It’s been a while since I flat-out trusted myself to tell another person something negative about themselves or my relate with them.
Whenever I have done so in the past, the response has been swift, hateful, and devastating.
I’ve been told, “You don’t know how you talk to people.”
I’ve been instructed, “Don’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s all small stuff.”
I’ve heard, “You always make this about you.”
Some have said, “You’re so petty,” and continued by calling me “high maintenance”.
I will never, as long as I live, forget the bitter glance of someone professing to love me, as they proclaimed that they did not believe my account of mistreatment by a store clerk. I could have video-taped the incident and this person would have totally dismissed both my narrative and the documentary evidence. His mind had hardened and not in my favor.
For many years, I bought these assessments of myself without question. I believed them whole-hog. I had been judged, found completely wanting, convicted, and sentenced. From these experiences, I concluded that I had no redeeming virtue, and that any situation which went against me constituted nothing short of what I deserved.
Then I started down this path. I studied nonviolent communication. For several years, I entirely stopped expressing dissatisfaction with anyone’s conduct. I took complete blame for every failed relationship, any uncomfortable conversation, and even the tiniest shimmer of hurt feelings. I endured tirades by people who accused me of bad mothering, failing as a wife, disloyalty as a friend, and discourtesy to waitstaff, among other shortcomings too numerous and unqualified to here recount. I allowed myself to be convinced that I caused anything bad which happened between myself and another person. I therefore have spent the last four years trying to alter every nuance of my thought, speech, and behavior so that whatever it was which I evidently did to people would cease.
I have become an expert in reliving every conversation, in examining gestures, in holding a looking glass to every single motion which I make. I’ve scrutinized my slightest utterance, usually before it passes my lips and definitely countless times afterward. I have nearly frozen in time for fear that I’d commit some atrocity and hurt someone else’s feelings.
This weekend, I went to the local grocery store and encountered three separate clerks in the course of trying to find one particular item. Each of them failed to help, one of them made unpleasant comments to me, and a third suggested that I had fabricated the item to cause them distress. I kept my cool and left the store after paying for the food which I had gathered, items that I bagged on my own because one of the three clerks had simply stopped doing her job.
All the way back to the island, I debated whether I should say anything. An internal dialogue raged. I knew that I had remained calm throughout the fifteen-minute incident. I had not raised my voice, nor used any profanity, nor said anything mean or spiteful. I had simply pressed. Should I contact the store? Doing so could be considered complaint. I’d be “sweating the small stuff”, as one friend has repeatedly admonished me never to do.
But I felt that the store might want to know. So I crafted an email. I edited it. I changed some verbs. I re-read it. I waited an hour and re-read it a third time. Then I hit send.
The store manager called me this morning. We had a pleasant conversation. He expressed gratitude that I had written. He stated that he had shown my account to the three people involved, and they had essentially confirmed my factual narrative. He apologized for their behavior. I thanked him. We closed on good terms.
An hour later, I tried to get an appointment for a new doctor. I got the run-around. The clerk offered me an appointment with a lesser level of specialist than I need, and in January. She avowed that no other option existed. I advised that I knew what I needed and to whom I had been referred, and pressed for a return call from a higher authority. She demurred but said she would send a note, though she expected no accommodation.
I got on the computer and found the fax number of the clinic. I wrote a straightforward letter stating what I wanted, and explaining why I could not accept less, giving medical references. I detailed the urgency of the situation. I asked for an accommodation.
By early afternoon, I had an appointment with the proper provider in one month’s time.
Maybe I’m learning from this process. Maybe I’m starting to be able to use a voice of dissent in different tones. And maybe — just maybe — I’m not as awful as I’ve been branded, by those other, louder, voices of dissent which cut so close to the bone and drove me to so thoroughly despise myself.
It’s the sixth day of the fifty-sixth month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.
I write surrounded by the work of some of my most beloved artists, friends, & family.
Mary Pettet, Ruthie Becker, and Samantha Bessent
Genevieve Casey and Samantha Bessent
NEKO CASE: “I WISH I WAS THE MOON TONIGHT”