Monday, January 14, 2008

What you may find when you go seeking (even if you don't know you are)

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
Also blogging at:
Using My Words
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32 comments:

liv said...

oy. that sounds bloody awful. i also worked in PR for a rather large international organization that bullied and abused me post 9/11. it got to a point that my reproductive endocrinologist told me to quit my job or never have a baby.

yikes.

Family Adventure said...

Oh, wow, Julie. I am just amazed that you can be the kind, generous, caring blogging soul I know you so well to be -- when you've experienced such nasty sides of life. Your horrible grandmother, now this. I am in awe of your ability to look forward and move on. You must be a very, very strong woman, my friend!

Heidi

PS: Sorry, not even answering your question...I am so incensed at the situation you described...the HR person going behind your back, etc. Awful.

niobe said...

Reading this post makes me realize that when someone tries to be nice to me, I tend to (figuratively, folks) slap her in the face.

And as for what I've found when I wasn't looking? You don't want to know.

Can you tell I'm in a monsterously bad mood today and feeling immensely sorry for myself?

Sober Briquette said...

I was right next to you on the roller-coaster of emotions in this post. The relief of quitting, the rush of suppressed anxiety, the tears at simple decency, the anthill! Great writing, terrible story.

I can't come up with any answers to your questions. I am trying to approach life this year with a new openness, and perhaps I will stumble upon some plain, honest, unsought, unexpected gifts.

Kyla said...

What a nice man, right there when you needed him. I think those are everyday miracles.

thordora said...

You know, it's funny. HR is meant to help us, but I've had exactly ONE job i my life where I trusted them at all. All other times, I wouldn't turn my back on them.

Michele said...

Julie, I too had a sexual harrassment experience at a job and had forgotten about it until I read your blog and you know what, reading your entry made me really want to tell my story as well. Thank you for reminding me. I think I've always thought it was my fault so I just kept my mouth shut.

Jeff said...

I hope someday you can find the ability to hit publish on that story, not because I'm voyeuristic or I want you to relive it, but because I think the more educated everyone is to the horrors of abuse and harassment, the less chance there is of it happening to someone else. But at the same time I completely understand why it is probably impossible for you to do that at this time. I'm just glad you are "ok" at this time and have managed to move on.

And you wrote this in only 18 minutes? It took me longer than that to write this comment.

wheelsonthebus said...

Julie,

I cannot right now think of an example, but there have been so many. You don't make it through my life without a few random acts of kindness...

What a lovely man.

Emily

Kathryn said...

Your whole life would make a fabulous book. Man! The abuse you have had to put up with in life. I'm just amazed that you have turned in to such a compassionate, loving, kind person after suffering through what you have.
You constantly amaze me, and I am so thankful that I have the honor of getting a glimpse into your life through your blog.

Jodi said...

so glad you are far away from that situation now....

Gwen said...

I had a bad experience with sexual harassment, too, when I was very young and very naive. Part of what made it so awful was that the people who should have been protecting me used me and my claims to pursue their own ends. I'd like to think it's better, now, so many years later, but my guess is, it probably depends on the company.

I wonder if that man knew how much he helped you that day, how necessary his kindness was.

I saved some people from driving all the way downtown to see a Santa I knew wasn't there this holiday. I felt like a buttinsky when I interrupted the parents of one of Lucy's dance classmates to tell them they probably wanted to make sure their particular Santa was there, since we'd missed him last year, and it had been a tragedy. But I think they appreciated it. Sometimes, for me, the hard part of being kind is getting over my natural shyness to do it.

I know that I've been the beneficiary of other's kindnesses, too, although it's sadly difficult to remember right now. When I was very little, and flying from Los Angeles to Indonesia, a flight attendant searched the plane to find me a lasagna meal, perhaps even giving me her own, because that was all I wanted and I was crying that they had run out by the time they got to our seats in the way back. I think her gesture meant more to my parents than it did to me, narcissistic little creature that I was, but I know it was kind of her. And I do remember it, 32 years later.

dharmamama said...

I have a feeling that situation would either not occur for you today, or if it did, you'd slap someone into tomorrow (metaphorically) before you took any of it on as your fault. You have grown.

My gift was very, very simple, but so meaningful. We were down to our last few dollars, and needed groceries. I had heard of a discount grocery store, Aldi, for a while, but was reluctant to go there. The other discount groceries I had gone to were dirty, and the food was really poor quality. Beggars CAN be choosers - I refused to give my kids the crap they had. I have a temperament where new situations can be a little intimidating, it takes me a little while to warm up to things. Even a new grocery store. But, we were desperate, so I figured I'd give Aldi a try. I knew they charged you for bags, so I grabbed some of ours from home. But when I got there, I found that you have to put a quarter in the cart to use it. I didn't have a quarter, I just had my debit card, so I stood there a second. What am I gonna do? I was probably PMS-y, because I almost got teary eyed - then I saw it. Someone had left a quarter in one of the carts. What a gift! And I went in, and found Aldi was very clean, and their food is really good, (especially their chocolate), and the cashiers were cheerful. I was able to get a week's worth of groceries for those few dollars.

Now I leave a quarter in my cart when I return it. I'm sure some people take it, thinking they got away with something. But I hope someone's been able to use it that really needs it.

annenahm said...

