I started writing this…back in December. I left it as a draft, came back to it a couple of times, deleted and rewrote a bunch, then abandoned it. Christmas came and went, New Year’s, and on and on. I don’t know why I’m coming back to it now. I’m trimming a lot of details in order to hopefully get to some sort of point, somehow.
I had a conversation with my friend Miss Y a week or so before Christmas. It was very discouraging. She didn’t intend that, but it happened.
Fear of Change
She and I had talked a lot about the issues that plague this church (to be fair, many churches). One of these is the pervasive attitude of “We’ve always done it this way.” In a small church that’s been run by a single family for decades, that tendency is even more pronounced. Fresh blood comes through periodically, and they sincerely try, but invariably they leave after a while. Burned out. Some former employees felt so beaten down, they left ministry altogether. There’s a young man on staff now who’s been here a few years; he has confided that he may be reaching that point of needing to move on.
In my discussions with Miss Y, as well as that fellow, I’ve mentioned talking to the senior pastor. He and I were always close, and I know how very human (i.e., flawed) he can be. I try not to bug him too much; he has a lot on his plate. But I kept suggesting that people go to him with their concerns about church problems. Isn’t that what the Bible says we’re to do?
Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. (Matthew 18:15, KJV)
Unfortunately, Miss Y and others always meet that suggestion with disdain. “It wouldn’t do any good,” they say. “We’ve tried, other people have tried, it won’t make a difference.” Miss Y in particular has the attitude of “I can’t do anything about it, I’ve done everything that I can do and it hasn’t helped, therefore I just need to accept it.”
On the night of our talk, Miss Y regaled me with a tale of workplace woe. She’s toiled at the same company for MANY years. And she’s got a co-worker who just…refuses to do parts of their job. Management doesn’t want to deal with the conflict of addressing it. Therefore, Miss Y has resigned herself that it cannot be fixed and has decided to stop complaining about it.
This repels me at a very basic level, and I said so. I’ve had numerous jobs where I faced the same problems, and I always chafe against the “culture of low expectations” as I call it. When I see a broken system, I want to fix it. I always want to make things better and be a part of the solution. “Maybe I’m just terminally naive,” I said, “But I can’t just accept situations like that.” I quoted a line of Clarice Starling’s from the novel Hannibal, wherein she was ruminating on the bad guys getting away with their crimes. Clarice reflects that this is “the way of the world,” and then makes a decision:
The world will not be this way within the reach of my arm.
Miss Y was unimpressed. “My arm doesn’t reach that far, and neither does yours.” She pointed out, from years of pained experience, that this is just how it is. “I can’t quit my job,” she railed, “and you’re not happy living out of your car, are you?” She went on, not unkindly but with frustration, that pretty much every job is going to have unfair situations and bad bosses and colleagues. “You can’t fix these situations. You just have to accept them.”
The Moment of Realization
I remember in Technicolor what happened next: I collapsed like a balloon that’s bled all its helium. I slumped back into my chair, defeated, because I knew it was true. There will never be a place I can work where there won’t be some flawed system or draconian boss or co-workers who get away with murder. This wasn’t the point Miss Y was trying to make, but it’s the one that came to my forebrain.
I realized in that moment that I’m never going to make it. I’ve had to start my life over more times than I can count, because I can’t just accept the way things are always going to be. All the previous times, I somehow believed I could do it, that I could suck it up and take a crappy job and get my shit together and finally succeed. I don’t have that belief anymore.
“I can’t do this,” I muttered. Miss Y noticed my sudden deflation. “What is it you can’t do?” she asked. I sat, mutely staring at the tablecloth, feeling the clacking of roller coaster wheels in my mind climbing inexorably towards the top of the hill. “I’m too old for this shit,” I grated after a long pause.
Miss Y began to panic. She’d put in a lot of work on me: Inviting me to meals, empathizing with my problems, sharing her own with me, helping me get meds, driving me down to the Post Office, and on and on. She’s done a lot for me, more than she even knows. Now she was seeing me crumble, and fast. It must’ve been alarming to watch, but I had suddenly lost the ability to care.
It’s All Downhill From Here
I got to my feet, very heavily. Miss Y could see that I was in a bad place and started apologizing, saying “I don’t know what I said to make you mad.” I grimly told her that it wasn’t her, she didn’t make me mad, and this is just how it is. “It’s the way of the world.”
I went and crawled into my hole, covered myself with a blanket, and cried myself to sleep.
The next day, my belongings in the storage unit were auctioned off. I’d now lost everything except my soon-to-be-repossessed car, and what little I have crammed into it.
Waiting For The End
Christmas came and went. I dutifully shared a holiday meal with Miss Y and her daughter, with no joy. They gave me gifts, thoughtful and practical. I thanked them.
My food stamps expired. I stopped looking for jobs. I was sick for about a week, some upper respiratory crud that finds me once a year without fail. It allowed me to keep people at a distance for a while. The pastor and Miss Y popped in on me periodically, saddened at my regression but unable to offer any real help.
Just before New Year’s, I quietly went out and purchased the materials for my suicide. I immediately felt better, knowing that I had them now. I put the stuff away in a safe place and waited.