Click here for Part One. This’ll be at least three parts, catching up on the dumpster fire of my life from the past several months.
Intermission: A Flashback
My father was abusive. He was also incredibly racist. I learned all the bad words for Other People by the time I was about six. Of course, I knew they were bad words. I don’t remember specifically being taught this, but I absorbed the fact that this was racism and racism was bad. And Daddy was bad, because he was abusive and racist and always angry and very, very hateful.
As I grew, I chafed against this. I had been taught right from wrong, and Little C needed to speak up against what I perceived as wrongness, injustice, and unfairness.
In practical terms, this manifested in occasionally “talking back.” Of course, backtalk meant beatings. But sometimes Daddy’s egregious badness was too much to bear and I couldn’t “just keep my mouth shut,” which was what was expected of me. Keep your head down, don’t make him mad, and you won’t get hit (…as much) (…maybe). Stay under the radar until you’re eighteen and you can escape.
I couldn’t do it. I never learned to just suck it up and accept my father’s behavior. “This is wrong, and it is not okay,” I thought, and sometimes I said it. I’d control myself for a while, but sooner or later I’d let it out. And I couldn’t win, because little C was just a kid and Daddy was a grownup and bigger than me and that was just the way it was.
Whenever this happened, the family got exasperated. “WHEN ARE YA GONNA LEARN?!?!?!” Why couldn’t I just bite my tongue when I knew what would happen? What was wrong with me?
Fast forward to today.
I’m in my mid-forties. I still haven’t learned. It seems pretty clear that I never will.
After New Year’s, having not yet killed myself, I had another conversation with Miss Y. I shared the above tidbit of my backstory with her. It had been on my mind ever since I realized that I’m never going to be able to hold down a job because it’s just too deeply-ingrained in me to fight back when things are bad.
“Mom never fought back,” I remarked. This is true: Mom took Daddy’s abuse and didn’t defend herself (or me) and didn’t call the cops and didn’t divorce him even though I begged her to. Devout Catholics of the old school are funny that way, what can I say. And because she took it…maybe she didn’t get hit as much as she otherwise would’ve? I guess?
“Sometimes you have to pick your battles,” Miss Y said as I complained about how my lifetime of refusing to sit back and swallow other people’s shitty behavior has led me to being pretty much unemployable.
Pick Your Battles
Oh, that phrase. If I had a nickel. Sure, some situations aren’t worth making a fuss about, and I don’t. Boss forgot your birthday when you’re one of a hundred drones, not a big deal. Chick two cubicles over won’t stop bitching about her boyfriend, not worth quitting over. But things like this, especially when they’re ongoing, weekly, DAILY occurrences:
- Bosses making snide comments about your personal life.
- People in accounting (who openly despise you) “accidentally” making errors on your paycheck.
- Supervisors forcing you to perform extra duties, for which you aren’t paid, because other employees refuse to do their own work.
- Colleagues badmouthing you behind your back to other employees.
- Colleagues badmouthing you openly, out loud.
- Blatant nepotism.
- Blatant, not-open-to-interpretation, no-I’m-not-misreading-it racism.
- Co-workers refusing to comply with polite, reasonable requests for things you need in order to do your job.
- People locking the “nice” restroom so that you (and only you) can’t use it, forcing you to use the filthy, sinkless, un-air-conditioned warehouse restroom.
- Co-workers demanding that you (and only you) enter through the back door, that you (and only you) not be permitted to use the communal refrigerator, and that a front door now be locked to keep you (and only you) out for no reason.
- Being repeatedly reprimanded for minor missteps, while others are permitted to openly flout the rules with zero consequences.
Are those…not battles you would pick to fight? C’mon, normies, lay it on me. Are those the kind of things you’d “keep your head down” for?
Just Suck It Up
Dealing with stuff like that, not once in a blue moon but on a regular basis. Trying to do the right thing, trying to resolve things diplomatically, and when that doesn’t work, appealing to the higher-ups — only to be told in so many words that it won’t be addressed because whoever has the power to do something about it, won’t. They don’t want to deal with the conflict and think if they stick their fingers in their ears, the problem will go away. And they’re right, because invariably I can’t take it anymore and quit. Or resign. Or voice my frustration so much that I end up being the one who gets fired.
“I kept my head down and got beaten slightly less.” Is that something to be proud of? Something to aspire to? “I didn’t stand up for myself, so I kept my job. They’re mistreating me every day, but maybe not as much as if I complained.” “I didn’t fight back so I stayed married. My spouse hits me, degrades me, but maybe not as much as if I protested.” Remember, my normal is broken. Is this really okay?
The Bible Sayyyyyyyys…
Miss Y is not the only Christian woman who has more or less advised me to suck it up and take this kind of crap. Other, older ladies “tsk tsk” me while citing scripture such as 1 Peter 2:18-19:
Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward. For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. (KJV)
Another favorite passage of theirs is Ephesians 6:5-8:
Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men: Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free. (KJV)
Of course, the finger-waggers always whip these verses out without telling me HOW I’m supposed to accomplish this. “Don’t quit! Obey your masters! Don’t complain! There are people worse off than youuuuuuu!”
Fighting the Good Fight?
Eventually, little C got bigger and stronger. Daddy was old, and got older. I don’t remember exactly when, but there came a day in my childhood where instead of cowering and shrieking when he was hitting me…I hit back. Again and again and again. And I used my feet and I used my teeth and finally someone had to pull me away because I was actually damaging him. (Funny, nobody ever pulled him away when he was hurting me.)
I’d like to say he never hit me again, but it wouldn’t be true. Oddly, it took a couple more of these incidents before Daddy realized he couldn’t hurt me with impunity anymore. Old habits die hard, I suppose.
As a child, I had to protect myself because nobody else would. The people who should have kept me from harm, especially since they’d been through it themselves, left me alone and never stepped in (until I retaliated). As an adult, I find myself in the same boat, over and over again — asking for help from Human Resources or some other person up the chain from me, and being ignored and unprotected and forced to fight my own attackers off.
If I’m to believe all the Good Little Christians, though, fighting back is wrong. Speaking up, defending myself, calling out bullying, not “turning the other cheek,” not sucking it up and swallowing all the endless workplace crap.
I can’t believe that this is God’s intent. Does he want me to be a cringing, taken advantage of, beaten-down victim of other people’s whims and desires my whole life? Must I submit to every humiliation when I enter a relationship, whether business or personal? Must I be a doormat to become a Good Little Christian?
Stay tuned for Part Three.