Can you catch Sin Cooties by material cooperation with heretics?
I didn't know. I didn't like the ads, they made me think; but they also made me think that if I was going to insist that Catholics be free to publish anything and everything we wanted, then I had to extend that right to everyone else, too, and what was
immoral about presenting the arguments of the opposition (let alone in such a passive and peripheral way as making camera-ready-copy) to be openly debated in print since even St. Thomas Aquinas did it, why half the Summa was spent on dissenting views--
I didn't mention at home that I was statting ads for heretics, though; I knew that would be a no-win situation.
The turnover rate there was enormous, as was the wastage rate of materials due to inaccurate order transcriptions and rushing - it wasn't so much "measure once, cut twice," but "measure? what's that mean?" - only I assumed then that this was unique to this particular disfunctional plant, not common to the industry as I subsequently have learned. It was scary, not just the constant sexual talk that taught me what "smegma" was and "felching" and who Rosie Palmer and her four sisters were and how handcuffs went with sex, and the yelling and occasional fisticuffs among the 'roid ragers;
I had to work to stay out of my own fights with one of the other girls there who demanded what religion I was and when I said I was Catholic to know what I believed about abortion and extramarital sex and to punch me for being "holier than thou" when I told her that I thought it was a sin. Worse than that, imo, for the sheer injustice of it was that we often required to work through our breaks, whatever the law said, if you wanted to keep your $7.50-an-hour job you just didn't eat or ate whatever you could hide in your desk and kept going so that the boss's son could have his new BMW and his daughter her big wedding reception and you could prove you were more macho than the next guy who had once gone THREE DAYS without going home even to change his clothes, just sleeping in his car...
Um. Yeah. That's not a joke. Baby wipes in the glove box, no need for a shower. Once you hear about that, dudes attacking each other with forks over a pasteup job doesn't seem so whacked any more. Or at least, it's all part of the same whackiness.
I survived on bad coffee, cheap skiffy paperbacks, and an increasingly "Damn the torpedoes" attitude as I began to realize that no, things weren't actually any different in the "Real world" no matter what my high school teachers had said, and that the older adults in charge were a) a bunch of jerks, b) not all that smart (the constant organizational clusterfuck there, the not-unconnected bad morale of the oldest staffers, the yanking around of everyone who wasn't related to the owners, the unbelievable screwups and lies to customers that I saw that year would fill a book) and also that all the Male Virtues I'd been told of simply didn't exist. Men were not, as a group, courageous, rational, logical, intellectual nor did they treat women equally, let alone better, because they were just and chivalrous; I would say they were just as bad as women, except that too often I saw that they relied on us to clean up after them, even in the workplace. I could not at all, any longer, justify any faith in the notion that males were better fit to lead anything, even a conga line, by virtue of the sacred dick. It wasn't a uniform I could rationalize saluting, IOW.
The Grownups outside of high school, in the big grown-up professional world, spent more
time talking about their masturbation habits than the kids in high school had. And it was perfectly acceptable to not do your homework and get somebody else to do it so you could run off and play outside, if you were one of the popular
salesmen. And "Dilbert" really wasn't a humor strip, it was just a slightly-exaggerated version of reality...
I also discovered that I was not, perhaps, such
a pitiful wimp as my father always insisted I was: although, when not self-medicating with pain, I am as fussy about things like drafts and internal discomforts as he
is - though thanks to his training I
have never inflicted long descriptions of my physical ailments on people IRL, or insisted that others sufer heat or cold to keep the temperature where I like it, that's a paternal prerogative - and once became dizzy (to his great enjoyment) at the sight of a (by-accident, not deliberate attempt) revealed tendon in my arm, still when I clumsily locked my hand into the door of the car which my grandfather had given me (otherwise I would have been hard pressed to get a job to pay off my student loans, since my father had already been more than generous letting me continue to live in the basement for a small rent and since I had a degree and should be able to be self-sufficient as a freelancer it was my fault if I couldn't afford one) and had to reach down into the pocket of my coat to get my keys out and free myself, and then went in and did my shift after bandaging it up and wondering why my nicer coworkers were amazed and aghast that I had just coolly unlocked myself and wasn't asking for the night off.
