Saturday, April 22, 2006

The Starting Point

This is the story of how I came to be disillusioned about life, and my future, within the working world.

When I was just twenty, I had myself some lofty ambitions in life. I was going to go and produce the world’s largest exhibition figure skating tour, and damn was I going to be something. Armed with this ambition, I began to research post-secondary institutions that could aid me in the realization of that dream. As a typical kid, (which, let’s face it, is all you are when you are still in your early twenties) I jumped at the first opportunity to get into college. The recruiter at this particular institution lied without remorse about the virtues of their particular brand of education, citing statistics that were more out of date than Zoot Suits. I, as a stupid kid, readily believed these statistics, believing the degree they were offering me in Business Operations with a concentration on Production Management would lead easily to my ultimate goal of producing the professional figure skating tour.

It took about two years of studies, (and roughly $20,000.00 in student loans) for me to fully realize the extent to which I’d been taken in. Production Management, under this particular Institute of Higher Robbery, related specifically to factory production. Factories were places that, even as child, I’d found more depressing than the holocaust. Sadly, by the time I figured this out (namely because up and to this point, the courses had been relatively generic, focusing on basic managerial practices and the like) I was too far in debt to turn back. What choice did I have?? I had to continue on taking the courses that would eventually reward me with a degree in a field I not only had no interest in, but would rather take my own life than be employed by.

Now, when a person loses interest, and not only loses interest, but genuinely abhors a subject matter; mustering enthusiasm for the same is next to impossible. As such, my grades soon slipped terribly, causing my instructors to query why I had morphed overnight into a D student where I had previously been on the honor roll. I explained to them carefully, hoping to find answers but getting only embarrassed glances and red faces. They knew, you see, that the structure of the recruitment department depended upon filling the seats in order to pay the recruiters salary and their own. My story was in no way unique. Most of the students there had been coerced through the doors via a recruiting officers lies, and made to stay through the debt they’d already incurred via student financing. Sometimes when you have a large number of folk in the same position, the unethical nature thereof is normalized enough to almost make it appear acceptable…almost.

At any rate, when I walked out of the Institute of Robbery, I did so two courses short of a degree. I had the good sense to change the wording of my resume to make it appear as though I had completed the full degree…but soon found out that due to the Institute of Robbery’s questionable name within the industry, the degree meant very little. My first job upon “completion” of my degree was in a credit union. Never in my life have I hated a job so intensely. I was made to stand for eight hours a day, Monday through Friday, due to the fact that our manager deemed it “unprofessional” for a bank teller to sit while dealing with customers. How she figured it appeared more professional for us to be shifting our weight from foot to foot in a desperate attempt to evenly distribute the pain is beyond me. On top of the physical strain of that job (which, in retrospect, I think greatly contributed to my hip and back finally deciding they both hated me and going on strike) my co-workers made the experience all the more unbearable. Here we had a bunch of women that felt their role in the credit union was to look as fashionable as possible at all cost. Given that I couldn’t afford Prada shoes and Gucci handbags, I was deemed unfit for their clique. The teller manager was, by far, the most immature and outspoken among them; our fearless leader in group stupidity and high snobbery.

There was a lady working there at the time that was in her eighth month of pregnancy. Sadly, like me, this lady was unable to afford the latest styles and was therefore deemed unworthy of humane treatment. Our teller manager’s favorite trick was to refuse Angela a seat, making her stand during her entire shift. Needless to say, this is not possible for a pregnant woman, and Angela often had to choke back tears through the course of her workday. This marked the first time since “completing” post-secondary that I realized many people in management positions were incompetent asshats; far more interested in competing in some vague popularity contest than in actually effectively managing a body of people. Working under such individuals was enough to make me want to cry…and believe me, cry I did. I don’t know what made me feel the most despondent; the horrible nature of the job itself, or the terrifying realization that these were the types of careers I could look forward to for the rest of my life.

At the end, I was laid off for two reasons. The first being that, following the bank’s implementation of increased service charges for senior’s, I made it my mission in life to reverse those charges so allowing these senior’s the luxury of eating. The teller manager spoke to me about the importance of continuing to rob the seniors and so increasing branch profits several times. I smiled, nodded, and proceeded to carry straight on reversing those charges. The second was a letter I opted to submit to the branch manager in regards to the teller manager’s unethical behavior. I quickly learned that there are certain things the low man on the totem pole probably shouldn’t do…pointing out the general incompetence and abject stupidity of management is decidedly one of those things.

