Public Shame #3: When the music died

Chapter 3: The incident

One other incident of note happened that I must mention. I don’t know if this ultimately played a role in my being fired from Royal Caribbean, but I cannot imagine it did not.

Around October/November, two girls signed on to the Independence as Youth Staff, Nicole Campbell and “Holly.” I will call her Holly because I don’t have anything against her and I don’t want to give her a bad reputation because of what happened. I quickly became friends with Nicole and she self-proclaimed “besties” with Holly, so if I was going to hang out with Nicole, I was inevitably going to be around Holly.

Now, it is important to note, that during this time, I had begun to hang out with a girl on the ship who worked as a personal trainer in the gym, and we were mutually interested in each other and sort of dating, although it was somewhat on the down low. Still, I was very happy about this, very into this girl, and certainly not interested in pursuing anyone else. I am the kind of person who, once I am interested in one girl, all other girls sort of cease to exist as potential romantic partners for me. Okay, so back to our main story…

Nicole and Holly worked in the nursery with under 3-year-olds, and at the time I was the family-play area specialists – which was basically a non-drop-off nursery for the same age group – so we shared a lot of resources, worked with the same children, and our paths crossed frequently at work. Often, I would run into the two of them in the nursery at the end of my work shift while they were in the nursery with no children signed in just sitting around bored. They would draw me into conversations and sometimes I would find myself chatting with them for almost an hour or two.

Eventually, Holly started to share stories of her personal life: Like the time she suspected a boyfriend of cheating and broke up with him by moving out one day while he was at work without giving him any notice or confronting him about it. She even asked for advice on her current drama: She had a boyfriend who had recently cheated on her while they were both on vacation and he had just signed onto the Independence and she wanted to talk to him about it but couldn’t figure out how to best approach things to get closure.

I was, of course, flattered and delighted to have my advice solicited. I shared with Holly some unflattering stories from my own past, such as how horribly I handled my breakup with Bri and nearly took my life over it. I shared about lack of closure and how I’ve had to learn to live and adjust without any kind of closure on what happened between Bri or my girlfriend previously, Karen. Closure is over-rated. I advised her to give things time and wait until she was in a better head space to talk to her ex- about the issues that were still raw. Side note: Holly and this guy eventually reunited, and last I checked are still together two years later.

One time, early in my getting to know her, I kind of griped Holly out about something without really meaning to. We were on the back deck, which is the often packed crew bar. I was sitting at a large round table next to Holly and Nicole chatting with Holly. I told her I was going to buy myself another drink and offered to get one for her. Generally, on ships, drinks are so cheap that it is standard practice for friends to buy each other their drinks when they make a run to the bar, so I just want to clarify that this isn’t really a “hitting on someone” technique like it might be considered on land.

When I returned with our drinks, another gentleman was sitting in the seat I had just left and he and Holly appeared to be flirting. So, I handed Holly her drink and uncomfortably walked away. Actually, she was so engrossed in this fellow that she didn’t even look at me to acknowledge me. No big deal though. I didn’t really care about the flirting – good on her, trying to move on from that guy who broke her heart. I was merely a little bit annoyed that she had given away my chair because those are pretty hard to come by when the back deck is as full as it was. After being on my feet for over 12 hours that day I really just wanted to take a load off. Later that evening, Holly approached me by the bar and tried to draw me into another conversation with her. As was my usual habit, I wasn’t super interested in socializing or small-talk – I just wanted to be by myself, really, so I brushed off her invitations a couple of times.

Holly persisted and asked me why I didn’t want to hang out with her anymore. Weary of her persistence, I told her that I was annoyed that she had given my seat away to some boy she wanted to flirt with, but I didn’t begrudge her flirting with anyone, and that I could see how his attention could be very flattering. I just thought it was rude to blow off a friend like that and so I just wanted to be by myself the rest of the night. Clearly, this was offensive to Holly, she took it as if I was saying she was an attention seeking flirt, and she didn’t like being told she had been rude to me. So, she kind of just stormed off, and I decided to call it a night and went back to my cabin.

