“What about the options?” I asked.
“I’ll take care of those by the end of the week,” he answered. It was the same answer I’d heard every month for a year – the length of time I’d been working there.
That whole week, my other co-workers were in a bad mood and nothing seemed to go right. It wasn’t one thing that had put us in a bad mood – it was a series of little things: The tone of voice the founder took when asking about a client, how he disappeared from the office for a week, how he wouldn’t return phone calls.
Yet I continued to hold out. We continued to hold out. Just a few months earlier, we had all believed in the company we were building. We believed in the founder and we would have followed him into any battle.
My hand, my right hand – my writing hand – was sore and bothering me. Every little thing pissed me off and I was yelling at my kids and my wife all the time.
The next day, the CFO called, “There’s something I need to tell you… I feel super shitty about this but every other week I have to release the funds.”
“The funds to pay the president. The president is still getting paid.” The CFO told me he’d had a conversation with the Founder who admitted he had to continue to pay the President so he wouldn’t get distracted.
“Distracted from what?” I asked. “Isn’t a startup CEO, a startup president supposed to feel the same pain as his team?”
“You know the founder hasn’t taken a salary in years. He hadn’t paid his mortgage until the investors stepped in. They almost turned off his lights.”
I was sitting alone in the conference room. The President, the one guy who was getting paid in the company, was down the hall in a shared office. Presumably on the phone.
I felt my stomach rise into my mouth. I no longer felt comfortable there.
“I can’t talk about this any more,” I told the CFO. I hung up and left.
I almost vomited in the elevator down.
I took the subway home, tasting my sour stomach the whole way, praying I wouldn’t become one of those people that vomited and caused a medical emergency shutting down the entire Brooklyn-bound F-train line. I had a sense that drowning in alcohol might help but my stomach was so wrecked I knew it would only make things worse. No matter how much I imagined I’d drink I knew alcohol couldn’t drown away the anger and erase the disappointment.
When I got home, Alejandro was there to greet me. I mentioned that my hands and stomach were hurting because of the stress.
“How is that even possible?” he asked. Only an innocent fourteen-year could ask such a question.
I explained that stress can manifest in your body, that you can feel the fight that happened before you walked into a room. At that moment, the stress was manifest in my stomach and the part of my body I used to make my living. He looked at me like I was crazy and I realized that I was but didn’t have to be.
The next day I didn’t go back.