WE ARE Narcissus

I have tried to write my story many times and have never been able to get far. I always go over my words again and again, editing and polishing and getting caught in the obsessive intricateness of arranging lyrical phrases. I am hoping that writing this online and posting as I go will keep me pressing forward.


21. Terminated

the first thing i did at high school was find myself a friend who was as close to the ideal established in my mind by my upbringing as possible. 


you know what, i'm sorry. i can't do this now. i planned on making this segment about my high school experience, the culture shock of going from an extremely sheltered environment peopled by only my immediate family members to an actual campus trafficked by upwards of two thousand students at any given time. how on my very first day of being a freshman, i woke up early to shave my legs for the very first time in my life. i sat in the shower with an electric shaver for over an hour, going over and over the same leg because i was unable to tell if all the fine, blond hair was gone or not, and ending up chaffing my own skin until it was streaked red and smarting. i ran out of time, and couldn't even get started on my second leg before it was time to pile into the backseat of the golden child's tiny midnight blue car. how i loaded all of my textbooks into a light green backpack that made me feel like a teenage mutant ninja turtle with a shell, then ended up staggering and falling flat on my back in the parking lot before even entering the front gate. how people stopped in their cars to ask if i was alright as i picked myself up and tried to brush asphalt crumbs off my uniform.


but as i said before, i can't write about high school right now, because the present is sticking in my throat and insisting on my attention much more fiercely than almost any past memory can do. 


i lost my job today. i was fired. i hadn't planned on talking about my work here for a while yet, but i guess now is as good a time as any. it wasn't my first job, but it was my first position in which i gave my all and was actually healthy enough that this meant something. in the past, i took positions in which nothing was expected of me, because i had nothing to offer. i barely showed up, crawling into work late then slumping half dead in some corner and hoping not to be noticed. i never took any initiative or had any energy to give, and it's actually somewhat shocking to me that the bosses i worked for in such a state never terminated any of these positions. my previous jobs all ended simply because i stopped showing up, failing to complete the process of renewing paperwork for a tutoring post, simply vanishing into thin air on my museum boss in malibu when i went to rehab. possibly i kept these jobs for as long as i did for the same reason that i was hired in the first place; the powers that be felt sorry for me, and in an act of charity agreed to pay me minimum wage to waste away inside a building rather than out on the street.


but this time was different. that first day i showed up in my tight black jeans and red blazer for my job interview, i didn't necessarily plan for it to be so. i didn't consciously turn over a new leaf, because i knew nothing else than what i'd done in the past.


but when i actually started working, something within me caught fire. i became the passionate, eager, dedicated, and detail oriented person i'd claimed to be in my resume cover letter. i pulled two hundred pound wagon loads across a yard and hefted fifty pound bags of dog food and learned to navigate computer software, take customers' reservations on the phone and their payments in person. i killed sixty eight black widow spiders, spraying the bases of giant plastic dog houses with poison to discourage a new generation of arachnids from taking their place, and i became brave enough to clean thick green mucus from the eye of an elderly, incontinent white chow nicknamed stinkin' lincon with a cotton swab. in the nine months i held that position at the dog kennel, i suffered three concussions and had my righthand middle finger fractured and permanently bent out of shape. i also learned an incredible wealth of lessons, virtually transforming my life by attaining my driver's license, buying my own car, and moving out of my extremely eccentric, narcissistic aunt's house. it was there, at the kennel, that i met Monkey, the seventy pound yellow pit lab who snapped me out of the delusion that i was a "little dog person," and who served as the driving force behind so many positive changes in my life. because i had to have a reliable source of transportation in order to visit him and take him on walks every day, and because i had to have a safe place to live in order to bring him home.


my job was truly a really significant piece of my identity, in that i grew so much as a result of the skills, confidence, and knowledge i attained there. and then, this morning, when i drove up through the metallic gate to the staff parking lot at five thirty am, lingering in my car a few moments to catch the tale end of a segment of the heidi and frank show on my radio, and i found my boss waiting for me. she cried when she told me i had lost my job. i didn't. i had known this was probably in the cards for me for a while now, but even anticipated it was still a blow that took my breath away when it fell. my mind was totally blank, all of my senses dull and numb, as i got back into my car and drove back home. i no longer was capable of hearing the same jokes that only a few moments before had made me laugh aloud.


