Once upon a time I had a hellish job. I was harassed so egregiously that it earned me a large settlement check, three straight months off due to PTSD, and intensive therapy. My story was so compelling that the therapist turned it into a book, which is probably a movie produced by Quentin Tarantino now. That's how ghastly that job was. I am largely Over It in some respects---I can speak to men again and have managed to work in an office---but a small ugly, bitter part of me isn't fully past it and hopes to hades that karma has visited the perpetrators in dreadful covered-in-honey-on-an-anthill sort of way. I'm bloodthirsty like that at times.
The worst thing about being abused and harassed and why people let it go on in many cases is because the perpetrator convinces you to convince yourself that it is all your fault. And I had. I am generally a fair and open-minded person with an over-developed sense of personal responsibility, thus I had convinced myself that I was somehow to blame. I told myself that if I did a better job, then things would improve. I worked so hard to that end.
But I am also a smart person.
And eventually? I realized it didn't matter what I had done wrong or not well enough, nobody deserves to be treated like that.
I filed a claim with the human resources department at corporate headquarters.
The man I filed it with? Betrayed me horribly too, because rather than filing my claim, he took it to my harasser.
An ally---for in that workplace you were either allies or enemies---gave me a heads-up that this had happened. He/she (you see how I still feel the need to protect?) happened to overhear the conversation in which my allegations were revealed.
The next day I woke up and did not hurry to catch the early train to town to get to work slightly before on-time, like I normally did. I meandered my way through my morning, even allowing a few minutes on my tiny town's main street to get a chocolate croissant from the local bakery. Mmmm buttery chocolaty goodness.
I was in a haze. My life seemed surreal; now that I had my vision restored I could see how amazingly off-track and horrible my job was.
Have you ever been buzzed from alcohol or dry erase marker fumes? You think you are thinking straight, you think you are fine, but in truth, your thinking is impaired?
That's how I felt that morning. I was headily buzzed from the relief of deciding to end it, to quit. I was light-headed with the fear of facing my harasser down and leaving, not to mention fear I might be talked out of it.
I sauntered to the charmingly restored old train station and waited for the commuter rail train. It was warm enough then and I felt refreshingly light without my layers of clothes and layers of anguish, guilt, stress, and anxiety.
In a streak of purple, slight cloud of dust, and squeal of brakes---metal on metal---the train rushed up. I hopped on board and selected an open bench, then scooted next to the window.
When the conductor came by for tickets or passes, I realized, suddenly, that I had not brought my briefcase, in which I kept my pass. My head cleared and with adrenaline pumping, I fell into a full-scale panic attack.
They're going to throw me off the train! I'll be stuck in the middle of nowhere at the next stop! I'll have to walk home! Oh no, oh no, oh no.
All my suppressed anxiety about that day rushed out.
It caught the attention of the young man in the seat ahead of me.
"Is something wrong?" he turned and asked, as I shifted restlessly in my seat, counting the conductor five rows up, four rows up, three rows up...
"I'm quitting the absolute worst job in the world today," I said, "So I didn't bring my briefcase, and I haven't got my pass. Plus I spent my last two dollars in cash on a chocolate croissant! I'm such an idiot!"
"Hey, it's okay," he said calmly, reassuringly, "I'm sure they see you all the time and will believe you have a pass. If not, I'll cover it for you."
"Oh wow, you don't mind, I mean, that would be such a lifesaver, I..."
He cut me off, "It's no problem. Someone did it for me once, and we've all had days like this. Just help out someone the next time you can."
The conductor arrived at the man's row, "Ticket!"
The man flashed his pass and explained my plight, ending with a promise to pay if necessary. The conductor admitted he had seen me with a current pass and would accept my word. He told me to have a nice day.
I choked out an emotional thanks to the man in front of me and the conductor, and then realized tears were streaming down my face.
I had so desperately needed to be treated with kindness, courtesy, and respect...and I had been.
It's amazing what you can find when you go seeking, even if you don't know that you are.
What random acts of kindness have you encountered? What have you found while seeking, even unintentionally?
This post was inspired by Slackermom.
Epilogue: I have referenced this job several times. Some have asked me to describe what happened. I have written numerous accounts, even a few for this blog, but at the end, I can't quite hit publish. Whatever you imagine? It was that bad. Maybe I can take one major thing at a time. All at once? It is too much. Although my "settlement" required a nondisclosure agreement, my lawyer said that's not legally supportable in my case. I can say I left the office that day and never went back. I moved forward.
P.S. Hump Day Hmm reminder schedule:
January 16 --- Tell us about what the arts (music, dance, art, etc.) mean to you and what you think the effect of de-emphasizing it in schools means for the kids, the community, the culture and the future. (I may be opening this up as an essay contest for 7th graders. I promised to run an essay contest for 7th graders and this might be a good topic. I have to clear it with the teacher. If it clears, I'll be posting the essay winners during that week.)
January 23 --- Tell us about the most important cultural issue from your perspective. Is it something that ought to be emphasized more in politics? Is it a political issue? Why or why not? Does it affect how you vote?
January 29 --- Tell us about a key point or vivid memory from childhood. Describe the event, and tell us why you still carry it, and how it works in your life.
Final note: This post? Composed in 18 minutes. Don't hold it against me. :) I am on babysitting duty in ten minutes.
Copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
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