I remember the day I was laid off with perfect clarity. I had gone to work that morning with a heavy heart, wishing fervently that my body would be run down by a vehicle prior to my arrival. When I walked into the bank, having had no such luck, I noticed a cab parked in front. Two minutes later, I was called into the branch manager’s office and handed my walking papers. I looked right into his eyes, and sighed heavily. “You could have phoned me this morning and saved me a trip in, you know. I mean to say; now I’m going to have to pay a cab to get home.” He hastily informed me that the cab out front was for my benefit, and that the company would pay the bill to ferry me home. Without waiting for any further explanation, I began to smile widely. I was FREE!!! I practically danced out of the bank, and then got a very startled cab driver to take me on a tour of the entire city prior to depositing me back at my house. The bill came to over eighty dollars, adding to my general joy significantly.

That job taught me a great many things, the chief among them being that my fabulous education at the Institution of Robbery afforded me absolutely no working future to speak of. Any ‘career’ the degree afforded me would start at a whopping $12/hour, putting me under people that had less common sense than my shoe, and daily solidifying that Darwin had absolutely no idea what he was talking about. To this day, I don’t know which part of this revelation depressed me more; knowing that no matter how hard I worked I would never make enough money to support myself and my daughter, or realizing that the second rate education I’d been sucked into ensured that whatever employment I was capable of ascertaining would be something I’d hate passionately.

By the time I received the documents from student finance demanding repayment, I was so resigned to my position in life that all I could do was laugh manically. They wanted me to pay back $45,000.00?? Really?? Umm…okay, sure…let’s see here, I was making a grand total of $12.00/hr. At eight hours a day, that totaled a whopping $1350.00 a month after taxes. My expenses at the time were roughly $1500.00, and that didn’t include food or any sort of clothing or entertainment for little one. Given that I was operating at a deficit of about $750.00 a month; repayment was simply out of the question. Frankly, they were damn lucky I hadn’t jumped out of the top story of my townhouse upon reading the total amount owing.

When my health started to go, despite the physical discomfort I couldn’t help but feeling a little like it was a blessing. As difficult as it is sometimes to go through the day, and as painful as it is sometimes to perform basic activities I used to take for granted, in some ways it also sets me free. My disability makes working impossible, as I can’t sit/stand/walk or bend properly. As a result, posts like these take up to a week to complete. I realize all of this sounds very negative, but you have to see this from my point of view. Disability gives me a far better income than I could ascertain working, especially now that my medications, (which disability covers and working does not) run over $500.00 a month. More than that, I can now afford to get glasses for my daughter, and take her to the dentist, because these things are also covered. Yes, I am in pain, and yes, sometimes I am intensely frustrated by the fact that things I once took for granted are now near impossible for me to do; but at least I can afford to live, albeit frugally. That’s a lot more than I could say for myself in good health in the working world. More than that, now that the government is aware I am on long term disability, with very little chance of a change in my condition, I am no longer expected to pay back this $45,000.00 loan that I received to attend the Institute of Robbery.

It’s sad, non? I am in better financial shape now that I’m incapable of working than I ever was when I was capable of working. What does this say for our society?? Is it really fair that the only average folks able to scrape by are the ones that are either fortunate enough to be married and have a dual income, or unfortunate enough to lose their health and require long term aid from the government?

I’d like to be able to say that now that my financial situation has improved to the point of being able to live, though incredibly sparsely, I’ve found great happiness in life…this is not, however, anywhere near the truth. I want to work. I want to be able to use the mind that I was blessed enough to receive to make a difference in this world. The fact remains however, that disabled or not, this is not reality. Not today, anyways. The reality is that every day is agony, and this agony is a combination of the physical and emotional hard truths that are mine to face, and mine to change.

What if I don’t get better and I’m doomed to spend the rest of my life living in subsidized housing on less money than most educated people make in a week? What if I do get better and my job prospects don’t? What if the dreams I dreamed when I was looking for a post secondary institution are just that…foolish dreams that have no hope of coming true?

Today, I’m learning to stop my mind and not think. Thinking too hard about reality is enough to kill a body in my position…literally. The doctors are hoping that they can improve my health with surgeries, possibly allowing me to return to the workforce part-time in a few years. I sit here not quite knowing what to hope for. Part of me is screaming to not allow them to touch me because damn it, if they do succeed in making me well enough to return to the workforce, I’ll be condemned to a meaningless $10/hr job with the student finance wolves eagerly panting at the doorstep for half.

