The Art of Holding Back
Looking back, I’m not sure why I was so nervous. Maybe it’s because it was my first “real” job after rehab and the wounds of alcoholism were still too raw, my self-image tender and peeling. Maybe it’s because I hadn’t worked at an office in three years, since getting laid off right before the recession. Maybe it was being one of two women in a roomful of construction men who bandied about casual insults like they were NERF balls.
In any case, I was the low woman on the totem pole and grateful to have work at all after nine months scrambling frantically for any scrap of employment that didn’t involve dancing on a pole for singles and five-spots.
The men did most of the talking as I ate my yogurt. They talked shop. Which competing contractors got which jobs, who was checking on the crew working on Highland. I digested this information along with each spoonful of the tart, honey flavor, mastering the new art of hanging back around the crowded lunch table.
During a lull, my manager, proud of her new hire, announced, “Natalie’s finishing up her Master’s Degree.”
“Oh, really?” the Boss said. He danced upon the vague knifepoint of middle age, where arriving at a precise number becomes guesswork. An imposing man, he spoke in a brusque way, a trait I’d come to find typical of white male CEOs of blue-collar businesses. He took more care with his dress though, sporting crisp pinstripe shirts garnished with sharp silver cufflinks.
As I nodded I felt my cheeks flush.
“How much more do you have to go?” he asked.
“I graduate this summer,” I said. “I’m finishing up my last class and working on my thesis this semester.” Words crowded at the foot of my mouth, details about my subject matter and what I planned to do with my life, which didn’t involve filing papers and answering phones. I wanted them to know that taking this job and being grateful for it didn’t mean I wasn’t smart.
“That’s great. Good for you,” he said, nodding his head. “What subject?”
“Literature,” I said, and as the words passed my lips I felt how foolish I sounded. A silly girl with girlish dreams.
“Literature,” he repeated. “What are you going to do with that?”
My heart raced. I didn’t want them to think I was just killing time at this job until I graduated, but at the same time who grows up dreaming of being an office administrator?
“Oh, I don’t know yet…” I half-lied, trailing off dumbly. After all, who knew if my chosen profession would even exist after (or if) the economy cleared away the wreckage of the past two years. Further explanations backed up inside, threatening to rupture against all efforts at self-control.
He laughed. “So, you’re just…”
Gestured up-and-down with a loosely grasping hand, a cartoonish look of idiocy masked his face. I burned even more, the flush creeping around my neck and ears. No one had ever made that crude of a gesture to me.
I laughed weakly and protested, mouse-like.
By then the conversation across the table had diverted his attention from me. Thank God, because at that point I was ready to spill, laying it out on the table with equal crudeness. Literature professor. Defunct hopes of a PhD. Laid off. Lost everything. Alcoholism. Barely a year sober.
I’m glad I didn’t waste my words.
I know people exactly like that man and could picture this whole scenario playing out. Be proud of yourself, lady!
Kate recently posted…Getting lost in my own backyard
I think we all know men like that…
Ice Scream Mama
that’s an intimidating environment but clearly, he could have taken a lesson on the art of holding back.
Ice Scream Mama recently posted…Getting Bent Over Bending Over
You didn’t waste your words here. This reminds me of when I told me who know and “love” me that I was going to self-publish a book (now 2 of them). Other than my wife, everyone else acted like that man.
You are amazingly talented, nat.
Lance recently posted…Tones of Home – 100 Word Song
Thank you. It was a great lesson for me to learn, to not listen to people who don’t get it.
What a dickhead! I’m glad you didn’t waste any of your precious words on him either. I’m glad that’s behind you 🙂
Completely. I’m glad, too.
I love the way you write, Natalie. When I was walking dogs to help pay for law school, I very frequently had to refrain from saying things like, “Ha ha! I’m really in law school, I’m not just the help. Oops, hold please while I wrangle your dog’s feces.”
Quinn recently posted…Dusting off the tango shoes
Ha! Pride cometh before a bag of dog poo, and it certainly cometh before a year of answering phones and typing memos.
ACK! Painful. But at least you knew not to waste your time.
Considerer recently posted…A Write of Passage
Yes, even if it was an subconscious understanding.
Idiots, like him, can be ignored.
Joe recently posted…Marriage Risk
It’s taken me a long time to learn that lesson.
Kim from Awkward Laughter
Awkwardly laughing at that jerk. An idiot, no doubt, and an example of what many women, including I, have faced to a certain degree in the workforce. Happy to see you call it out, regardless of the nuances that each of us have encountered.
Kim from Awkward Laughter recently posted…An Open Letter to Cat-Check Boy
If I can go another lifetime without encountering such behavior, it will be too soon.
I really enjoyed your story, once again, Natalie. Beautiful writing. Ignorant people like that, who think they know everything when truly they are just threatened by anyone else’s success, drive me nuts!
Deanna recently posted…Friday Fictioneers – The Collector
Me too. Don’t speak into what you don’t understand, dude.
Wow, what a jerk! I’m glad you saved your words for here where we could appreciate them 🙂
For some reason, this made me think of when I was searching for a job after I had a baby and the company I’d worked for had closed down. There was an admin assistant job posting where my dad worked (he’s an electrician.) He tried to nicely explain the kinds of pigs who worked there and how he wouldn’t be able to quietly listen to their comments. I decided not to apply for the job.
JannaTWrites recently posted…The Power of Zero
Yeah, that’s why I’ve avoided certain jobs, too. I don’t want to have to deal with that again.
