Rob sat in his chair with the phone cocked to his ear, listening to the eighty-five voice mails that had accumulated during his week-long absence. Lots to catch up on here for sure, but isn’t that the way it always went down when he missed work?

He’d sure the hell missed too much lately.

He clutched his pen and took notes for each message. He was already halfway down the page of his legal pad when he felt someone standing behind him. After working twenty years in a cubicle one develops a sixth sense about such things.

Rob spun his chair around and his boss was standing there looking down on him, hands on hips. Behind him he could see Mary had spun her chair around too. She was the office busy body, a chinwag, and was particularly interest in this scene. This morning at the water cooler she told him not much had happened while he was gone (not that he asked). He figured she must be chomping at the bit for something new to chew over.

You know the type.

Rob was a linebacker in college, and even though he was forty-five, his cubicle was lined with pictures from his former glory days. Him with the coach when he won Most Valuable Player back in 1986. Him with his wife at their wedding, which took place on the football field at college; a particularly memorable time. Him with Trevor about ten years ago, at Trevor’s fourth birthday party, all dressed up in his “little man” full-on Philadelphia Eagles football regalia.

Rob’s not as strong as he used to be.

He put the phone down and looked up at Mr. Tenning. “Sir?”

“Did you get a chance to call Larry back from First Capital?”

Rob looked at his legal pad, circling Larry’s name with a Sharpie. “No sir, not yet. I haven’t gotten through all my voice mails or emails. There’s a lot.”

Mr. Tenning tsked and turned around and walked away. Mary beamed.

Rob opened up his email and scrolled down. God, too many. He saw an email from Larry from First Capital right near the top and drilled into it.

The phone rang. It was Mr. Tenning. “Rob can you come in here please?”

He put his pad down, rolled his chair out and turned around. Mary was staring at him with her big fat-faced grin.

What does she do here?

“Shut the door, would ya Rob? Well, leave it open a crack and take a seat. With his eyeglasses halfway down his nose, he was shuffling through the paperwork on his desk. There was lots of activity in his big office, with the phone ringing, and his assistant walking in and out putting messages and papers on his desk, looking at him with an impatient and harried expression.

Rob sat.

“I’ve looked at your file again Rob. I see it’s just been in and out and up and down with you. You already used all your vacation and sick days and it’s only March. Your annual Peer Performance Evaluation is next month too. What are we gonna do about all this?”

Rob’s head hung low. How was he supposed to answer such a question out of context?  How could he find a one sentence summation? Rob’s learned it’s just not possible to easily share when asked.

Remember when things were black & white?

“Well this time they got the results of my tests back and they say it’s something called Mixed Connective Tissue Disease. They’re still not sure. It may just be the undifferentiated kind. They’re going to be running more tests.”

Mr. Tenning was fixed on him, his eyes staring at him over his glasses. He didn’t respond, he just stayed fixed.

Rob continued: “Well it’s like an overlap, ya know? That’s what they say. There’s no cure still. And they don’t know what to do about the symptoms and the pain. I mean there’s more drugs and all. More tests.”

Mr. Tenning put his papers down and folded his hands. “So you’re going to be missing more work then Robert?”

“Well I have to, you know. Not more than I have to. You know I already have those diseases but the Mixed Connective Tissue Disease, that’s like an overlap of everything, that’s what they said. They say it’s rare too so they’re really not sure. I still have the myalgias and the athralgias of course, but hopefully this new medication will help on that front. That’s positive.  And the scleroderma and polymyositis are there no doubt. I’ve been telling them that for years I’m glad they finally acknowledge it. Well it showed up in the tests. Don’t you think that’s progress?”

The door creak open and Mary walked in. “Mr. Tenning, I want you to know that I made that sale.” She smiled at him and Rob, her head going back and forth like watching tennis.

“Okay Mary, give us in a minute in here would ya?” He was impatient and sighed, “I’ll be out there in a minute. Can you close the door on your way out please?”

“Sir at least it’s not just Rheumatoid Arthritis. Well it’s a lot worse than that but I’m glad I don’t have to say it. To me that sounds like an old person’s disease and you know I’m still young. I told you this malady is rare right? They’re still pretty confused about it, that’s what they said. This time my Rh factor was high and my sedimentation rate was very low, so they ruled that out all that arthritis part, don’t you think that’s good news?”

Mr. Tenning got up from his chair. “Okay, okay Rob just go back to your desk. Please.  Just stay connected with the clients, you know how important that is, okay? We all have to stay connected here. Go get caught up now.”

Rob got up and walked out the door, almost hitting Mary in the face on his way out. She looked into his eyes and snickered.

When Rob got back to his desk he could see he already had seven new messages. He sat down and picked up the phone and dialed. Mary and Mr. Tenning were gabbing and laughing about something behind him.

She’s such an ass-kisser.

“Larry this is Rob from Hopkins James, I hope you’re well. I’m calling to follow-up on your email from last week. Sorry I haven’t gotten back to you, I had a personal matter that’s kept me away.”

Rob held the phone to his ear while he listened to Larry talking up all his big and important talk: the same big talk he’s been hearing from people for years. He was used to it. He took one hand and reached down and rubbed some of the pain out from his left leg.  That always felt good. He reached into his knapsack and took out his morning pill, washing it down with his coffee.

Rob’s mind started to wander off while Larry blabbed. Wandering off again to his future. Wandering off again to more thoughts. Of doctors. Uncertainty. Debilitation.  His life.


8 thoughts on “CONNECTIVE TISSUE

  1. Pete, journeyintopoetry can have Mr. Tenning. Give me Mary! I could bitch-slap her on Rob’s behalf. Hope this story isn’t autobiographical.

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