It started during the training sessions for her new job. Elizabeth Santeramo, a cancer information specialist in New York, saw a woman across the room glance in her direction, whisper in the ear of a co-worker, and then snort derisively. The episode seemed so brazenly immature, as if plucked directly from Mean Girls, that Santeramo shrugged it off. “The work we were doing was to help people who were just diagnosed with cancer,” she says. “We’re all empathic, compassionate people, I told myself. I’m just being paranoid.” A few days later, the abusive snickering intensified.
One day Santeramo’s nemesis approached a cubicle near hers, where she removed a cutout picture of a golden-haired cat and propped it up so everyone in the room could see it. When Santeramo stood up, puzzled, the woman began to meow at her. Her colleagues around her joined in. Soon, a chorus of malicious meowing would follow Santeramo in and out of the office like a demented soundtrack. “To this day,” she says, “I remain mystified by the meows.”