Ugh, I can just feel that burn right along with you. Back in collIeshe, I mastered the art of keeping those things that matter to me well hidden for fear of having them ridiculed. Of course now I put it out there on the internet where anyone can see but somehow that’s different. You know what I mean.
Ellen recently posted…Sabotage
Yep. Totally different. 😉
As always, I love your honesty.
What a jerk. People like that don’t get it and they never will. You’re so smart and talented and you need not explain that to a rube like that. And you’re smart enough to have realized that. Well done!
Linda Roy recently posted…Tangled Up In Blues: Dealing With Depression #Day Of Light
Yes, and that’s a lesson I’m glad I learned young(ish).
Samantha Brinn Merel
Seriously, what an asshole. Go you for getting that masters, and look at you now 🙂
Samantha Brinn Merel recently posted…Blue Underwear
He didn’t deserve your time! ugh pompous a-holes…
Jen Brunett recently posted…No Swimming in the Hot Springs
Maybe so. Sigh.
This was so beautifully written.
I’m glad you didn’t waste your story on that man. He obviously didn’t deserve to hear it.
Thank you. I agree.
Why is everyone so derisive of literature majors? Bugs me. Who else is gonna read all those great books and write about them?
Christie recently posted…What NOT to Give A Newlywed: White Cotton Nightgown
I know! We’re preservers of cultural legacies. Lol.
Cindy - The Reedster Speaks
This made me cry, for so many reasons. I’m glad you laid it bare here.
Cindy – The Reedster Speaks recently posted…Hiatus.
Thanks, Cindy. This one had been percolating for awhile…
It’s funny how many “self-made men” have no self-awareness of their ego. I’ve dealt with this kind before, and when I was young or vulnerable, like you were in that situation, I bit my tongue as well.
But I’m too quick witted and too sick of taking it to not react now. I don’t save my words for anyone. Which is why I probably get myself into trouble. But we can’t let assholes run this nation. We need dreamers and art majors, and writers and historians to document the human experience. Otherwise, the CEOs will write their own stories, and we know how full of holes their lives really are.
Chris Plumb recently posted…British Television My New Cup of Tea–I’m Off My Trolley
Yes. I’m in a totally different place now, and would never let someone be so disrespectful to me.
Magical Mystical Mimi
Good for you! Sometimes the most powerful words are no words at all.
Stopping by from Bloppy Bloggers on FB. 🙂
Something it took me awhile to learn.
Oh man, I hate guys like that. My snarky mouth would’ve gotten me in trouble in this instance.
Mine wasn’t fully developed at this point in time. Now, however? Different story.
Total douche canoe, but you know this. Where is he now? No where. And look where you are! You are amazingly talented, resilient, smart….I could go on. And Beautiful. Okay, I’m done for real now.
Loved this post, Natalie. 🙂
Beth Teliho recently posted…Night Of The Menage Attack, Take 2.
Haha, thanks, Beth!
Ah men. Okay, not all men, but … men. Because of course, belittle that which you don’t understand, mock that which doesn’t seem (on the surface) to be immediately “monetize-able.” Feh.
deb quinn recently posted…how you know you’re raising a twenty-first century kid
Yep. Life isn’t just about money, thank God.
Beautifully written, Natalie. Congratulations on your win! I enjoyed the honesty and straightforwardness of this piece.
Loved this line: “He danced upon the vague knifepoint of middle age, where arriving at a precise number becomes guesswork.”
Karen recently posted…“S” is for Stalker
Thanks, Karen! Sometimes it’s hard to be honest. I get afraid people from the past will come back to haunt me.
Ugh. What a horrible, horrible person.
I like how you added the details of your yogurt. It’s funny how, when involved in intense situations like that, those details stick out in our memory. I dunno. Maybe it’s because we’re trying to focus on something other than the disturbing reality going on around us?
Ericamos recently posted…New Beginnings
Exactly. Those things are what I most clearly remember.
Sarah | LeftBrainBuddha
As others said, good to not waste your words on him. Because your words are so good.
Sarah | LeftBrainBuddha recently posted…I Want to Tell You About My Vision Board!
Thank you, Sarah.
There is much to be said for holding back. Some people are obnoxious and so self absorbed they can’t see the value of others pursuing goals and dreams not in line with their own.
Jack recently posted…Social Media Is Responsible For Bad Sex
I think wealth can certainly contribute to that tunnel vision, too.
Wow. What a jerk.
But this: “He danced upon the vague knifepoint of middle age, where arriving at a precise number becomes guesswork.” Beautiful and spot on.
Misty recently posted…Thrust your Hips and Squeeze your Knees Together
Yep. It took me so long to write him off as such though; for awhile, I was afraid of him.
I’m so glad you didn’t waste your words, either! And out of curiosity, how long did you stay at this job???
Ilene recently posted…Good Vibes Volume 1
A little over a year. It tried to kill me.
Hi Natalie — my first visit here. This post gripped me. Loved how evocative it is of a moment all of us can relate to. Thanks!
Shannon Bradley-Colleary recently posted…Which is Better? “Normal Barbie” or “Real-Life Barbie?”
Wow, thank you for such a huge compliment! And thank you for visiting.
I looooooove this post. I’m so glad you won VOTY.
Also? I can relate.
Lady Jennie recently posted…Personal News, Writing News
I’m so glad you won VOTY for this Natalie. Brave. Honest. So relatable.
Kristi Campbell recently posted…Stories of motherhood
It’s ‘interesting’ how easily some people judge!
Roshni recently posted…Weird words – The End!