I am so sorry that happened to you - and so glad for the guy on the train. It is true that sometimes things can get so bad without you realizing it that an act of every day kindness is shocking.

Glad you got out of there.

Lori at Spinning Yellow said...

I was about to come up with something and then saw your last comment - it took you 18 minutes to write this?? See, now I know why I don't post often b/c, damn, it takes me 18 minutes to type a title!!

OK, that was a great story, but I still am having a had time thinking of something, not only b/c of the 18 minute bit but b/c I was also harassed at a job (though not as badly as you!) and I was young and didn't want to cause a problem and I still think about it and it annoys me. I've always feared that the guy would become someone famous and I'd have to come out of the shadows and tell my story!

jen said...

i am always surprised at the lengths some people will go to be awful to others. it shouldn't be astounding, and yet it is. to do this sort of thing is ridiculous.

i am sorry it happened to you.

Cathy said...

I am so sorry it happened -- and so glad you quit.

What a wonderful moment on the train though.

Kristie said...

I'm sorry you had to endure that. Sadly I know too many women that have been through the same thing.Thank goodness for the kindness of strangers.

Slackermommy said...

That last comment is mine. Stupid blogger!

thailandchani said...

Reading this was incredible! You know, sometimes I think we should be able to file assault charges against people who treat others that way. No fines. No firing. Just prison.. like anyone else who assaults another person. Having lived with PTSD for 12 years, I'm very familiar with the permanent changes it creates... the parts that never go away.

I'm both appalled at the event and angry on your behalf that it happened at all.

flutter said...

just oof.

SciFi Dad said...

It's both amazing and sad that such a simple thing stands out in our society, that someone did something - gasp - nice for a - double gasp - stranger.

We (my wife and I) try to be those people whenever we get a chance, but sometimes the people are too proud or even confused to accept the kindness. And most of the time it feels like we're doing too little.

And, I won't go at you about the job thing, except to say that I'm glad for you that you escaped.

Mary Alice said...

Doesn't a little kindness just change everything...and suddenly make you able to face the world again? What a nice thing to happen in the midst of a terrible situation.

Once I had a flight out of LAX I was moving again with the military - Military Man was already at our new station...I was flying alone with a five, three, and two year old. I had four carry on bags and two car seats...I was struggling with all my baggage and keeping the kids together on the way to the gate. Little Red was crying and didn't want to walk. The corridors were filled with busy people running to get to their flights all annoyed with us because we were so slow and in their way, I started to tear up. And couldn’t carry her and get everything to the gate.....a kind man saw my plight. The good Samaritan came and carried our things so I could carry Little Red and helped me get to our gate. He took time from his day to make sure a frazzled Military Wife was taken care of and to this day 11 years later, I remember his kindness.

AuthorMomWithDogs said...

So very glad you were able to make it to safety.

le35 said...

I am so glad for you to have made a way to escape. My very favorite random act of kindness is when I'm carrying my two kids, and I go to walk into a store. It seems to happen often, but I'm never expecting it. Someone will hold the door open for me. Thanks to the wonderful people in the south. Southern hospitality is real!

anne said...

I'm sure Karma has or will mete out justice for your former co-worker.

But the guy on the train! How wonderful!

My "guy on the trian" came in the form of a taxi driver in Ireland. My friend and I were backpacking one summer and just crossed the border into Northern Ireland. We didn't have the correct currency and who knew Wednesdays were half-holidays for the banks? We had NO money! We were about 4 miles outside of Belfast where there was an exchange office still open but only for another 20 minutes. We approached a taxi driver to see about getting a ride and he told us he had just gone off duty. The look on our faces when he said this must have clearly told him that he was our last hope so he told us to go ahead and put our things in the car while he went into a nearby store. He came out with a little boy and said that he was going to take us into Belfast but he hoped we didn't mind that his son would ride with us. Mind??!! He was doing US a favor. Apparently his wife worked at the store and brought their young son to work with her until he finished his shift. This little boy, an absolute doll, sat between me and my friend for the ride. He was so excited to be sitting with Americans!

When we got to the exchange office, the taxi driver refused to take payment for the ride.

In turn, I try to be the "guy on the train" when I can. My favorite to date was when my hubby and I went hiking at a very popular spot. For some reason, we had a whole bunch of spare change. I'm not sure how it started, but we would try to get in front of families with little kids and leave change on the path. The kids got so crazy excited - we had a blast.

atypical said...

Sometimes, it is the smallest gesture that means the most. For the record, I am soooooo glad you got away from that environment when you did!

-t (of few words)

Mad Hatter said...

I had a dear friend who died this past summer who personified random acts of kindness.

As for me, I experienced a couple today but I can't talk about all that yet.

Mama Drama Jenny, the Bloggess said...

Come to my house right now so I can hug you.

Better yet, stay there and I'll come to you. I know you and directions.

PunditMom said...

I never ceased to be amazed at kindness like that. I never expect anyone to be kind to me (now THAT'S a long story), so I'm usually on the verge of tears of something like that happens to me.

ewe are here said...

Wow. It never ceases to amaze me that these things continue to happen to people, mostly women, and then are compounded by HR personnel or higher ups who try to protect the harasser.

I'm glad you got out.

And the guy on the train? What an angel.

Wayfarer Scientista said...

oh julie... I had PTSD from a job too. From similar and yet totally different reasons. And I just commented on the post after this one and realized you had already said it.