On January 27th, Donald called me at lunchtime. He invited me to dinner that night, saying he was going to invite my boyfriend too, but decided to have just me this time, with my boyfriend coming next time. It was unclear from the conversation who else would be at the dinner, although I assumed my boss’s boss would only invite me to a dinner with others.
I was wrong. It turned out to be just the two of us. Donald greeted me with a large smile and showed me to my seat, as though this was normal behavior for a boss and his employee. Despite presumably having access to a lot of table settings, two high backed chairs were placed next to each other at an uncomfortably small oval table. Half a dozen white roses were placed in a vase, with a trio candelabra next to it. I couldn’t help but notice how close the petals were to the flame. Other than quickly walking in and out to serve us our food, waiters made themselves scarce.
Donald started by asking me if I wanted to keep my job, which I found strange because I have worked here for years and I also like being able to pay my rent. I assured him that yes, I intended to stay in my position. He said that a lot of people would like to have my job, and he would understand if I wanted to walk away.
My instincts told me that a one-on-one setting meant the dinner was, at least in part, an effort to have me ask to keep my job and create some sort of inappropriate relationship between the two of us. That concerned me greatly. My mind started to race: I wondered when the waiters would return to the room, and where Melania was, and my eyes briefly landed on the candelabra, as I instinctively began to check it for sharp edges.
I replied that I loved my job and intended to stay. And then, because the set-up made me uneasy, I said he could always count on me to tell him the truth.
A few moments later, Donald leaned forward. His voice husky and breathy, he whispered, “I need loyalty.” His eyes dropped from my face, down to my chest, and back up. “I expect….loyalty.”
Time stood still. Panic rose up in me. I could feel every atom in my body shaking; I was on high alert. I willed my cheeks to not turn red, and I mashed on my tongue with my teeth. But I didn’t move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed. We simply looked at each other in silence. The conversation then moved on, but he returned to the subject near the end of our dinner.
Near the end of the dinner, Donald returned to the subject of my job, saying he was very glad I wanted to stay, adding that he had heard great things about me from my direct boss, his good friend Jeff. He then said, “I need loyalty.” I replied, “You will always get honesty from me.” He paused and then said, “That’s what I want, honest loyalty.” It is possible we understood the phrase “honest loyalty” differently, but I decided it wouldn’t be productive to push it further. The term – honest loyalty- had helped end a very awkward conversation and my explanations had made clear what he should expect.
As I mentioned, Donald was my boss’s boss. I returned from the dinner shaken, and not knowing what else I could do, decided to document my experience in a memo. I hoped that he would not ask any more favors of me, and that I could avoid being alone with him in the future.