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Monday, September 16, 2013

On A Timer?

I've written in the past about a man who was my friend briefly. I mentioned that he had a rather negative attitude and often said that he wanted to commit suicide. Or in his words, "off myself." He projected that attitude toward things he saw happen around him, notably the deaths of squirrels crossing the street. He said they knew better from all of the previous squirrel deaths, so that meant they were committing suicide. Yeah, whatever. I am still not entirely sure why I maintained a friendship with this person for as long as I did. I suspect it has something to do with my experiences growing up. I want people to be happy. Happy people aren't going through hellish experiences. Alternately, happy people won't beat the stuffing out of you or abuse you verbally. One of my survival mechanisms, in other words, was to be a people-pleaser. I think in this case that deep down I felt sorry for him and his attitude of misery. I didn't want to make him happy, I just hoped that he would be happy.

But how can a person be happy when they prefer to wallow in their own misery? In retrospect, I think some people get their little bit of joy by making others miserable too. He seemed to sniff out people's insecurities and take advantage of them as if he were rehearsing to be an abusive partner or spouse. There were little tidbits here and there, and given my background, I think I had an attitude of "Well, that's just Jack (not his real name)." It wasn't until I was a bit removed from the situation that I realized how unpleasant he was. 

At the time, we both worked part-time in an operations area of a bank. I was also working at The Body Shop. Once I bought him a small bottle of a special shampoo because he was complaining about his hair thinning. Weeks later, I found that he never used it because it was too expensive. I still don't get it. He didn't buy it, I did. He wasn't losing any money on the deal. When I talked about things that happened at my other job, or things that happened recently in my life, it was always a negative on my part. AKA, it was my "fault." When a lovely female customer I was assisting flirted with me (I was incredibly flattered, but not interested), he dismissed the possibility that she liked my personality. It was because I was dressed like a <place unkind word for a lesbian here>. If a male showed interest in me, again, it wasn't because they liked me. It was because I was fat and they knew I couldn't do any better.

A couple of months before Christmas, the phlebitis in my legs flared up and I had to take a medical leave from my sitting-down job at the bank. My doctor said I could stick with the retail position, however, since it involved walking around the shop. This didn't bother me a bit because I really hated the bank job, and really loved the retail job. As we got into the holiday shopping season, I got Jack a gift that I knew he would appreciate. As a friend, you listen to what another person says and likes, and store that information for later use. 

One day when I went on my lunch break I found I had about five minutes left after eating, and decided to give Jack a quick call at the bank. Now, I think it's rude to call someone, talk about a minute, and then say that you have to go. If I am unable to talk very long, I will start the conversation by mentioning that I don't have much time, so it will be a brief call. And this is what my impeccable manners caused me to do when I called Jack to make arrangements to give him his Christmas gift. I mentioned that I was at the end of my break and that I only had a few minutes to talk. He interrupted me by asking, with a mixture of anger and disgust, if the pay phone I called from was on a timer. I was confused by his response. "What do you mean? I asked. He launched into some sort of diatribe about some pay phones being on a timer and restricting the length of the call. 

I was even more stunned. "I don't know if the phone is on a timer or not, I'm getting to the end of my break and I just don't have much time, so the call has to be short." Well, that wasn't good enough for Jack. He was still angry and on the subject of time and pay phones, but asked rudely what did I want. All of the weirdness and unkindness were suddenly so clear now. "Nothing, now that you're yelling at me like this." He crashed the phone down and the call was over. Although I was angry, I felt at peace. I was getting rid of something I hadn't realized was causing me so much more pain that it was worth. The next day, I returned the gift I had gotten him and spent the money on some Godiva chocolates for Gram instead.

After I was released to go back to the bank job, my employer at The Body Shop gave me a raise and offered me a full-time position so that I could just work one job. As I waited to speak with my supervisor, apparently Jack thought I was waiting in the wings to ask permission to talk to him and beg his forgiveness. Not likely! His face was full of hate, and his whole body was shaking with intense anger. I didn't even acknowledge his presence, but I was so relieved to have discovered, before it was too late for my own safety, that a mere phone call was enough to make him go into a violent rage, along with anger that was still that intense after two months. I hope that he has not been physically violent with anyone. I hope he has found help and learned to give up his anger. I do know this for certain: I am glad that I found the wisdom to know what type of person I was briefly dealing with, and remove myself from the situation.

Author's note: Abuse is not okay. Many abusers, both male and female, will take advantage of their victim's insecurities. They will try to make the abuse their victim's fault. They will try to make you believe you deserve to be mistreated. To all women and men everywhere, I beg you not to let anyone destroy your soul or your body. You are a precious life that cannot be replaced. You deserve to be treated well by your friends and partners. Love yourself, and leave the abuser behind.