Unfortunately the application of ace and ice didn't make the swelling go down enough, and it kept getting worse, and strangely, though my father had always blown off our injuries when we as children got smashed thumbs or toenails, we were supposed to just suffer through in silence, he got upset with me for trying to "tough it out," what was wrong with me that I was such a stoic, so hard on myself? I should be willing to be vulnerable, to show pain (when that never brought anything but worse pain from him before) and to be willing to "cherish" myself --
So I went and had it drilled out at the ER, and had to keep clearing it every few hours and letting it drain, which I did in my cubicle on my dinner break, and then I found that the macho guys who loved to talk about 'Faces of Death' etc turned green when confronted with a woman using a needle to self-trephanate and drain pus from her hand, and after that they were a little
less jerkish and a little less condescending to me, and it made no sense to me why, but at least it wasn't as
(Then I thought I had just been stupid, when I paid the BCBS bill, and then I got another bill after that, I thought I must just have misunderstood the invoice the first time, or done the math wrong, but now I'm not so sure. I thought that the point of having insurance was to avoid this, but I knew I was dumb at anything but art and baking, so I didn't fight it.)
The job was hellish - by the time I left I was the second-to-last person who had been working in that division of the shift when I started, and they hadn't been able to get any new people in - and when I had the chance to volunteer to make a delivery drive to Boston - which I had never done, and was terrified to do, since my father always went on and on about how difficult and dangerous it was and what a clumsy bad driver I was, and yet wanted
to do something challenging and interesting and brave and which couldn't be that
hard since even teenagers did it - I took it, because none of the older men or women were willing to do it (drive in Boston? at night? that's SCARY!) and became the regular backup driver since I was, I found, actually pretty good at finding routes, not getting lost more than once, and avoiding bad traffic. And speeding tickets.
And for me, it was heaven - I was out on the open road, contending with forces greater than myself and triumphing, and nobody could mess with me for those hours--but I always had to go back, just as I always had to go home at night, and deal with the mockery and condemnation and hostility there. I took to staying away from home as much as I could, and despaired of the bleak future that was all I could see.
And it seemed that this was the better thing, since he didn't fight with me when I wasn't around, didn't attack me and humiliate me, and as far as I could tell - he certainly said
it was so - he had stopped treating the other children badly, so it was
better for the family, for me to work early and late hours.
I did it for nearly a year, and as before, as ever, whenever I - or any of us - withdrew emotionally from him, and better yet was away physically, his heart grew fonder at the absence, when he wasn't confronted with the unerasable physical reality of us and his disgust and dislike and resentment of our existence, he idealized me and I was such a Good Kid and why didn't I hang out with him any more? he missed our conversations that we'd had (back when I was on the Pedestal) and eventually, he offered me a job, saying it wasn't out of pity but because he had someone leave and knew I could do it because I'd been doing most of it during the summers anyway and promised he'd be nice to me and not pick on me and treat me professionally. Which he managed for a while, and then back to his old ways, including the blowing-hot-and-cold.
About once a week, every other week during a good spate, I'd be told how horrible I was at my job and how I was bringing down the company and was I doing it on purpose? Did I want
the Forces Of Evil to triumph? Or was I just naturally malicious and perverse? Or was it just mere stupidity and lack of talent - and taste - on my part? Why couldn't I be as good as So-and-So, or So-and-So? They
tried hard, they
didn't make mistakes and if they did they weren't as bad as mine - He should just fire me and get a REAL art director! - which even then I thought was wretchedly unfair, since he hadn't wanted me to go to art school and I had had to train myself in graphics software and prepress techniques, on my own time and dollar as well, and it wasn't as if he hadn't known
I had no experience other than working on the student magazine in HS when he hired me.
And then when driven to tears that I couldn't choke back (and I had gotten very, very good at eyes of steel over the years because crying was "manipulative" as well as typically female) then the MO would flip to telling me what a Good Kid I was and how critical
to the company and sure I could selfishly leave if I thought I needed
to but oh don't worry, they'd struggle on somehow, and occasionally there would be flowers and/or candy after a really bad outbreak (yes I know it's creepy in retro) and this manipulation would be patently obvious to me, the pattern of it, because it was like trying to overlook Mt. Everest, and I'd want
to call his bluff, to say "if I'm so bad at all my jobs then you SHOULD fire me because it's unjust to the company NOT to" and better yet to walk out of there--
But at first I was a True Believer (or trying hard to be one) and also I didn't have anyplace else to go, even when I realized that things were never going to change, never going to get better but go on repeating the same cycle that I had seen year after year, month after month, I had been so successfully isolated and cut out from the world and my confidence destroyed that I put up with it year after year, while my siblings who also worked for the family shop got different, custom-tailored abuse that followed the same patterns, and those who weren't family were also drawn into it, though he was more careful of the boundaries of those who had more distance
as outsiders and, also, some social status in our communities. But the turnover rate, and the bruised foreheads and flaily-ness of those who finally left, were clear warning signals that something was rotten at the heart of it all.
