I’m not sure, but I think one thing that was crazy about my relationship with my mother, Pat, besides calling her Pat far too frequently, was knowing a great deal about her trials, tribulations and occasional successes at work. Maybe other people write their parent’s job performance reviews?
Because of this knowledge, I know that I am as equally fucked up as her in a distinct way. As employees we are beloved and hated in crazy polar opposites, in melodramatic huge shifts. She had people who were Shakespearean ne’er-do-wells looking to score points with kings (or superintendents) off of Pat’s guileless and unprotected flanks. She championed the good and got hurt by the bad.
I knew of the love. She had friends who became my teachers. She had students who were my peers. They adored her (albeit weirdly brisk and aloof) warmth. They gushed about how great a teacher she was and how she had transformed lives with patience and care. She literally gave clothes and peanut butter sandwiches to those without them. If her version of history has any accuracy (she was not one for laser focus in her storytelling), she helped boost the career of a new teacher who was labeled by the aforementioned ne’er-do-wells as an odd duck who maybe shouldn’t be near kids. That teacher turned out to be one of the most memorable science teachers in our town, ultimately still remembered by her own grandchildren years after his initial hazing.
Pat had enemies, though. There were fellow teachers who hated her focus on old-school techniques that had proven successful and took draconian steps in enlisting administration to force her to conform to new education trends. Both her shyness and her quirky sense of humor made her colleagues uncomfortable, I gather, and they would relish opportunities to make fun of her. She was also for many years a sole representative of what is now a normal state, a single, working mom.
As an absolutely unwavering advocate for the children she taught, she also had a fair amount of complaints from parents. The saddest case was when she was brought into court to testify that a junior high student told her that something was wrong, and she and her friend the school nurse helped him get treatment for a sexually transmitted disease. She was devastated by the rock and a hard place of saving a kid from child abuse at home, but then helping the courts send him into the chaos and uncertainty of foster care.
On bus duty, she was thrown into a shouting match with a threatening dad, who resorted to dirty names, because she wouldn’t let his spawn off the bus. A fact of modern life with a prevalence of custody battles and other perils is that parents must notify schools if they are to change the routine or pick up their children outside of the prearranged plans. Pat took the name calling and the screaming unwilling to be bullied into sending a kid into the hands of a screaming maniac without knowing for sure if he was indeed dear old dad. At least in a calmer moment, he called to apologize.
So, right then, what the fuck is the point I am feebly making about myself?
I have enemies. Well, I don’t have enemies, since I’d have to give a bit more of a fuck to gin up the passion to hate certain people. But enemies have me. Some people just don’t dig the groove I be laying down.
My true exemplar of attracting the wrong kind of attention in the work place was, of course, the great employment drama of July 2004. July is now and forever a wonderful month of the sweet trumping the bitter. In 2004, I found out scientifically from a therapist that I am not a psychopath and essentially got a paid year off from office life, and now I live in a town that does July 4 like it’s 1970. Eventually, I even got to hear the end of my own story and of my vindication. Done in by a co-worker who wanted me done in, who himself was ultimately found out and done in. Karma is a good thing, and one of us now sells real estate.
But all of the above is history, and with the Grateful Dead coming up in iTunes while I sit in a surfer town down the coast from the city where hippies once ruled, I must be here now!
Modern day Silicon Valley is where I have had the privilege of meeting my first Californian-flavored antagonist. Better yet, I got to find out how hard she was gunning for me as she exited the door, moving away to a place in which our paths likely will never cross again. In the grand scheme of things, I weather the dark side much better now. Still and all, some people just don’t like me and what stands me apart from the crowd, they have the need to tell me.
Like my mother before me, I took it. I listened. I refused to assume the worst until the worst was done. Thankfully, and perhaps because of Pat’s and my own stories, over the past couple of years I never quite got sucked into the dark vortex. I mean for me I full on walked a path that Gandhi himself would have said “holy fuckballs, you are have saint-like patience.” OK, he probably would have said something wise in Hindi or Gujarati, and he might not have said holy fuckballs or made a saint reference, but he could have. (My computer spell checked that as duckbills. Oh ‘puter, you don’t know me.)
In the end, the final act, right before the credits rolled, I thought we had come to a late in the movie understanding, a cathartic understanding that bygones could and would be bygones. That life had moved on and there would be a golden sunset, as enemies hugged and forgot why they had ever fought.
I am an idiot.
The last scene was instead a monolog of vindictiveness. I was told that I am a manipulator extraordinaire, a genius of subterfuge, flatteringly the only person in a long and storied life and career who had ever acted unkindly or stabbed a back so deeply. I am clearly super human by the amount of credit for cruelty I was given. My favorite line, since it was one of those moments when someone is talking that you just have to not burst out in laughter lest you get cracked in the face, was the following bit of twisted logic:
I figured out who you are. You’re the kind of person who makes themselves indispensable, who really works hard to get management to like their work, and then you can do know wrong. You are indispensable and they trust you and you then use that to get to them and they listen. You used that against me.
So, wait, I almost blurted, you fucking hate me, because I’m competent?
For a little while I have sat with this tale and the criticisms lobbed that were lobbed at my head. I weighed it all and felt sad that a fellow human was clearly hurt and had misunderstood so much so completely. Chump that I am, I tried to explain myself while effusing out piles of empathy.
In the end, I told the story to someone who knows us both. Someone who is also one of the least dramatic or prone to hyperbole I know. The final word that hadn’t occurred to me about my situation, but that I had always considered whenever Pat was similarly embroiled, some humans are mean. Just mean, malevolent souls.
And, I happily walk away knowing, I am just not that mean.