Mary’s Dilemma

Mary suddenly realized that she was selfish and alone. No-one would be checking up on her today; her employees were pleased that she would not be coming in to work today; the phone would not ring; and no one would visit. Mary was selfish and alone. She was also pinned between a bedroom wall and a heavy dresser.

It was a late morning. Mary had woken up a few hours earlier, on day two of a two-week vacation. Mary was single and a loner, and usually spent time-off reading books, taking walks, watching theatre and listening to music. She rarely visited or called family and friends, and had an excuse to explain absences. Mary could care less about visiting family and friends, unless it suited her mood of the day.

She loved them all dearly, but could not be bothered to keep up with her promises to stay in touch, visit, and let anyone in on her goings-on.  She fancied herself very independent, and did not believe in asking for assistance; not to move apartments, car ride, or a loan. She was rarely available for the same, and kept in mind each time she helped someone out, explaining in detail to any listening party, the hardship, trauma,  and thankless hard-work involved. Mary preferred not to return phone calls, and she responded to texts days later. Yet, she believed herself to be a caring, independent person, trusted by family, friends and colleagues.


This morning, while attempting to align her heavy dresser by pushing back against the wall for resistance, Mary heard a crack in her lower back. Pain seared down and the involuntary spasm caused her to take her hands off the slightly-tilting dresser. It rocked back toward her,  and as she fought the shards of pain, in a few seconds she was trapped between the wall and the dresser. 

It pressed heavily against her and she could barely breathe. Forcing the panic and fear to the back of her mind, Mary futilely pushed at the dresser; however, its dead weight severely restricted her arms. Her legs were also firmly pinned at odd angles.


Be calm Mary, she struggled to control the overwhelming emotions that rocked her body in waves. Help! Her voice was not as loud as she would have liked it to be; she was unable to scream out at the top of her lungs, her chest trapped. Oh no, I am trapped. I am trapped…and no-one is coming. This cold realization came before the second thought. Mary was selfish and alone.


No-one would visit, call, or care today, for this is how she had set up her life. Her silence was normal to those around her. She did not have colleagues from work with whom she made regular contact, and they would not care to hear from her until her return to work. Mary did not receive any newspapers– her mail an insignificant amount as to clog up her mailbox. She did not know her neighbours; did not belong to any clubs. Her friends, would not call or text until the weekend to see whether she was interested in doing something, and would not expect a response unless she was in the mood for their company.


Had her life and choices been different, she would shortly expect a phone call from her brother, who had suggested having coffee this morning about a week ago. She had never bothered to respond until late last night via text, stating that she had only just seen his missed call, and that she would soon get in touch with him for the coffee date. Mary did not intend to set a date, at least not for a few weeks. She also thought that her brother knew this of her, and would not take it personally.


Were her life and choices different, the coffee shop down the street would notice that their regular customer was not in by nine-thirty A.M, looking for a coffee. They knew of her, but did not know her name, for Mary preferred silence. She did not have the time or patience for small talk, and wanted her coffee handed over with a polite, enjoy your day. She tipped well for this, and figured that she was doing the staff a favour anyway; they did not really look like they wanted to talk to all their customers either.


In her mind’s eye Mary saw a few things. She thought of herself as independent and self-sufficient, whereas her family and friends wished she would include them more in her life. They were not looking for anything other than time with her. They wanted to know about her career, what made her laugh, what displeased her. Instead, any time she was with them, there were a few intense arguments. 

She always had an opinion, a suggestion, a criticism, all things she thought were indicative of a caring person, looking out for the other. She now suddenly understood the sad smiles she often got, her family and friends mentally choosing not to fight her, choosing to keep the peace, for they so rarely saw her, and whereas they could not stand her energy for too long, missed her enough to stand it for as long as she stuck around.



Mary saw the times she moved apartments, made purchases, changed job descriptions, and did not participate with her family and friends as they asked. She did not want to inconvenience anyone, knew how it felt to be bothered with tiresome requests, and refrained from asking for help. She now understood that it was in these things that people shared. It was in these experiences that things were learned, and not the only lessons she took away with her, which were how hard and inconveniencing helping others was.


She now understood that each call or text was an opportunity to surprise a family member or friend with a different approach. She thought of her curt and late responses, the lack of call-back, and the audacity of her callousness hurt her more than the chest drawer did. She thought that she was appropriate in her responses; however, she realized she really did live in her own selfish world. With each interaction, she was fulfilling her “keeping in touch” duties, and expected to be left alone for a few weeks.


She remembered the family holidays she barely showed up to, or the number of times she showed up on the last night, leaving early the next day, begging overlapping plans with friends. She now understood that even though she rarely kept her word or showed up, her family always set a place at the table. The coffee shop knew her order, and prepared it just the way she wanted. 

Mary now understood that it would have cost her nothing to look the employee in the eye and say a meaningful thank you, not the obligatory sounds she produced. Unlike her previous assumptions on what the staff appreciated or not, she now saw that it was these experiences, the customer that was kind, that softened the mundane workday.



Mary’s absence was a celebration at work, because she was that supervisor people did not care for. She thought that she was empathetic, caring and team-oriented. In her mind’s eye, and with a wry smile, Mary heard her voice speaking to and about her subordinates. She was condescending and selfish. Any kind acts that she did only validated her sense of self, whereas she took away the dignity of the employee in the process. 

Her conversations were argumentative and subordinates preferred to leave her voice-mail, rather than speak face-to-face. Senior management loved her, for Mary diligently managed her staff. What she now realized, is that she was not an inspiration but a micro-manager. She was not empathetic; she was loud and insensitive. She butted into conversations. She forced her way into activities. Her presence on the floor was dreaded. Her friendships revolved around social events.



The sealing point was that in the world in which she prided herself with knowing many people, none would be calling or visiting Mary today, tomorrow, or the day after. To the rest of the world, Mary was just being Mary, and they would all wait for her to come out of her world to join them when she felt like it, as usual.


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Mary’s Dilemma

2 thoughts on “Mary’s Dilemma

  1. Rosa Githiora says:

    Wow. This is such a powerful piece on the importance of continued human interaction. Looking forward to more of your work.

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