Written for Fandango’s One Word Challenge, “inexorable.” You might want to go away if you don’t want to read a job rant. You have been warned.
I have never met a security guard who didn’t smoke. I went outside to wait for my ride and the security manager came out shortly after. She leaned against the wall and lit a cigarette. “I’m thinking that I’ll sue the store for creating a toxic work environment,” she said.
“Really?” I asked. “You can sue for stuff like that?”
“Well, I didn’t know that you could either. But I was watching what happened to Ellen Degeneres, you know, how the people who worked for her came out about how horrible she was, and I went down this rabbit hole.”
“And I’ve got people who will sign on with me, too.” She took a deep drag.
“Well, if you need me, I’ll have my therapist fax my records, which are this high,” I said, spacing one hand a foot above the other.
“Oh, look, there’s my ride,” I said. “Gotta go.”
“Don’t forget!” she called through the cloud of smoke.
Now I don’t actually believe her quixotic quest to sue the store is going to go anywhere, nor do I think she does either. This idle chat is just a way of coping. People need to believe, even just for a moment, that they have agency to change things, though all of us know by now that we never will.
I’m sure we’ve all heard the term “toxic work environment” a hundred times before. I suppose some workplaces are, and some aren’t. I assume that the great majority of workplaces are not good. But I have no way of knowing. I’ve never worked anywhere except within the four walls of that department store.
It’s true that in college, I did receive a small paycheck to act as a “research assistant” to a professor. I put it in quotes because that was a whole lifetime ago. I’m not sure anymore if that was the same lifetime I am in right now. It doesn’t seem to be the case because I can’t find any resemblance between the student I was then and the bum I am now.
Hold on a sec—how do I tie my shoes again?
I sometimes wonder if I’m not in some type of purgatory and I will never be released until I finally learn a certain lesson. Okay, I get it. I was a conceited bitch. I treated people like shit. I mercilessly judged and criticized people. I thought I could do no wrong. I took too much credit. Alright, God, I’ve got my comeuppance. I deserved it. You win. But when is it going to end?
Uh, can you show me how to make my laces look like bunny ears?
Next month I will celebrate nine years in that retail hellhole. It was only supposed to be for the season. Never dreamed I’d see my tenth. It’s not solely the nature of the work that bothers me. I could deal with it if I had some hope that I would get out of there, or something to look forward to when I got home. And even for a little while, when I was on a furlough, I started to believe that I did not have to die there, that I could spend all my time outside of work writing, and once I got some health stuff straightened out, I’d be able to find another job.
But, my boss’s inexorable abuse has once again begun to wear away at that newfound hope. She’s like a freight train, and we’re all tied to the tracks.
Only one good thing has come out of this, if you could call it good. I used to be a frightened, trembling rodent. If anyone so much as looked at me funny, I’d start crying, let alone if they yelled at me. So I’ve always been very, very careful not to get in trouble. I just hate getting in trouble. (I will, however, tell on you right away so you get in trouble.)
But after enduring daily beratement at the hands of my boss, I find myself less and less afraid every day. You get to the point where intimidation does not work anymore. Someone can only take the same nasty, abusive tone with you day after day until it has no effect. When it’s happening, I just observe this individual going off on me about why something wasn’t done right when it was actually her fault, and think to myself, this person is an idiot. I used to get upset, believing it really was all my fault. I know better now. It’s actually a little funny, if it didn’t happen all day long. Thank goodness for the medical masks—I can let myself smile. I actually think the masks have been a great aid in my newfound ability not to care.
How I wish I could express what it’s really like there! But I’d have to resort to clichés about horrible bosses and the psychological abuse they inflict. I suppose you’ll just have to take my word for it that it’s relentless and makes you want to kill yourself. Some mornings I can’t even eat breakfast because my stomach is in a fist. Lately I’ve had some panic attacks where I thought my throat was closing and I couldn’t breathe. When I walk in, my heart rate shoots up from 74 to 130 and never goes below 100 until I leave. Tell me, is this normal? Does everyone feel this way before they go to work? The one small “consolation” is that the same thing happens to everyone else.
To be truthful though, I really can’t say that I don’t care at all anymore. It would be more accurate to say that my emotions consist of rage now rather than terror. The worst part is that I am so utterly consumed by this that I don’t have energy for the things I want to do, such as writing. It’s a fire that robs me of all oxygen and tears through me. I really thought things would be different after being away for three months. I felt like myself again—a better self. I had—shockingly—positivity, transcendence. Yet here I go again, down, down, down, the way I promised myself I wouldn’t. But I can’t be the same amenable doormat that I was before, either. I won’t give my soul to the place any longer. But because of my constant anguish, I don’t have much to give to the things I love, either.
I hope that maybe I’ll get some kind of a breather over the next week—yeah, right—and I’ll be in a better frame of mind in which I can write, instead of staring at the blank document nearly dead from anxiety until I close it and go surf the internet. Not being able to write just makes things that much worse. Blogging over the last few months brought me so much happiness; now more and more it feels like a waste of time. I can’t think or talk about anything else but work.
I’ll leave you with a little illustration of how she is. A year or two ago, boss lady promoted a woman to executive in October or November. Shortly before Thanksgiving, her cousin in Jamaica passed away, and being the executor of his estate, she had to go home and possibly miss Thanksgiving and Black Friday. Boss said, “If I knew this was going to happen, I never would have promoted her.” And, boy, did she let her know about it.
Is this normal? Is it like this everywhere? Please God tell me this isn’t normal and that something better is out there. Can anyone else have a worse boss than I do? Is it even possible? Oh God–what if there IS someone worse?