I finally started realizing that I had to do something
when I couldn't overcome the nausea and dread I felt getting into the car and my hands were shaking so much every day that I was having trouble driving down the hill from my flat to work because the sharp objects and the hot metal and water weren't helping enough, and I was having to carry a shotgun shell in my pocket to finger as a talisman during the tirades and after them to remind me that I had
an out, if not a moral one, for when I couldn't make myself walk out my apartment door any more, and that I could stand it for another day, another hour, to survive and pay off my student loans, even if I no longer had any more conviction that we were Doing Good and I as part of it redeeming myself by peddling what I increasingly believed, and in some cases knew
to be errors, and thus begun the process of mental separation that would, eventually, lead me to after pick up the X-acto knife and give myself what would be the last set of family-inspired scars ever, say This is crazy - I shouldn't have to hurt myself to avoid hurting myself worse, just to get through the workday - NOBODY should have to put up with this
and But his feelings will be hurt by my "rejection" of him
just didn't weigh even a feather, in the scales against it.
That was when I discovered absolutely that a liberal arts degree and a buck will get you a small cup of coffee if you're lucky, and that restaurateurs don't want inexperienced waitresses who are also turn out to be a double-A when they show up for the interview, and that nobody wants a janitorial assistant with a college degree or at least not a slight female one who claims she can tote buckets with the best of them ("overeducated" was the given reason though), and that recent experience plus certification even when the latter is not required trumps decade-old experience in a field, and that no, in fact, nobody out in the world gushes over a philosophy degree (So you're a psyche major? A what? What's that mean?
) or buys it when you tell them it means you can do anything, and that COBRA will devour all your savings if you believe that only its hood can protect you from danger--
Long years, lean years, in which I learned many things that I never was taught in any school or by my elders when imparting wisdom, about the world-as-it-is rather than the myths of it, though I was not Cassius, by a long shot - still, far too rebellious and questioning for my own peace of mind - and others' too.
All that abuse at home and office meant I had an advantage, not being as easily taken in again as others around me were - this was made very clear when I went to work for an outfit (which doesn't exist any more though I keep seeing indicators that some of the former owners' family are trying to reorganize it) which had such high turnover rate in the production department that the guys out back (with whom the owners barely interacted) joked that there was a revolving door into our area. It wasn't quite
up to one a month, but it wasn't too far below it.
Well before the end of the year and a half that I managed to stick it out before the day I found myself reflexively and unstoppably reaching for the pasteup scissors and quit, I knew perfectly well why they cycled through more staff than the local pizza delivery did drivers: the boss was nuts, and a very familiar kind of nut indeed, and the people who left were either of the sort who never should have been hired because they were not simply inexperienced (and thus could be paid less, which was in fact the policy as I was informed when I was hired after a great deal of reluctance due to my years of experience) but chronic incompetents who had no interest in the job or the business, and had been picked as Rescue Hires, "giving these poor girls a chance," was how she put it - and incidentally always causing Drama of various sorts before vanishing from sheer boredom which she had to stay late and clean up allowing her to go on about how hard it was for her and how little joy she got out of life working so much, or else
they were the ones who she ought
to be begging to stay, the ones who were as good as me, or nearly, or in one case better
, who were the ones she instead would endlessly fault-find, their work or sometimes "attitude," deciding out of nowhere that they were "unhappy here" and deciding to make reality fit her beliefs, which was easy enough if you start persecuting people and telling them that nobody likes them and everyone is complaining about them and that their work is no good and that they're trying to sabotage the company and might even be spies for a rival outfit--
She would carp at us, because we
got the nice technology, when she finally replaced the decrepit equipment that kept crashing and making us blow deadlines - as if it wasn't an investment in the company - and demand that we praise her "generosity" in upgrading to where the system should have been five years ago, as if it wasn't an investment in her own company, and whine that it wasn't fair that she
didn't get an optical mouse, too - when she controlled the checkbook and could have bought herself one, just as easily. But nooo, rather be a martyr, just as she'd refuse to let us take enough time to go outside for lunch, making us eat at our desks, and then melodramatically slam the door after yelling at us for making her hungry by the smell of our lunches when she was on a diet trying to lose weight.
