A naked woman stared at me from the computer.
I fumbled with the mouse until the cursor reached the “x.” The attachment closed. I glanced around, relieved to find the adjacent cubicles empty. I gazed at the email attempting to parse the message:
How about this
There was no punctuation to help me decode the sender’s intent.
While I had been surprised to receive an email from Scott, a second-shift security guard, there seemed no harm in opening the subject-less message. Now I wanted to un-see that image and delete the email. I wanted to pretend it didn’t exist or to be able to laugh it off.
“Good morning!” Valerie startled me as she walked past.
“Morning,” I managed, completely distracted by the bomb in my inbox.
I was only a few months into my year of national service at a non-profit agency. I loved my work, and I didn’t want to cause problems.
“Um, Val, I need you to look at something.”
“Sure,” she replied. Val was in her second year as an AmeriCorps VISTA. While I had a college degree, I knew this slightly older single mom had more street smarts than me. I trusted her judgment on how to handle this.
“I got a weird email from Scott,” I began.
She knew who I meant. While there were many volunteers plus the constant parade of people logging community service hours at the agency, the paid staff was small. Everyone knew everyone.
But why does Scott think he knows me well enough to send this?
I showed Val the message and then opened the picture. She gasped, so I quickly closed it.
“What are you going to do?” she asked in wide-eyed shock.
I had been counting on Val to know the proper response for when a male coworker sends you pornography.
“You have to tell Sharon,” she finally advised.
So began a parade of people into my cubicle since I sure as hell wasn’t going to forward the email. First my supervisor, Sharon, and then her boss, Deb. When John from another department, with a bit more eagerness than was appropriate, asked, “Can I see it?” I was relieved when Sharon and Deb responded in unison, “NO!”
My face had grown hotter each time I opened up the photo. My stomach churned a bit more with each viewing.
Deb called me into her office. I felt like a child summoned to the principal’s office and promptly broke into tears as soon as the door was closed. And then I couldn’t stop crying because I was crying about this.
It’s just a stupid picture, I chided myself. You didn’t do anything wrong.
But I felt guilty. Scott seemed okay, and I didn’t want him to get in trouble. But I also never wanted this to happen again.
Despite Deb’s reassurances that I wasn’t in trouble, I remained distracted when I left her office. I couldn’t stop asking myself one question: Why me?
Why had Scott sent me that photo? He flirted with Val, but didn’t send it to her. What had I said or done to make him think I would want to see it?
I dreaded the hour when Scott would show up for work, and I avoided eye contact when he arrived. He was immediately summoned to explain the photo, and then he was sent to apologize to me.
“I’m really sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to send that photo to you.”
I wasn’t sure if that made me feel better or worse.