I can’t possibly explain accurately the frustration of this position. You see, the mere thought of returning to the blue collar workforce in a few years fills me with a dread I can’t properly articulate. It’s an exercise in daily degradation; as you helplessly watch your self-esteem falling away from you by the hour. Each time a person ten years younger and four life times stupider gives you an order, you want to either break down and sob, or cause them severe bodily harm. Standing in the local fast food establishment, wearing a shit-brown uniform and hairnet, your biggest aspiration in life quickly becomes avoiding being seen there by anyone you know. Each day, as you get dressed for work, you feel the panic starting to rise in your chest; knowing in your heart that this is killing your soul and breaking your hopes and dreams into little bitty pieces. You hope your child doesn’t know that this is where Mommy works because damn it you want better for her than you have been able to manage, and you hate that when her friends come in you have to serve them like they are the fucking Queen herself because your asshat teenaged boss keeps tapping that infernal sign that reminds you “the customer is always right.”

You know in your mind that you could do so much if you only hadn’t made this choice or that one, but now…now you’re fucked, baby. You are forever stuck in this hole of debasing hourly hell with no escape in sight. Today, for me…it’s a choice between this horror and the horror of daily pain and hourly physical agony. God forgive me, but I truly believe that the prison cell that my body has become is far preferable to the humiliation quietly awaiting me in society. I have avoided discussing the procedures that might just free me from this agony for fear of having them work; releasing me unwillingly into a torture I deem much, much worse. At least in the safety of my home, I can sometimes ignore my pain for long enough to dream, and sometimes when I dream long enough and hard enough, I can almost believe that I still have the power to make those dreams come true.

I am not the only one in standing forlornly at this station in life. Many people live on long term disability, ignoring to the best of their ability any treatments that may alleviate their physical discomfort. It’s an action executed based on the knowledge that the physical pain is easier somehow to bear than the emotional anguish awaiting them should they ever “get better” and be deemed “employable” again. This is our tragic truth…but more than that…this is also frustratingly enough, our even more tragic choices.

As I review this entry, I see the bald truth I’ve never dared to speak to anyone, and it frightens me more than you could possibly know. I’m nearly thirty now, and knowing how bleakly I see my future leaves me with mixed emotions. In part, I know that I’ve spoken from the heart, and revealed the secrets of my real feelings to some people that it may well surprise, anger or sadden. My sister will be thinking of how she used to think that I would be something special, someone that would shine in life and really take the world by storm. My best friend, on the other hand, will be thinking about how quickly she can get into her car so she can come over here and beat the fuck right out of me.

All of you…know this. I wrote this because I had to. I had to see this whole thing in black and white so I could process it. I had to realize how far down I’ve let this go so that I can figure out where the hell to put the ladder that gets me out of it. If I allow this entry to become my mantra, I will never be any more than I have described today. If, on the other hand, I look at this truth and know in my heart that living it another day will kill me, I can change it. This blog has been a place where I previously posted little anecdotes about life, in the style of www.dooce.com. That’s been a lot of fun, but it’s not what I need this for anymore. Now, I need this blog to become the story of my journey…and for every journey, a person needs two things; a starting point and a destination. This entry is my starting point. Making my dreams come true, no matter how hard it is, and no matter what the fuck it takes…that’s my destination.

I no longer want to run a figure skating tour…that dream was one I created when I was still na├»ve enough to believe that happiness and fulfillment was achieved by being with someone that was all that you wanted to be. Today I know that happiness comes from achieving my personal best, using my own gifts and talents. Now, the dream is to write. That’s my gift. Finding a way to make that into a living is my challenge and doing it in a way that allows me to shine for who and what I am is the goal. I tried, at first; to do that by copying the style of someone I admire…just like the figure skating tour, however, this isn’t going to work because it’s still not me. I haven’t gotten to the point of knowing quite how to get there yet, but I will. All I can promise myself, and all of you, is that I will. It can’t be any harder a journey than sitting in the hell I have described above…and I’m willing to lay odds that in the end, it’ll be a hell of a lot more fun, too. Wish me luck, all!! I’ll keep you posted.

2 comments:

~L said...

Your sister thinks you already ARE someone special and taking the world by storm will happen soon, whether you do it from your living room or in a shit-brown uniform or some other undreamed wonder comes true. I'm betting on the latter.

Love you.

Anonymous said...

Oy, Deedle, this comment counter doesn't work.