And then she'd go off on how pitable she was, how unhappy, how lonely and wretched, her own children didn't want to hang out with her (not surprising when you saw how she would flip out at them and couldn't even be civil to them even though they could do no wrong vis a vis other employees) and her parents had been hypercritical and verbally abusive (no question about it being an inherited trait) and she worked so hard
all the time sacrificing herself to give us the opportunity to work for ten bucks an hour and she even brought in donuts for the help sometimes and we were so ungrateful, we'd just say "thanks" and eat them in her presence when we knew
she was on a diet and so she just wasn't going to bring them in any more if we were going to be like that
And we would sometimes get frustrated when she made us stop working and listen to her description of her vacations, or her home decorating project, or some social climbing endeavor, even though we had deadlines and were not permitted overtime and would be punished for errors, and we would sometimes fail to totally conceal this frustration behind facades of blank polite interest, her selfless service to us was so unappreciated--! And I was "doing it to make her feel bad" when I had to walk to work because I didn't make enough money to replace my old car after it gave up the ghost - I was "trying" to persecute her, not trying to make enough money to pay the rent and sometimes eat, oh no--
Deja vu, indeed. Which is why when I found myself jabbing a pair of scissors to stop myself from breaking down one afternoon, after I had become the latest Bad Kid (she discovered I had longer hair than her, was a big part of it, after I made the mistake of wearing it down one day - real Fractured Fairytale stuff) and been given an impossible task, the company's equivalent of picking up all the millet, to give her some reason to fire me and done it flawlessly within the alotted time
and she was furious
and took it out on one of the other underlings who happened to wander into the line of fire until she found something else to light into me for the next day - which was when I quit, because I just couldn't deal with this emotional whiplash all over again, no matter how familiar it was - and even more familiar being a bystander.
There was one person there, the department head, who kept getting sucked into "feeling sorry" for the boss and constantly putting her needs over her own - even when she knew that X was being cruel, unreasonable, and yea counterproductive to the good of the company; seeing myself in her, both hoping that her service would finally be recognized and so beaten down - at a much younger age! - that she did not think she could go anywhere else, I tried to get her to see the patterns and that she would never win
, never be recognized or rewarded for her years of dedication (the last straw being when the boss gloatingly brought in a new hire and put her in over
the department head as more-qualified ...and the woman turned out to be not just in a bad position that we tried to ignore since it wasn't her
fault she'd been brought in to play Good Kid, and not just an unpleasant, condescending person, but so incompetent that we had to do her work for her, once we were able to convince her that she needed to learn what she didn't even know was part of the job) and thus needed - while she had an SO with a good job (at a place whose owner flat out refused to hire women) and a happy living arrangement with her own family - to get out of there and look to her own advantage, that she was never
going to be able to "fix" things there because the boss didn't want
to be fixed, she liked
the drama and the martyrdom of "having" to do it all herself because she insisted on hiring clueless noobs to save money or
driving away the quick learners and the hard workers and the experienced, she was just using her as a punching bag knowing that she was too devoted and kind-hearted to storm out like her predecessor - who had done so, come back, and left twice
in a flaily, head-banging storm...
But that's a path no one can walk for another; everyone must decide to cross the sword-bridge on her own. All you can do is help by placing lights, and marking out the mines, and showing what's worked for you
to escape the traps and pitfalls so far. And the first and most critical stage in escaping is admitting that things are
bad and it's not
all in your head nor all your doing, and the second is deciding that the rewards such as they are are not worth the price of torment.
the pattern? The outward manifestations, while variable, have nonetheless great similarities; but the deeper pattern, the why
, is an attempt to avoid real reform, to avoid feeling bad for having done ill by rationalizing it away as either helplessness to resist the compulsion to be bad due to one's own damage, or the fault of the victims, which is just another form of helplessness-to-resist, really.
Externalizing the parts of one's self that one dislikes, locating their source in another who can be blamed for one's own failings ("you made me hit you") and all general problems - the fish rots from the head, morale is a top-down problem were my father's common sayings while he was a subordinate frustrated by office politics ruled by bosses' surreal whims, principles firmly believed and clearly seen until
he had to excercise leadership in the workplace himself and ended up with a stream of incompetent sycophants and the loyal and hardworking being driven out, or at least distracted, and everyone forced to compete needlessly for resources and thus endless friction that could easily have been avoided, and constant Drama - at which point morale became entirely
the responsibility of employees in an outfit.