The thing is, I wasn’t really all that upset with Holly at all for her actions – I was just in a grumpy mood because of how the circumstances had played out – a sort of “victim of bad circumstances” kind of annoyed. I wanted a quiet and relaxing evening. Holly was pestering me with drama. By the time I got back to my cabin, I somewhat realized how I had come across to Holly and been overly critical and offensive towards her and hurt and upset her. So, I gave her room a quick call and left her a voice mail apologizing for offending her.

And that was the end of that. Or so I thought.

As the days went by, Nicole, Holly, and I continued to have our little nursery chats. Once, during one of the chats, I can’t remember exactly why, but a conversation started to get somewhat awkward/uncomfortable for me, so I excused myself to go finish cleaning up the family play area in the next room (this legitimately needed to be done ASAP – I had been again, distracted/drawn into conversation while I was passing through the nursery putting things away and had not finished cleaning up my work area). Actually, I might remember – I think the conversation had become about sex and was a bit explicit and I just didn’t feel comfortable.

Holly was sensitive to the fact that perhaps they had offended me, although the truth was, I was barely offended at all, so she called my mobile work phone a couple of times but the signal was so low in that part of the ship we couldn’t understand each other. I called her back from a wall-phone and she apologized profusely for offending me and begged me to come back and chat with them. I told her I wasn’t upset at all and was more than happy to go back and chat with them once I had finished cleaning up.

So, I finished cleaning up. I went back in the room and chatted with them a little while longer until things didn’t feel as awkward as they had been earlier, and then I left and went back to my cabin.

And that was the end of that. Or so I thought.

And finally came the big incident where it all went down.

It started out typically enough. I finished work, was passing through the nursery to put some books away, and was roped into a conversation with Nicole and Holly. This particular night, the two girls wanted to go out drinking to celebrate something and they invited me to come along. I agreed to come out with them, so we just hung out at their work chatting because they were both about to close the nursery and leave soon. Then, there was a problem.

Nicole couldn’t find her cabin keys. We spent the next hour searching the nursery and retracing all of Nicole’s steps but we never found her keys. We finally had to give up. Nicole was thoroughly devastated by this. So much so, that she didn’t want to go out and Holly and I were trying to console her and encourage her to go out and just forget about it.

So, as we were doing this we went back to the crew cabin area, we continued to try and cheer Nicole up and we ended up swinging by the crew shop to pick up some random snacks. I was somewhat not paying attention to everything and sort of following along – I sort of just found myself in the crew shop, so I bought some candy bars. By this time, actually, Nicole and Holly had already come and left. I really did end up in my own world sometimes and lose track of things like where people were going.

I went back to my cabin to get ready to go out. Then, I stopped by Nicole’s cabin. She was dressed for bed and clearly not going out. “Just meet up with Holly and you guys go have fun without me,” she told me.

So, I went to Holly‘s cabin. Holly informed me she had just put in a load of laundry and was not going out without Nicole. She made some comments about how it sucked waiting on laundry and she felt “so uncomfortable” going into the laundry room alone because of all the “creepy guys” in there staring at her. I felt a bit awkward and didn’t exactly know what the appropriate thing was to do in this situation. I felt like she was hinting that she wanted me to keep her company while she did her laundry, although at this point I just wanted to go back to my room and go to sleep as well. But, I wanted to be polite, so I offered to hang out with her while she waited on her laundry and she said that was fine.

However, Holly very quickly became preoccupied with doing other things and kind of just ignored the fact that I was sitting in her room. She was making little comments to herself, she tried to call her mother, and she just seemed completely oblivious at best, annoyed at worst that I was in the room. I started to feel extremely uncomfortable. The whole situation had just become incredibly awkward. So, I tried to excuse myself. That is when things got very weird.

Holly insisted that I stay. I told her I felt a little bit uncomfortable. She told me I had no reason to. I explained that the way she was acting made me feel like she didn’t want me around. She took great offense to this and responded with “That is so unfair!” A fight was just about to start and I wanted nothing more than to just get away from it as fast as possible. I didn’t understand what was going on. I wan’t upset with Holly in the least, I was just very awkward and wanted to get out of the situation. So, finally, I just excused myself and left without much ceremony.

