Talk with a difficult manager

I once had a talk with a manager that was very difficult. The talk, and the manager, I mean. Both were difficult. She’d been psychologically abusive the entire time I was there. It wasn’t just me that she was abusive to – she was abusive to everybody. I like to joke that she alternated between being a bully and a tyrant. Upper administration knew about her, or suspected quite a bit, but felt powerless to do anything because of her race. She would have threatened to sue if she had been disciplined or fired. It wasn’t her race that was the issue, but she would have made it one.

I didn’t say anything to her for years. I didn’t say anything in part because I didn’t often have to deal with her directly. There was a manager between her and me, and that manager caught most of it. I also didn’t say much because I grew up in an abusive home, with a pushy and manipulative brother and compliant parents. Being pushed around and not treated well was my normal. It was only in my 40s that I started doing my boundary work.

When the bad manager finally decided to retire, I knew I had to say something. I steeled myself up and prayed quite a bit. I sat, in her cramped office, lights and furniture angled to make everyone visiting in it feel like they were being interrogated (this was intentional on her part). I reminded her of the sentence she’d said at the announcement of her retirement. She’d said that she’d “been hard on us all this time because it was for our own good”. She meant that she was abusive because it would help us, she thought – spur us on to be better employees. She nodded, she remembered saying that. I asked her “Would it have hurt you to say ‘thanks for the good work’ every now and then?”

She didn’t reply. She was stunned. In 12 years she’d never said that, and she knew it. She recovered, and turned it around so that it was all my fault. This is her way. Leopards don’t change their spots, you know.

I didn’t do it for her. I didn’t expect her to change. I did it for me, because I’d changed. I wasn’t seeking revenge, just reconciliation. I had to speak up, even if it was just a little, even if it was at the end of our relationship. Late is better than never. I didn’t want to push her or abuse her – then I would have been the same as her. I just wanted to speak up, to let her know that things weren’t what she thought they were.

I left her office, holding myself together. I went into the bathroom and cried. I cried hard, not caring if anybody heard me, not really. I knew she wouldn’t. She rarely ventured out of her office. I didn’t want to cry in front of her – I didn’t want her to get the satisfaction of pushing another person around.

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Poem – she left

She left years ago.
She didn’t walk out.
There were no bags.

She left his comic books and cartoons.
She left his callused hands and callous ways.

He was thin skinned
and thick headed.

He never saw it. He never saw her leave.
He never saw her as anything
other
than a roommate, a prop, a support.

Her accomplishments rendered him speechless,
more impotent than he already was,
self-depreciating, self loathing.

A man isn’t a man just because of his age.
A husband is more than someone who is married.

She left him,
left him in her heart,
sad for his emptiness
his neediness,
his brokenness.
To try to fix him was to take away his power.

She left him
to his own devices –
Playstation, computer, and tablet. Action figures too.
Maybe they will help him to grow up.
Maybe one day he will learn from his
mistakes
instead of celebrating them, sickly
by repeating them,
over and over and over and over
and wondering why nothing ever goes his way.

She left him,
because she woke up,
and kept waking up
next to him.
His daily drunkenness on his own failure,
his addiction to his own pathology,
sickened her.

It threatened her.
It threatened her.

Like an alcoholic fresh out of rehab,
his ways threatened her
sobriety,
her awakening.

She left, because he threatened her,
not with words, not with fists
but with his very being.

Navigating the “Do you have children?” question.

A patron was making small talk recently, and then it became large talk. He doesn’t know anything about me other than what he can see. Some of what he sees is the mask that I have to put on as part of working customer service. I like helping people, but I’m not their friends. They get confused sometimes.

He asked me how I was doing, and then after that, asked me how my husband was doing. He’s never met my husband. He knows I am married because I wear a wedding ring. He doesn’t know I’m married to a man, even though I am. Just because I am a woman wearing a wedding ring doesn’t mean I have a husband. Nuns wear wedding rings. Lesbians wear them too if they are in committed relationships.

I replied with the vague and noncommittal, “He’s fine”.

Then he asked if we had children, to which I replied “No”. He pressed. “Why not?”

Stupid question.

One – it is none of his business.
Two – what if we did and were heartbroken that we were infertile?
Three – what if we did have a child and s/he died?

I said no, that they are too expensive. Usually that is enough to stop this line of questioning. Sadly I get it a lot. I don’t get why strangers feel it is OK to ask these questions. Perhaps they think they are being friendly, but they don’t realize the potential minefield they are entering. They just don’t think. It could open up a lot of heartache for someone.

He pushed further, and I was done. He said “When you got married, didn’t you want to have children?”

He only knows my name because he’s read it on my nametag. He’s crossed my boundary already and hasn’t read my lack of engagement as a “go away” sign. I’ve not asked him how his wife was doing (I know he has one because he uses her library card as his own) and I’ve not asked him if he has children. A lack of reciprocal questions should indicate stop asking questions.

I was done. I didn’t want any more of this. I didn’t want it to start off with. I pulled out my biggest card.

I said the truth.

“Both of us were abused as children, and so we don’t want any.”

End of conversation.

There is nothing more to be said. No more pleading to get us to have children. No more trying to change our minds. No more prying.

In the past I would have felt bad for even saying that. I would have felt bad that I had to cross over the line of polite conversation into this. I would have felt bad for having to establish my boundaries.

Now I don’t. Now I know I must, and if I don’t draw a line, essentially people will invade my mental space. It is just like if a person shows up at the door to my home. I have the right, the duty, the obligation to establish how far he can get in.

Normally, I have the ability to decide if I even open the door, but a customer service job blurs that line.

Here is some advice – don’t ask strangers if they have children. If you ignore that advice, then don’t push if they say no. Don’t ask why. Don’t try to talk them into having children. There are plenty of kids on the planet as is. And there are plenty of bad parents who should have thought twice about having children. Maybe if they weren’t pressured by family, friends, and strangers into having them, they would have saved everybody the trouble.