My Working Life (for gordonzola)

Years ago I worked as a medical records transcriptionist: you know, one of those people who listens to doctors on tape and types reports. Medical transcriptionists are odd people. They tend to be highly intelligent people without a proper education, or with some damage in their lives that never allowed them to be successful professionals. So there were quite a few eccentrics, and we all were pretty tolerant of each other’s oddities.

Clara started at this job about the same time I did. She was a cheerful woman in her late 30s, full of energy and enthusiasm. She was quite overweight but very bouncy, and had a lot of charisma and personal intensity. She was highly intelligent, had a great sense of humor, and was very social, and she and I hit it off right away.

Clara had been raised Seventh Day Adventist in a family of brilliant doctors (many SDA people go into medicine), and was the only one in her family not to go off to be a brilliant doctor. Instead, she got married, the marriage didn’t go well, and she was the single mother of five kids. An assortment of other troubles plagued her. She had recently been operated on for some type of gynecological cancer, for one thing. And her divorce was especially bad; her husband had molested the youngest child, and apparently had been convicted of this and was on house arrest with one of those electronic bracelets.

Clara herself managed to be fairly cheerful despite these struggles. She played piano beautifully in the hospital chapel on her lunch breaks, brought in cartoons to share (she and I were both fans of the very early Dilbert), and worked lots of extra hours, doing excellent work. However, fate continued to dog her.

A few months after I met her, Clara’s oldest daughter (13) was diagnosed with leukemia. The expense and suffering of this were as bad as you might expect, and Clara was quite down about it, but persevered pretty well.

During this time, we had a big I.T. project going at the hospital, and a couple of programmers from an outside company were frequently in the office. Clara struck up a friendship with one of them, and the friendship continued outside the office, where she began to attend the same church as he did. As a refugee from the SDA church, she was particularly in need of some spiritual “food”, and was glad to find a more welcoming environment.

Occasionally I’d hear about Clara’s boyfriend, who seemed like an interesting guy. He was quite wealthy and helped her with some of her financial troubles, as well as flying her to San Francisco for the weekend occasionally, or sending her nice gifts at the office (like a small TREE). The boyfriend was also an aviator, and during the Gulf War of 1991 was called up from the Reserves to fly B-52 bombers, which worried her greatly.

She still had great troubles with her ex husband, who apparently was demanding money from her and being threatening despite his magic bracelet. At one point she was preparing some court evidence and showed me photos of her car with fire damage; he had apparently committed some act of minor arson.

During the Los Angeles Riots, in which many of my coworkers suffered quite a bit, Clara got a bit into the thick of it as well; she related that she and her boyfriend were driving across town when a group of rioters attempted to carjack them and he fired shots.

About 18 months into my friendship with Clara I asked her one day how her daughter, the leukemia victim, was doing. “Oh she’s fine!” was the sparkly reply. This hit me a bit wrong. People with leukemia aren’t “fine”. They’re dead, or in remission.

I mentioned this to my boss, who looked at me with that deadpan you-can’t-be-serious look. “Yeah. And her boyfriend? He doesn’t exist.”


“She buys those gifts herself. Look, Clara is nice, but she is insane. I know things you don’t.”

At which point it all fell into place. Every current event of interest had some Clara in it. Every time a dramatic story lost its novelty and luster, a new one replaced it. Clara was a severe pathological liar. There was no boyfriend, no uterine cancer, no arsonist molester of an ex, no leukemic child, none of it. Only a very bright and very unhappy unwanted woman who’d been rejected by her family and was sinking under the burden of raising five kids on her own.

After that I was still very friendly with Clara but also a bit worried. The programmer she’d been socializing with outside work was, too; apparently she was about as close to stalking him as you can get without breaking the law. She’d wait in her car outside his house and call him too often. Her religious enthusiasm wasn’t entirely pure, it seemed.

What haunts me is the image of her kids. I only met them a couple of times, when she had them with her as she picked up a paycheck. All five of them, silent and ghostly, standing there as she carried on with that miraculous patter of hers, sparkly and fun and entirely false. What was that like for them, I wonder?

When I became the boss of the department, I was quite glad that Clara had gone on to another job. I didn’t want to know whatever my previous boss hadn’t told me.

11 thoughts on “My Working Life (for gordonzola)

  1. wow!
    I’m sure you’ve told me that story. It’s no less shocking the second time around.
    I’m sure you’re familiar with the accordian guy story that’s been going around?

    1. A short aside
      I know everyone is talking about what a great story and the compulsive liars they know, and I could do so as well. On another occasion, I even would. At this moment, however, I must say this:
      I am highly amused by the very concept of an angry single-serving milk carton that somehow growls by drawing out an L sound.

  2. It’s important to share these tales. The boyfriend firing off shots at the rioters was my favorite part.
    And there’s something about cancer stories that chronic liars can’t resist. Hopefully will tell her chronic liar story too.

  3. I knew someone like that — she looked a lot younger than she was, and pretended that she was the sister of her son and daughters. And went to the same college with them, preying on guys she thought were cute.
    When the mother/sister discrepancy becomes apparent she pulls out this incredibly elaborate, detailed-filled story of how the whole family is on the run from insane, abusive parents — so she is forced to pretend to be their mother from time to time.

  4. I knew a compulsive liar for a long time, they are facinating. Since I was a young lad and worked at the local Waterapark, I’ve known this one girl. After getting to know her you realize that her stories are a little different everytime and tend to migrate and morph to something different. Since her parents live very close to me, I run into her rom time to time. She also had a tendency to go to the same college I was attending. I started at Irvine Valley College. One of the classes I attended was abnormal psych. One of my V-ball team mates was in the class, and I commented that I know this chick, a total compulsive liar wouldn’t it be funny if she was in here? 2 seconds later she walks in and I almost fell down laughing.
    I later atended CSUF and ran into her again this time she was a psych major(2001). She seemed to actualyl be normal now and I was single at the time and we dated for awhile, but nope the lying was still there, and I bailed.
    She was extremely good looking (like playmate material) and intelligent. I knew more then a few guys that put up with her lying just to date her.
    Some greatest hits.
    She was dateing the roommate of one of my best friends (96 ish)they where in Vegas and could not get a hotel room, and had to stay at a friends small apartment. 8 people where crammed into this small studio, and at about 1 am she states “You know my uncle owns the RIO” At this point everyone but the guy she was dateing turned on her.
    Her father has been a cheif of staff, open heart surgeon, neuro surgeon, the list goes on.
    Her parents lived in her house why there house was being built in an large upscale community south of us. This lasted for about 4 years.

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