on the one hand it is a slight relief. i knew i needed to leave that job. my boss had been looking over my shoulder so much in the past few weeks that i felt useless and incompetent. i would be asked to train a new employee on a procedure that i'd really just had to figure out for myself rather than have someone explain to me. i would give it a shot, unable to ask my boss what i aught to do because she'd already told me i "ask too many questions you should already know the answer to," and then i would end up standing back uncomfortably when my boss leapt in and took the reins away from me. i began to feel extremely irritated and answer rudely when trainees looked to me for guidance, assuming because i'd been here a while i had knowledge to share. i'd learned most of the aspects of my job via the sink or swim method, because after my first two weeks the vast majority of all kennel employees were as new or newer than i was. i was part of a wave of fresh meat; i didn't think much when i was hired about the fact that essentially the entire staff had been replaced all at one time, because i was so grateful to have a job at all. but throughout the nine months that i worked there, i recognized a pattern. very few people stayed long. nobody was irreplaceable. of the coworkers of mine who faded from the picture, almost all quit due to the harsh conditions and low pay; only one was fired for virtually stealing the laughable sum of six dollars.


these were the realities staff faced every day: elderly dogs died or had enormous mass cell tumors the size of baseballs swell up out of their bodies, reeking and oozing with putrid green pus and bleeding constantly until their gums were white. a coworker attempted to intervene in a nasty dog fight and ended up with nerve damage in her wrist. one dog had five of its teeth knocked out by another; a puppy got half of his paw ripped off through a chain link fence by a deranged black labrador. a damaged piece of fencing went through the eye socket of a young, female pit bull. mini epidemics of parasites contagious to humans as well as dogs often broke out in our population. most of the applicants who attempted to enter the world of the kennel couldn't handle being surrounded by images like these. on top of this, many well meaning but somewhat puffed up volunteers came to help exercise and socialized rescued dogs, and they often treated staff with a barely concealed disdain, like we were nothing more than mercenaries who couldn't even begin to comprehend the bond they, who took the dogs on walks perhaps four to six hours a week, had with our charges, for the love of whom we put up with the abuse and exhaustion at a rate of barely over minimum wage. those of us who stayed sacrificed large chunks of our lives, because we had to be prepared to drop any and all plans at a moment's notice to come in for our sixth or seventh shift per week, each of which should have been six hours but actually stretched to more like eight hours, or else.


overtime, i stopped coming to work buoyed upwards by a hot pink cloud. i came back down to earth and continued to give everything i had, very rarely pausing in my labor to sit down for a moment and collect my bearings. my eagerness as a newbie became replaced by a gritty determination. i smiled and i sang to myself while at my tasks much less frequently. my final week as a member of the kennel staff, i think i probably worked forty eight hours. i could and willingly did live that way while i was assumed to possess at least half a brain; when my mental capacities came under scrutiny, that's when the job because too much to handle. the only reason i didn't quit a month before my position was terminated was that there were too many goodbyes i didn't want to face having to make.


it breaks my heart to realize that i no longer will be allowed the privilege of seeing five days per week the dogs who had become my second family. i don't get to know if lincoln is alright, to see him skip and prance alongside me with so much luster that you'd never suspect he can barely see or hear, or to hold him and stroke his fur after administering his medication, trying to ignore the urine soaking his underside and leeching into my jeans. nobody else was nice to him, or even bothered to scratch his butt, and recently he'd begun biting staff members in a demonstration of frustration that i find totally understandable. most likely, nobody is going to notify me when he passes away.


and i wonder about that brain injury my mother claimed to feel so guilty about that she could barely stand to speak of it, yet threw in my face over and over again, often with siblings as wide eyed witnesses. at one and the same time she had me convinced i was virtually brain dead, a walking zombie with no potential who would never be able to attain a driver's license or live a normal life, but responsible nonetheless for my psychological challenges that were unquestionably the product of my sins. i know that i literally worked my ass off every day that i went to work, pouring all the energy i possessed and then some into doing the absolute best job i possibly could, and i honestly cannot believe that anybody at the kennel, despite all the shit talking that went on there, could possibly disagree with this statement. i also know that my boss is a wonderful, compassionate person who genuinely cares about my well being. yet she said things to me, when i was fired, that have me wondering. "you show an inability to concentrate on the task at hand." "you really need to get your head together." "i feel like you're forgetting really basic things, and i'm constantly having to answer the same questions over and over again." "your coworkers feel like they have to pick up the slack for you." "you need to be tougher."


what does it all mean? is there something wrong with me that i just can't see?

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