“You should take this extra glass of champagne,” said the owner of the company for which I was interning, pointing at me during a birthday celebration. “You Brazilians sure drink a lot.” It was probably the first time in my life I was unhappy about being served alcohol inside the workplace.
When I learned I would have a whole year to apply my Master’s degree in the professional world, I did not realize the whole system is designed to make it nearly impossible for foreign students to find a job beyond entry level, killing their chances of getting sponsored for a work visa. So I got stuck as an unpaid intern while paying rent in New York City and accused of not owning property in my mid-20s because I like avocado toast too much. And worst of all, my professional life suddenly became a very, very low-budget remake of Devil Wears Prada, only this time the boss was mainly just bitter with zero charm, everyone around her gets screwed and the intern doesn’t get to go to Paris.
I got hired because the former intern had quit just a week in. This should have been my first sign. It had been a little over two months of job hunting, however, and according to the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services, I had thirty days left to find a job or else. In my mind, I had been saved.
It was clear to me before I got the job, it wouldn’t be the opportunity of my dreams, but it got clearer on my first day. My email and phone extension were set up as “Intern 3,” although there were only two of us. I was given a confidentiality contract to sign and a bunch of handouts about the nature of my job. I also got detailed instructions – or as they’d put it, “Rules” – on how to interpret the person who carried the name of the company, my very own Miranda Priestly. One of the rules actually was – and I swear to God this was written down – speak clearly and slowly. The less you say, the better. There was also a guide on how to interpret Miranda’s hand gestures: Index finger up means to hold while she finishes up her current task. Index finger rolling motion means she will deal with you later.
Miranda would come in every day, not greeting anyone among the small staff of twelve, typing furiously on her phone as she walked into her office, which was right next to my desk. Three minutes later, I would watch Miranda’s assistant, on the verge of a stroke at the age of 26, make her a latte at the Nespresso machine, her hands trembling as she walked, making the cup shake loudly against the little plate.
One day, a woman of the senior staff made a mistake while scheduling a client’s appointment for an international book fair, and Miranda was yelling at her through the phone, even though their offices shared a wall. “You’re going to call them back and throw Giovanna under the bus,” she said, talking about a former intern. “Or blame it on your post-pregnancy hormones. I don’t care.” As I came to realize, these episodes were quite ordinary in the staff’s daily lives. Once, I was about to leave a meeting when she stopped everyone to point out that the other intern had given her a call-back number with no extension, and therefore she had to wait on the line while she was transferred to the editor she wanted to speak to. “May I remind you all, I am not a person to be transferred. I am a direct call. I don’t wait for anyone in this industry.” The meeting ended when she collected her papers and stormed out of the conference room, leaving the intern close to tears and the other people rolling their eyes.
When I talked about her to my friends, they all thought she was insane. But I was reluctant about judging a female entrepreneur who managed to stay relevant in the business for over 20 years. In fact, during my first week, she introduced me to a client saying my full name, where was I from and the fact I spoke three languages. I decided that maybe she couldn’t be that bad since she was paying so much attention to Intern 3 of 2. Yes, it was clear my coworkers didn’t like her. But for some reason, they kept working for her, didn’t they? It took me ages to realize that most of her staff was made of foreigners on a work visa. Which means that, if they lose their jobs, they also lose their visas and their right to stay in the country.
The more I saw Miranda being unreasonable to everyone around me, the more I started to confuse her indifference to me with appreciation. I took pride in never having crossed her path. It almost didn’t bother me that the workload forced me to pause my writing goals and novel, to be left untouched. Compared to the way she treated others, especially my fellow intern, it was like I was in line for a promotion.
That is until she fired me in front of the entire team.
I had two weeks left in the internship when she called me to the conference room, asking me about a book I was required to read for work, which I liked and had added to my personal Goodreads account, with a certain number of starts and two lines about what I thought of it. From there, Miranda accused me of trying to use the job she gave me, along with my connection to her, as a way to advance a career as a literary critic. Miranda then asked me to gather my things and leave the office. “What did you think was going to happen when I saw this?” she asked.
“I… didn’t think anything,” I said, which was the absolute truth. I had no intention of becoming a critic. Less than five percent of the books I had starred on the website had a written comment, and zero percent mentioned her name or my job. I highly doubted that my so-called “reviews” mattered to anyone else but me. Plus, the website featured a delete button, which I would have gladly used. It felt as if the Devil Wears Prada remake I was in was being written by someone who also writes movies for Hallmark, with a plot twist that made absolutely no sense.
That meeting, I came to understand, wasn’t meant for me to clarify the misunderstanding, so I stopped trying. I wonder if she even knew I had ten days left of working for her. I wonder if my lack of reaction made her even more frustrated. That may explain why, after talking to me privately, she waited for me to return to my desk and pack my stuff to come back and scream at me in front of the whole group.
“You ended your career in publishing before you even started,” she yelled. Everyone had their eyes locked to their screens, their faces portraying beautifully the boredom of daily tasks, pretending they didn’t hear a thing. “If you want to be a critic I hope you know now that nobody gives a damn about what you write.” Which to me sounded very counter-argumentative. If nobody gave a damn about it, what exactly was I being fired for in the first place?
As I left the office, texts of support from colleagues started to flow. A week after, I started my new job in publishing, despite Miranda’s predictions. “Good for you,” my friends in the industry would say. “I heard Miranda is…” what followed would be a very diplomatic and vague description, like “intense” or “strong-minded”, but any term beyond the ellipsis was just a matter of courtesy. She was another one of those who prey upon people who are weaker than they are. The newest American cliché.
“You should feel special. You were the only intern I ever had to fire,” was one of the last things she said to me. For the months that followed, I stopped writing altogether. I was terrified Miranda was right. Nobody was ever going to care about my writing. Then I got a new boss, new colleagues, a new book to read for work. Why not? I wrote a sentence. Then I wrote two. And life carried away.
Thais is a Brazilian writer living in Brooklyn. She ‘officially’ writes fiction for children and young adults but every now and then an essay or article, and even screenplays find their way out to her computer. Her nonfiction pieces have been featured on The Inquisitive Eater, Noteworthy, The Odyssey, and Medium. This year her screenplay titled ‘The Exchange’ was selected to be produced by Coca-Cola Regal Films, under the guidance of actor and director Olivia Wilde.