On being called a bitch.
On the first day of kindergarten, a girl named Tammy is crying and refusing to let go of her parent. My mother is nudging me toward her, telling me to say hello to make her feel better. I recoil and say no, horrified. This story is told at family gatherings at least once a year for decades.
My mother makes it clear that she is not fond of surly, silent, adolescent me and the amount of time I spend hiding in my bedroom. She asks me what on earth I do. There are books everywhere; notebooks pressed between my mattress and box spring. She says I’m cold. She’s looking for a reaction.
I’ve been working at my first job post-college. I’m a clerk at a public library in an affluent suburb of the city in which I live. I have an intense passion and hatred for this job, but it will take me years to recognize that what I’m feeling is a vocational pull that I will find myself increasingly unable to ignore. It’s the priesthood. It’s love.
My student loans are kicking in, so I, for the money, I take what will turn out to be a nightmare desk job at a law firm downtown. During my exit interview, my boss hands me a recommendation letter and tells me to use it whenever I need to. She is smiling. I thank her. That night, I discover that she has, in significant part, written that it took me some time to learn to adjust my demeanor to deal with patrons, but that I’ve definitely improved. In my two and a half years on staff, she saw me deal with a patron once. It was a woman who verbally abused me at length because she did not want to pay for a large-print western that she lost. I made it clear to this patron that I had little use for her tone and that getting angry at me because she lost a book wasn’t going to make the fine disappear.
I made $9 an hour. It was a $15 fine. I throw away the letter.
I’m at the tail-end of my graduate degree. I’m finishing up an internship at a university library. I’ve made a few friends on the staff and have realized that my place in librarianship is probably in academia. But, after leaving the fixed-term internship, I won’t have a job. I ask one of my two supervisors if she is aware of any openings anywhere, which, somehow, leads to her questioning my interest in librarianship. She refers to me as “excessively assertive.” I leave her office in tears and take two coworkers aside, to ask them if there’s been some problem that no one has told me about. They express surprise. My other supervisor gives me a positive review while the first one leaves her position to take a job in the business office.
I find myself being forced out of a job that I love, a job that, perhaps unwisely, I’ve been clinging to for two years. My departure is a gesture - there’s an argument happening and, through no choice of my own, I’m in the middle of it. A point is being made. Someone is winning.
My boss calls me into his office to explain. He tells me that his hands are tied. I know it’s fundamentally true. He tells me that I’ve done a good job and that he has no complaints. Then he tells me that my intelligence and confidence may strike some as arrogance. He smiles, crosses his arms in front of his chest, and shakes his head, distancing himself from such absurdity.
At home, I tell my infant daughter that people are going to call her names. Her father says that he hopes so.
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