One again, I found myself in my room having had a very awkward exchange with Holly which clearly upset her. I began to reflect on all of my exchanges with her and it occurred to me that Holly habitually said or did things that made me feel really stupid or insignificant – she insisted that I be around and then she either put me down or blew me off, and I didn’t like that.

I made up my mind that I wasn’t going to hang out with Holly anymore after that night. And, being the idiot that I am who always insists on being straightforward and forthcoming with people, I decided I should let her know about my decision instead of just spending the next few weeks awkwardly avoiding her until she “got the message.” After all, I thought, ships are a small place – you run into the same people a lot – and if you want to actively avoid someone, it is probably best that you let them know upfront so there is no confusion and they won’t push things.

I walked back down to Holly‘s room, knocked on the door, and when she answered, I stood in the doorway and explained to her that I really wanted to be her friend but I could not because every time I was around her she made me feel “this big” (here I made the tiny person gesture with my fingers, you know what I’m talking about). Holly just continued to respond, “That’s not fair. That’s not fair,” and after I had said my piece, I left, satisfied that I had appropriately ended things.

The next morning, we had a crew drill and I found myself standing in a line next to Nicole. I told Nicole, “By the way, I can’t hang out with Holly anymore,” and Nicole just snapped at me that she didn’t want to hear about it or get caught up in our drama. I took this as a sign that Holly had already been talking to Nicole about what happened the night before and Nicole thought I was intending to give her an earful as well (which I wasn’t). So, I just let it lie.

Later, that afternoon, I received some excellent news. I was offered my follow on contract and it was back on the Independence! I was so happy about this.

Then the bombshell came.

That evening, I was at work when my manager, Tracey, came in and just sat there while I finished up running a Family Bingo activity. When I was done, Tracey told me she needed to escort me to the human resources office.

Upon arriving at HR, Tracey went in and spoke with the manager for a little while, and then finally I was invited to come in and speak with him and the ship’s doctor. The gentlemen sat me down and the doctor explained to me that this was a “safe space” and I could tell them anything I felt like I needed to. Then, the head of HR proceeded to ask me how I was feeling, if I was alright, if anything was bothering me. I was completely lost. I was great. I couldn’t be happier actually. I had a girlfriend, I had just found out I was scheduled to return to the same ship where I was super happy, and life was good.

Then, they informed me that my coworkers, Nicole and Holly had come forward and told him that I might be suicidal. It was explained that they were very concerned for me. I suddenly started to realize what was happening: Holly was hurt by rejection of her and was trying to get me thrown off the ship by casting aspersions about me being mentally unstable. It was not a ploy I was unfamiliar with.

I was soon to find out, that wasn’t the game we were playing at all. It was much worse.

I carefully explained that a few weeks prior I had told them stories about a time long ago in my past when I had considered committing suicide, but I hadn’t told them these stories to share my current mental state, but rather to offer some helpful insight into what a mental toll of having an obsession with closure and being unable to receive it could have on you and to demonstrate that with time and a proper mindset you could turn everything around and be in a much better place mentally. A much better place mentally like I was currently in.

Both the HR specialist and the doctor seemed to be thoroughly convinced that I was mentally healthy and in a very happy place. So, they told me, I just needed to meet with the Security Chief and write a statement about all my conversations and interactions with Nicole and Holly so they could have that on record.

I left the room, escorted by the Security Chief, Mike, and was taken to the security office to write my statement. Another gentleman from the security team was left standing watch over me. As I began to write my statement, Mike started to come in and ask me questions about the incident. I didn’t catch on right at first, but eventually, after about thirty minutes of this coming and going and questions, I started to feel like I was being interrogated.

Because I was being interrogated. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks. Well, mainly Mike hit me with it, because I really needed it to be spelled out for me: I was standing accused of stalking and harassing Holly, and this really wasn’t about whether or not I was suicidal or me making a statement about my mental health. This was about me making a statement defending me against Holly‘s accusation that I had threatened her because she wouldn’t date me.

Over the next several hours, a nightmare scenario unfolded. Apparently, Holly, had accused me of stalking her and Nicole, constantly trying to get Holly to go out with me despite her constant attempts to rebuff me, and eventually all of this culminated with me “blowing up” at her in her room because she wouldn’t go out with me.

