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.

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15. Where I Stood

a brief aside about my day, because it will give you a picture of my life and who i am today. you need to know this so that you can judge for yourself how much credence to give these words i have written. 

 

i am standing an inch deep in water. though i'm wearing both socks and sneakers with thick rubber soles, the wet has soaked through these protective barriers and into the layers of skin on my feet, which are already blistered and inflamed from countless days of performing this same task. i could be wearing rain boots; my boss told me when i was hired nearly a year ago that i'd need to buy some. i have not. moreover, there are some communal rain boots on a shelf in the office that i could borrow, but i haven't chosen to put those on either. i do not have the time to complete everything i need to, and sacrificing my personal comfort in order to shave off seconds is a trade i'm willing to make. besides, if i give in and put on those rain boots, i will feel like a sissy. i'm holding in my hand a hose, with a high pressure nozzle screwed onto the tip that enables me to blast away clumps of hair, urine, and fecal matter that have been pounded into the concrete. after i rinse all that i can of the last twenty four hours' accumulation of filth from these dog runs into the gutter, i will douse the whole area with a chemical spray to hopefully kill off any harmful parasites. my hands as they grip the hose are painfully dry from the bleach and chlorine and other sanitizing agents we use, which turns the hose's outer crust of black rubber into a pigment to stain my skin. 

 

i love of roughness of my job. i love the challenged, love being pushed to my physical limits. though it's frustrating and exhausting, i much prefer the days when phone calls and customers interrupt every five seconds and my coworkers and i have to scramble to keep everything together, with never an instant to sit down. it is in these moments of giving all i've got that i feel useful and competent. 

 

my boss walks purposefully in my direction. i cannot read the expression on her face, and am not expecting bad news, so i give her an upward jerk of my mouth that is supposed to simulate a smile. i am not much of a smiler, in general, and at work, unless i'm dealing with customers i am usually too busy focusing and trying to be conscientious to bother with such frivolities. 

 

my boss stops when she reaches a point aligned with me. she's balanced on the lip of the gutter, which is a little less than a foot wide, and is on the opposite side of the dog runs from me, so she threads her fingers through the wire mesh as she leans in to speak to me. 

 

i am stung but not stunned when i realize she's come to censure me. i've been getting in more than my fare share of trouble at work lately. this time, it's because i went inside a run with a dog nobody is supposed to look at much less interact with. today it was because a coworker needed to clean the dog's run and was having a difficult time shooing her out of it without breaking any rules. "she won't go out. do you think i should go in with her, or what?" if i say "no" then we are stuck; we cannot move forward without calling our boss, and like any human being who wants some goddam peace and quiet and to be left alone when she's not on the clock, she will be annoyed to receive the phone call. if i answer "yes," however, i will be held responsible if my coworker is injured. i know this from past experience, because my coworker has already "almost" been bitten by a dog while following my advice, and immediately blamed me for the incident. so i do the best thing i can think of in the moment; i step in to help, and like an idiot admit to having entered the dog's run before, because i felt that her whimpering was an appeal for compassion and attention.

 

also, to be honest, i have issues with resisting authority. my boss has been strongly pushing for me to follower her orders to the letter and to ask for her instructions about how to handle any new situation, rather than using my own judgment. i struggle with this. furthermore, my instinct is to be impetuous, as if i need to constantly prove myself, to show that i'm tough as nails and not afraid and i can do anything. 

 

my boss was not here to witness my transgression, of course, but the coworker reported on me.

 

i realized only two weeks or so before this that i have been falling back into old, destructive patterns.  everyone at my work shit-talks up a storm about everybody else. we are engaged in a kind of nasty, manipulative, and vindictive warfare against each other, the rule being that in order to make yourself look good in the boss's eyes, you have to tell her as many bad things as possible about everyone else. sometimes the shit talk it true, but not always. the shock that hit me, however, came while i was explaining this system, as though it were perfectly logical, to an outsider. this, "the best defense is offense" tactic makes total sense to me, because it fits so well with the atmosphere in which i was raised. i am not good at standing up for myself verbally, and my boss cannot be here enough to notice that i literally work my ass off the entire time i'm on a shift, taking the bare minimum of breaks and never even checking my cell phone. so i feel i must make a note of every little mistake everyone else makes, log this information in my memory for future use, then report it all to my boss, if only to balance out all the shit about me with which others are filling her ear.

 

humility is not a strong point of mine. i have chronically low self esteem, but that means that i am quick to make excuses and quicker to become indignant at anyone who criticizes me, because i do not want to have to look at or feel the truth in their words. i am far from proud of this trait in myself, but i know i crave drama. i frequently stretch and twist the truth, allowing my emotions to color how i portray events to the point of blatant dishonesty. even though i lack self assurance, i am very much preoccupied with myself. i have never truly unleashed it in force against any tangible object, much less another living being, but there is a violent anger in me. it's true when my boss tells me i take short cuts and i'm not exactly mr. safety-man. i do not act so all the time, but i can own up to it when it does happen.

 

the point of all this explanation is that i decided to stop gossiping about others and focus instead on myself.  i didn't just tell myself i was going to do this, but have made a concerted effort to mind my own business. when i have seen others mess up or forget something, i have stifled the gleeful little devil in my head that feeds on others' suffering, and instead have done what i could to help. i know i've sown disease ridden seeds by slandering my coworkers in my boss's eyes up to this point, so now i purposely do extra little things to ease their burdens as a kind of living amends. however, just because i haven't been gossiping doesn't mean my coworkers stopped shit-talking about me. on the contrary, it now appears to my boss that i am the weakest link, that everyone working with me constantly feels like they need to pick up my slack. and that hurts, like i've been dealt a blow on the tender inside lining of my stomach.

 

subcutaneously, i am afraid. afraid that i will lose my job, and end up homeless again. i know that my boss genuinely cares about my well being as a person, but i also know that she is taking very seriously every hen peck to my reputation that my coworkers make. i am angry, and mentally fume to myself. i feel betrayed, and tell myself that i cannot trust anyone. but i do not start telling her details about others' mistakes by way creating a comparison that is more in my favor. because my resolve not to gossip is for myself, not for anybody else.

 

the kicker is, i do not live here, at work. even though i planned on leaving at twelve thirty and as it turns out end up having to stay until two pm, the bottom line is i do get to leave. and for the first time in my life, i am the only narcissist where i live. i don't have to contend with anyone bigger and badder, trying to control me or crush me to a pulp.

 

i get to climb into my beat up old buick park avenue that i bought with my own money earned at my job, scroll the windows down and settle into the car's cracked and faded but exceptionally comfortable luxury seats beside the grinning face of my big yellow dog. i get to sing at the top of my lungs in accompaniment to the radio, not even trying to sound good, because there is no golden child to try to prove wrong when she teases me about being tone deaf. i switch tones completely mid phrase, my pitch playing hopscotch and leapfrog around the notes, doing crazy approximations of different accents and sometimes belting out words to a tune purposefully off key, just because it's fun and i feel like letting loose.

 

today, no matter how much i struggle with my anger or my self obsession at any given moment, it still holds true that my life gets better every day.

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