her I didn’t exactly understand the illness but said if she had to throw up in the restroom to make sure she cleaned it up thoroughly. I told her I was worried. I told Teri that she was a great person and I didn’t want anything bad to happen to her.
We both shed some tears during that discussion, but at least the problem was out in the open.
Teri worked for me for six more months after this exchange. Periodically, we would have private discussions just to discuss how she was. She told me she was getting better, and I believed her because I never heard from the security people about the problem again.
She eventually left the pharmaceutical manufacturer and the accounting office to become an airline stewardess. Teri would get to travel the world and we were all excited about her new opportunity.
On a Friday afternoon, in the same conference room where we had that awkward conversation months earlier, I said goodbye. I hugged Teri and wished her good luck. She thanked me “for everything.” I told her I would miss her.
We stayed in touch for a while, but I haven’t talked to Teri in years. Looking at that Xerox image of her middle finger, on the upper right hand corner of that piece of paper so many years ago, I wrote “Teri, 1988.”
That image is now framed and hanging in my study. I could never really forget about Teri — she’s just too delightful to forget — but it feels good to have a memory of her now hanging on one of my walls.
CONTACT LARRY GROSS: firstname.lastname@example.org