Everything was now being twisted with new meaning – and not just “oh, I misunderstood that situation” kind of twisting, but this was very deliberate twisting. It was like history was being intentionally re-written.

That time I avoided her on the back deck after she gave my seat away and kept asking me to hang out with her? Holly reported that she had been avoiding me and that I had “exploded” at her for doing so and later that night left her a “stalkerish” voice mail.

That time I left the nursery to clean up after a conversation had made me uncomfortable? Holly reported that I had “stormed” out of the room, much to her and Nicole’s relief, because Holly wasn’t being receptive to my flirtations.

All those times I had been drawn into conversations with Nicole and Holly in the nursery when I was leaving work? Holly reported that I had forcibly inserted myself into their conversations when I was not welcome and they never had wanted me around. Oh, and all those personal stories I had shared as a means of giving her advice (which she has asked for) about her own peronsl situations? According to Holly, those were an unwelcome attempt to manipulate her into feeling sorry for me and going out with me.

And finally, the night before when I told Holly I couldn’t hang out with her anymore or be her friend anymore because she was consistently rude to me? Holly explained that it was her who had rejected me, that she had told me she didn’t want me to be around her anymore and that I should leave her alone, but despite this I had gone to her room and exploded and threatened her.

All of this stuff was a lot of “he said, she said” kind of accusations. However, I was really sacred, because at the time I thought Nicole was in another room with Holly corroborating the accusations against me. I later found out that Nicole was not even involved, but in that moment Mike made it seem very dire. Typical detective interrogation tactics. He was good. I actually admire him for it. Fortunately, I could point to video camera evidence and phone records to show that Holly called me numerous times and I had almost never called her and these times when I was supposedly “storming off” or “throwing a fit” were in areas that would have been on video tape and I clearly was not doing any such thing. And the video evidence corroborated my telling of events. Thank god for CCTV.

The worst sort of evidence they had against me was a picture I had drawn a week or two prior at work of two silhouettes shaped like a heart, one giving a rose to another. Almost as an afterthought, I had been thinking about how down on herself and sad Holly had been lately, so I gave the picture to Holly‘s roommate to give to her, but I told her not to tell her it was from me (because I didn’t want Holly to get the wrong idea).

Well, Holly‘s roommate did tell her the picture was from me. Apparently she thought I was a secret admirer and too shy to tell her myself, so she was trying to help me out. I’m such an idiot. Of course, she would have thought that. And of course, she would have told Holly this. And of course Holly would be creeped out by this. That was really dumb of me. All I wanted was for Holly to think she had a secret admirer. I didn’t want her to think it was me. I really am an idiot sometimes, right? So, they did have me on that one thing. But just that one thing! Nothing else held any water, and I could prove almost all of the other accusations wrong.

So, I spent several hours writing a very detailed statement. The whole time, Mike, was trying to goad me into losing my temper with him, and he seemed flabbergasted that I wasn’t. I wasn’t really mad. I was just hurt and confused. I wanted to cry, not shout. He kept asking me about anger levels, and I told him that by comparison I was more “angry” now in this moment than I had ever been around Holly, but my anger level was still only a 3 out of 10 and I was just not that angry.

Mike didn’t seem convinced. At one point, early on, when he first started accusing me of all these ridiculous accusations, I uncomfortably smiled, almost chuckled, at how ridiculous it all seemed as the light bulb went off in my head and I realized what Holly was up to. You know what face you make when you have a sudden realization that blows your mind and you can’t help but smile and shake your head at the insanity of it all? That was the face I had made. Mike told me that in his experience as a military or police investigator, he knew that smiling when answering a question was a sign of lying.

I sincerely hope for Royal Caribbean’s sake he didn’t mean this. Why? Because it is well documented by deception and behavior specialists that smiling is not really sign of lying. People smile for all sorts of reasons: when they are happy, to express superiority, and when they are uncomfortable or experiencing distress or confrontation. Generally, the only time a smile is a sign of deception is when someone clearly forces a smile to try and convince someone they are friendly and harmless and it can be detected by comparing the differences in the wrinkles around their face and eyes. I have spent years researching and reading about human behavior. And even this is not an exact science. The idea of a “human lie detector” and reading micro-expressions is a very flawed science. And the mere existence of a smile being a sign of deception? That is utter bollix. After this interrogation, I also looked up several articles published in scientific journals about human behavior that confirmed this fact.

