29 July 2023

Why can’t you leave

The ache was too great. Like someone had plunged an icicle through my shoulder into my heart. I felt as if my wrists were shackled, and my throat caught in the grasp of some beast with strong hands and long claws. The weight of my lies suffocated me and the yearning for freedom terrified me. I sat there in my compressed prison, unable to breathe. The only thing that numbed the agony of that moment was my fingers on the keys.


“I can see you really going places. Maybe even assistant vice president,” the CEO smiled at me, oblivious to my choking. “Something about you has changed recently. It’s a good change. An energy about you. Has something happened?”


“Maybe grief wears me well,” I snorted as I waited for my printing to finish. Gods how that printer grew to a slow crawl while the CEO stood smiling at me.


That smile would be so genuine if I hadn’t seen it on them with all of our clients, whether they liked the client or not. Such a perfect mask that even they didn’t know it was on. It could be cultural. They weren’t expected to be authentic unless it was within the parameters their family dictated to them. Mine… mine was from trauma and was flawed.


I tried to smile back, but the loss of my cousin cut through me even harder. I only cried when someone asked me how I was. For the rest of the time I wore a beautiful midnight blue shawl of melancholy, speckled with the silver stars of salt from my tears.


“Well, when we get the next receptionist, I’ll look at what we can do with you.” Their excitement was insidious. Not contagious like they were hoping, but slimy. As if I were a baby cow who was about to reach maturity and they wanted to know if I was bred for milk or meat. The tag on my chest was no different from the tag on a cow’s ear. I was a number. In such a small company I was still a number.


A servant. A slave.


Long had I forgot to pretend I was more than that. It didn’t matter what pep and vigour I first came to the company with. That was eroded away. All of my care for my work went unacknowledged. All of my suggestions were thrown into the abyss of “when we write up the procedure for that…”


The manager, the CEO’s relative, had a no for every maybe. They had a wall for every road. That consistent drain on my energy left me a shell of what I had come with.


Their handwritten payslips pulled my own superannuation from my pay, and I had to handle all my own taxes, even though they flounst about in a shiny new Bentley. They bought their fifth home and the manager complained about not being able to fire staff as fast as they wanted while I wondered how else I could save on water and power to be able to make rent.


The chorus from my family and friends was always “Leave!”


I didn’t know why I didn’t.


I mean, I did. Kind of. But I would never accept my excuses from a friend in the same situation.


“The clients need me. I’d feel too guilty to leave them”.


“I’ve been there for so long.”


“I’m just waiting for this other job to come through and then I’ll go.”


“I’m working on building my audience for my books first. When it gets to enough, I’ll quit.”


“They’re not that bad. They treat me well.”


“They helped me get my house. If I was in trouble, they’d be there for me.”


“If the manager left everything would be fine and I’d like being there again.”


It makes me mad to just think about how pitiful I sound. So I drown myself in To-Dos and mundane spuddling, volunteer work and everything that stops me from reaching the thing that would release me. I resent the money, the work, the effort. I resent not being where I want to be right now. I resent not knowing what is actually going to help. I’m throwing spaghetti at prison bars hoping something will stick.


Maybe the CEO could feel the resignation. Maybe they felt like they’d finally beaten into place with love. But what love could a slave enjoy? They are still a slave. They are still shackled, and the weight of those chains leave bruises.


For all the self-help books, for all the courses, for all the coaching and inspiring people around me, I am still trapped. I know I can slip the shackles off at any time. They’re big enough for my hands to squeeze through. I’ve done it before.


But then the company changed. The house I was enslaved to got fresh drinking water and beds for their slaves. In that moment it felt better to be a comfortable slave than starving and free. The pittance I received kept me just hungry enough to come back for another week.


The thing is, I’m not stupid. I’m not even weak. I know my numbers; I know my business. I know what to do to push and hustle and get things moving. I know how to make the impossible possible. I have all manner of magic and power at my hands, so as I smacked the stack of paper onto the printer’s edge to straighten it, I asked myself:


Why don’t I leave?


I put the pile of freshly printed sheets in someone else’s tray and sit in my cubicle.


Why can’t I leave?


Fingers on keys and the catharsis begins. The release that flows from my brain to my fingertips and lets some of that pressure out. I know what happens if I don’t let the pressure out. I have gotten into trouble several times for “speaking unkindly and being short with other staff.”


Not other staff. Just the manager with a no for every “what if”.


And that one other support worker who thought it was funny to have a glass of wine in front of a client at ten in the morning. I definitely was short with them.


Why can’t you leave, scribe of the fantastical?


Why can’t you leave, champion of the arts?


Why can’t you leave, mistress of magic?


The questions make my shoulder ache with renewed fire and heartburn searing my throat. I’m stuck. I don’t have the answer. I have the excuses.


I’m afraid. I’m angry. I feel a sense of justice hasn’t been fulfilled. I feel frightened.


Perhaps it's enough to burn me free. I know it's not. Freedom comes from pulling your legs free from the suctioning swamp. Inch by inch you fight until you're released, only to get sucked in with another step, but freedom is at the edge.


I just hope I haven't waded too far into the swamp of voided dreams. Regardless, I will get out. I will get out or I will die trying.

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