We’ve all had experiences throughout the course of our lives that have shaped the course of our lives for better or worse. The places we’ve been and the experiences we’ve endured and the people we encounter will have a fundamental impact on your life choices, and they can make you or break you.
For close to 10 years, I was broken.
I was broken by a boss who took immense pleasure in demeaning and degrading me-yet I consistently sought her approval. I couldn’t understand why she didn’t like me. I worked hard, mostly trying to impress her. For a time, I was impressed by her knowledge-she wasn’t a lawyer, but she walked and talked like one, winning her fair share of legal arguments too, mostly against the baby ADA’s as she called them. They were her favorite target, next to me.
I just didn’t get it-my co-workers liked me. I tried excruciatingly hard to make people like me because I wanted to be liked-especially at work. Life was much easier and happier when people liked you, especially at work and my job depended upon me being nice-I had to get important documents from people who didn’t want to give them up. There was always a hierarchy I had to fight with, and in order to get what I needed, I was saccharine sweet to sour court clerks, most of whom you would imagine came out the womb angry-I had to deal with intimidating court officers, defense attorneys-in other words, the resistance. On the first day I was employed I had to go to police headquarters for paperwork on a case that was nearly 20 years old. She told me they’d probably give me a hard time-but not to take no for an answer. And I didn’t. When I brought the paperwork to her, she was surprised, and as I look back on it, a little disappointed. She wanted me to fail. It would have given her something to berate me about, which eventually became her modus operandi when I was unable to procure legal documents in the future. Anyway, when I’d come through for her and the ADA that was prosecuting a serial rapist, (my boss was the ADA’s paralegal, and technically it was her responsibility to acquire the documents, but she was my boss and so, she pawned it off on me. It wouldn’t be the last time.
I was proud that I was able to charm my way to getting what I want. I thought I’d impressed her and perhaps this was my way to rise through the ranks. When I started at the office, I enjoyed the work I did, and at the time, the rewards far outweighed the disrespect and abuse I often had to tolerate. The work I did helped keep dangerous people off the street. I wanted my boss to see me as an ally. I wanted her to see me the way I saw myself then: ambitious and enthusiastic. I expected the respect, praise and recognition I watched her heap on my co-workers whom I worked just as hard, if not harder than. No matter what I did, or how hard I tried, I never received it from her.
By the time I left the job, things between us were pretty bad, mostly because I stopped trying to impress her. My priorities no longer revolved around pleasing her or over-extending myself at a job, that wasn’t going anywhere anyway. It’s not that I didn’t do my job, but the verve I had when I started the job was gone. After 10 years doing the same job with no raise, or promotion I was miserable. I applied for other positions within the organization but they never panned out and I’m convinced she had something to do with that.
It’s been two years since I resigned. I’ve since had the luxury of working for supportive employers who recognized my talents and abilities and they encouraged and nurtured me. In fact, I was going through some drafts of stories I was working on and I found a piece I’d written about her, in my anger immediately after she demoted me. It was originally titled Ode To The Troll, but it sounded more like a letter than an ode. I learned valuable, vindicating truths about myself, and about her and bosses like her. If you’ll oblige me, I’d like to share it:
Was it because I’m black? Was it because you noticed my potential? Was it because there were things I was about to do that you will never be able to?
You blamed me for shit that you knew I had absolutely no control over, but that was your way. You were a bully. You never reprimanded any of my colleagues who said, ‘hell no!’ if their ADA’s made ridiculous requests, treating us as their personal assistants. We’re here right now because I did the same thing.
You tried hard to play the role of empathetic boss, closing every meeting-if you could call them that, they were basically an excuse to gossip), claiming your door would always be open and that we should come to you with any issues we needed addressed. Why is it that my issues never were?
If I came to you about my issues, you told me it was my fault and that I needed to put on my big girl pants and fix it.
When it suited your purpose, we were a team, but when mistakes occurred as a result of your negligence -you never had to take responsibility because you could blame me.
I remember that day like it was yesterday. The look you gave me as you stepped onto the elevator as I was getting out, with shopping that I’d done on my lunch break is etched into my mind. I knew at that moment you were building your case.
I learned a lot about you that day.
You knew damn well that I was on my lunch break. It was a particularly grueling day too. My cop hadn’t shown up to take a swab for an “in” defendant. I did the Order to Produce, I notified the cop-even spoke to him the day before to confirm, but he didn’t show. I was to blame. I could prove that I’d done everything required of me, I had paperwork, call logs-you name it. Paper trails are necessary in this business for this very reason-yet…yup, that’s right folks-it was my fault that a grown ass man, a police officer at that, blew off his responsibility.
I’m not a babysitter. I admit it some of the ADA’s I worked with were…tricky. When this one found out that the cop hadn’t shown up, she tried to take it out on me too, but I refused to be spoken down to-especially when I did my job! I’d done everything I could to make that DNA swab happen.
I refused to be disrespected by her or by you, the way that your boss speaks to you. Maybe you liked it, you had to take it. I know you think you’re one of them, which makes you think you’re better than me but we both know the opposite is true. But that’s not the point. If you were the boss that you’d like to think you were, you’d have addressed what I’d been speaking to you about for years. Communication was always lacking and it wasn’t on my part. You didn’t want to hear from me because nothing I said would be worth listening to.
If you were a leader, you’d know how to mediate and rectify the situation. You would make it clear that we aren’t always going to agree, we don’t have to like each other but at the end of the day, we are working towards a common goal-to see justice done. But, since day one you had your favorites, of which I certainly wasn’t one.
You were a demagogue at worst and a bully at best.
When did you notice my work suffering? Before or after I confided in you about things going on in my personal life? You had the audacity to tell me you cared, and that if I needed to confide in you that I should because we were both in the same boat… your hard eyes softened for a minute and I believed you.
You set me up.
You had no intention of helping me. Your intention was to hurt me. I turned my back and you thrust the knife in. That’s the kind of person you are. I guess I always knew it, but I played the game. You demeaned me the entire time I worked for you. You constantly berated me. You with your wicked grin, telling me you did it because you knew it got a rise out of me.
You were plotting my demise from the day you hired me.
The worst was when you feigned sincerity, your beady black eyes staring into mine, asking how you could help me. Was a demotion your idea of help? I was humiliated and you took pleasure in it.
You learned I was taking on a second Masters. You couldn’t stand to see this black girl, who was expected to keep her head down, and her mouth shut in her tiny cubicle and keep doing a job that offered no promotion, no prospects or respect from the people I worked with. You were complacent Happy in your windowless cupboard of an office because it’s all you got. It’s all you’ll ever have.
I laugh now when I remember you calling the receptionist (you liked to pretend she was yours-and she was kind to oblige.) to tell me to come to your office when you could have called my extension from your own damn phone, like you always did. You had to exercise the only authority you had in your sad, lonely life.
I know now that intimidating me gave you power. You liked to think I was afraid of you.
You have no idea who I am.
But you are about to find out.