Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Badge

From the first day of work I knew, at least some part of me not so deep inside knew, that this was not the place for me. I knew it from the walls, fastidiously painted in a uniform near white, and the cubicles, woodgrain interiors with half-height glass. I knew it from the lite rock music playing overhead. I knew if from the company decree that only women's voices could be heard on the intercom during business hours. I knew if from the completely bewildered look on the manager's face who came to pick me up from HR, and who had no desk or phone or computer for me to use when I landed. I knew.

I also knew, in a much more direct fashion, that I was desperate. Ten months. No offers. My life became very small. My parents no longer able to hide the concern in their voices when we spoke. My bank accounts dwindled to very small numbers. Just maybe I'm not as good as I think I am, even though I do consider myself as erring on the side of humble. 

So I get the employee badge, with the photo of me needing a haircut and the green stripe saying that, yes, I am at the lowest rung of this pithy ladder. And I begin to scramble, to define a job without definition, without respect, without in most cases even common courtesy. I receive no direction, no feedback, nothing but barely intelligible worklists and grossly optimistic deadlines. I know this can be better.

Yet every morning I slide that badge off the dresser top, clip it on the pocket of my khakis, and murder another tiny sliver of my soul. At first, I do it because I think I have to. That my world requires this of me, and that I must do what it takes to meet my basic needs. And then, just a little while later, I do it because I don't think at all. Because thinking about it feels more painful than simply trudging forward. Because my hopes and dreams no longer feel possible. 

For over six years I chained myself to that badge. I felt a twinge of guilt and loss every time I clipped it on. Save for vacations, for Oshkosh, I lost perspective. I ground out the weeks, the months, the years. They gave me a pin, which meant nothing, and a round of applause, which I clung to fiercely. And then they gave me a euphemism, in the passive voice, and they took that badge away.

So strange, and silly, a small plastic rectangle that took so much from me. That I let it. 

Absurd. And never again.