I am going to give Mike the benefit of the doubt and assume that he was just taking such a hard line with me as an interrogation tactic, trying to get me to crack, and not because he completely misunderstands even the most basic of human behaviors as it related to deception and guilt.

So, Mike kept insisting to me that I was guilty as sin, and nothing I said would convince him otherwise. He told me he couldn’t wait to throw me off the ship, but unfortunately he had to wait for Royal Caribbean Headquarters in Miami to make a ruling on this issue and it was out of his hands.

I returned to my cabin that night and barely slept. The next day, I was a nervous wreck. By this time, not only my manager, Tracey, was involved, but so was her boss, the Cruise Director, Joff Eaton. Eventually, I was called into the Cruise Director’s office and it was explained to me that Miami had concluded their investigation into the issue and it was found that there was no wrongdoing on my part.

And I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

I was, of course, advised to not go near Nicole or Holly for the remainder of my contract. And I didn’t. That was easy enough. It made things unnecessarily difficult for my managers making the schedule, but we all managed to make things work, and that was the end of that.

The next day we were in Ft. Lauderdale, I was required to go see a psychologist just to “check in on my mental state.” Royal Caribbean actually booked me through the emergency room of a hospital. I spent almost the entire day waiting in the emergency room as trauma victims came and went and I almost didn’t make it back to the ship before departure.

The doctor who saw me was, he was… annoyed is putting it lightly. He was quite disgusted by the whole ordeal. He said that Royal Caribbean was wasting his time. He said that I had done nothing that warranted being seen by a specialist for a mental health check up and their own records of my job performance and job satisfaction over the past several months should be evidence enough that I am fine. The doctor said he was tired of having to deal with companies like Royal Caribbean who didn’t understand how to actually handle real mental health issues and instead wasted his time with perfectly health people.

It was extremely embarrassing. It was embarrassing for me. It was embarrassing for the doctor. And, quite frankly, it was embarrassing for Royal Caribbean. But, at least everything was said and done with and we could all now move on.

There is only one problem. I don’t really know if “finding no wrongdoing” means that everyone thought I was innocent or if they just thought, “Well, we can’t prove conclusively that he did anything wrong.” Holly never got in trouble for lying, even though I was pretty sure some of the security footage and phone records very clearly proved that statements she made were false. So, maybe everyone just thought I had done something very wrong – that at one point I had lost my temper and yelled at or threatened Holly.

Unless they were going to fire Holly for lying, it is hard for me to imagine that anyone actually believed me. I think that maybe they just couldn’t prove that what she was saying was true, but they still believed her.

In reality, the worst thing I did was I offered Holly criticism for being rude to me and I didn’t sugar coat it well enough. I just flat out rejected her. But I have to admit, I myself would have a really hard time believing that was the worst thing someone did to another person if that other person responded with such horrible accusations. After all, who accuses someone of stalking and harassment in retaliation for getting their feelings hurt because they were rejected? It seems hard to believe (although we know this does actually happen, even if infrequently – it is a tale as old as the Bible itself – see the story of Joseph and Potifphar’s Wife – an excellent parallel to my own situation).

These are the kind of things you think about when you are later being judged for your actions, first, by your superiors who are considering whether or not to fire you, and later by the Human Resources Department at Royal Caribbean Headquarters in Miami when you appeal to get your job back. Did this incident play a factor in people’s decision making?

Possibly. I will never know.

And so, my first contract ended without further incident. I returned home on vacation. When I left the Independence, I was super excited because I had already accepted my next contract to return to the same ship six weeks later. I was seeing this really awesome girl. As I previously mentioned, I blogged about how my time on the ship were the best months of my life. The next six months on the Independence were going to be even better than the last!

Or so I thought.

That first Written Warning? That was soon to come back to haunt me nearly eight months after I received it and four months before it was set to expire from my record. And the incident with Holly? Who knows how that colored people’s perspective of me and ultimately spoiled my ability to hang onto my job. But, lose my job I did.