We didn't have that "home church" thing where you're supposed to formally confess your sins to your paterfamilias which the Evangelicals from the Quiverfull movement describe, but that just means that such intrusive, boundary-erasing, soul-crushing requirements were liable at any time and in any way. "Interrogation" was what I thought of it as, as a teenager, being accosted and grilled over my innermost thoughts and emotions and forced to tell what I was thinking/feeling - which forced me in turn to become a master of Mental Reservation, telling things which were the nominal truth, or made so forcibly (What color is the white bear?)
in response to accusations of lying, and playing dumb and dumber in self-defense, so that he would leave me alone in contempt as having
no inner life.
He didn't have any interest in my inner thoughts and feelings until after I hit puberty, which in retrospect makes it all the creepier, though at the time I attributed it solely, and I do think this was a great part of it, to his working from home and having no other hobby to occupy himself than picking on us. Still, I don't recall him demanding an expose of their inner lives from my younger sisters and brothers in grammar school or younger still at the same time, when they were still cute and "innocent", although that may have been something I just missed.
That was bad enough - the only time I "Rebelled" as a teenager - and this was something that was held up and derided publically for years
thereafter as proof of my badness, my wickedness - was when I had been chivied into the corner of a hallway with no exit, literally
cornered, and harangued and demanded to explain why I was so full of moral defects that I couldn't just be happy as well as seeing and taking care of any and all things on the floor, the table, in the sink - my god, how could I just set a cup in the sink with the thought that since I was going to do the dishes later I might as well do them all at once, didn't I care
about the cleanliness of the house? lazy, disobedient, WHAT was so important to me that I didn't think about Others TELL ME TELL ME TELL ME NOW and in a complete white-out of mental panic I snapped from my tharn state into reaction
Yes, I stamped
my heel, in a clacking loafer, on the floor as I denied that I wanted
to have the house a pigsty (as if my efforts 24/7 could have forestalled it!) and wanted
to drive him crazy with Clutter and wanted
everyone in the house to be miserable because he would lose his temper and I knew it and OH GOD NO I JUST THOUGHT IT WOULD BE OKAY TO SET THE CUP IN THE SINK AND WASH IT IN TWO HOURS WHEN THERE WERE ENOUGH TO MAKE IT WORTH WHILE TO FILL THE SINK AND -
Which gave him an new
tack to tear into me about, "Oh, so rebellious
, you STOMP YOUR FOOT AT ME?" though it also seemed to please him, here he now had an actual, outright act of Rebellion that he could wave around like a newsboy with an extra, telling all the world what a wicked, wicked girl I was, laughing about it - this from the man who smashed crockery, walls, furniture, slammed doors, and threatened worse on a daily basis, this when my brothers punched walls and slammed doors and threw things and shouted on a regular basis too.
(Was he trying to provoke me into something even more violent of a reaction, to justify coming down on me even worse? I mean, what logically could be expected? When you have a giant of a man trapping a very small girl into a corner and shouting at her from a distance of a few inches while she's backed against a wall so far there's dents in the plaster, what is she supposed to do? What would anyone
expect even a small frightened creature to do to a huge threatening figure, under those circumstances? I thought it an irrational suspicion, but since then, reading other accounts of abuse and abusers' confessions of how they tried to provoke resistance to "justify" their own violence, I don't know if it was simply an unreasoning act of bullying, or if it was strategy.)
That was when he totally lost me, and so did she, after I had taken my mother's word that all our problems before moving were due to his working for his degree/us not having a house of our own/not having a job in the field he wanted/and everything would be better once those would be accomplished so I had to not be angry or upset with him but to forgive all his outbursts all those years - and yet, they weren't, none of those criteria being filled did a damn thing to make him less hostile, aggressive, impatient, violent, rude, or aloof by turns - that was when I first utterly despaired in the realization that there was nothing I could EVER do to make him treat me like a human being, and that he was a raging hypocrite for all his denials of the same.
I gave up (for the first but not last time) knowing I could never win his approval and I didn't really care, all I wanted was for him to go away and leave me alone forevermore
and so I stopped agonizing about my mental reservations and my uniform-saluting compliance and whether or not he would ever recognize how hard I tried, and just worked on going away
in my head until I could usually step back into some Secondary World with the ease of the girl in I Never Promised You A Rose Garden
. When I couldn't - well, that's what needles are for. Or the flat surface area on top of hot stoves. You don't get caught and have your father threaten to kill himself for being such a bad dad, because they don't leave any marks...
Tags: autobiographical, grrr argh, intersectionality, meta, personal, religion, rl, sexism