Wednesday, June 12, 2013

I don't want you to turn out that way.


It is raining tonight in Chicago. The kind of thunderous rain that demands you turn off all the lights in your house and grab a cup of something, whether or not you drink it. The requirement for a dark and stormy night is a drink in your hand and viewing of nature doing its thing.

It was dark and stormy at work today. Not for long, but for a moment. The kind of storm that is a signal of things to come, a harbinger of paths taken and steps yet to be walked. Inner storm, mind you.

The conversation was innocent enough. A woman is at the cash register with her son. He couldn't have been more than 5.

Son: Can I buy some jewelry?

Mom: [eyes immediately down to her wallet] No.

Son: But moooom! It's less than $25, so can I have some jewelry?

Mom: No. [hands over money, looking at the back of the register, the PIN pad device, anywhere except my face]

Son: Mom. Can I just have this one piece of jewelry?

Mom: No, because I don't want you to turn out that way.

It doesn't take a rocket surgeon to surmise what 'that way' meant, but that was just the thunder. The real storm came in the brief moments afterwards, the ones that felt like eons of figuring and calculating...

How quickly would I be fired if I said something? Would there be anything I could say in defense of this child that would not leave me jobless? How long might it take me to get a job after I'm fired for telling this woman off? How much do I need this paycheck? How much money do I have in savings? Can I afford to be this kid's hero?

Here's the lightning... I did nothing. I said nothing. I looked at this kid and glanced down at my keyboard, because I knew that if I looked at that mother I'd not be able to hide my fury. My donning of his possible future issues with his mother, whose biggest worry in that moment was whether her small boy was going to turn out that way, jewelry and all.

I realize I'm assuming a lot. I'm assuming the woman's homophobia, though I dare say that's not much of a leap. I'm assuming she's the kind of mom that says things like this all the time. For all I know, it's the first time she's said it, and she didn't mean it.

But, my biggest problem, was that I said nothing.

Around this time last year I was faced with a situation that some of you keeping up with me on social media may remember. At the mall I was working, I saw a woman being manhandled by a man, not a big man, but a man. His hands were gripping her elbow, dragging her down the sidewalk. She was yelling at him to let her go. I ran up behind them, let the man know that wasn't ok, and asked her if she was ok. She looked at me, said she was fine, and his grip relaxed on her.

I have no idea where that woman is or whether she really was ok. I have no idea the secret inner workings of other people's lives. But, I know I felt powerless in that moment. However, at least I said something. I think the difference being that I was outside of work... I didn't have to cower in fear of being fired for Attempted Heroism in the First Degree.

The world doesn't want or reward heroic actions. Coming to the defense of this kid would have only taken a "and what way would that be?". And one phone call from her, and I'm done. Goodbye paycheck.

And it's sad, and it's foolish, and it's selfish. And it's the choice I made.

How would you react? What would you have done?

Wherever this kid is and wherever he goes in life, I hope he finds a hero. I hope he feels love and acceptance, whatever color of the rainbow he ends up being. Everyone has a right to feel loved, accepted, safe, and happy. That's my prayer for that boy, his mother, and that's my prayer for the woman last year.

Love and Lyte,

Fire Lyte

8 comments:

  1. Working for a school board and a faith-based one at that for 25 years there have been many times that yes I wanted to be the hero too, that I wanted to tell that parent that just because her child had no bruises she was still abusing that child. Seeing children that if they only could be in a different home they would be amazing and have a chance. Telling a woman that having 9 children all by different fathers is not being a free-spirit but rather crazy. Yes, I kept my mouth shut but I had my own children to feed and home to take care of so I said a prayer that the child or children would find a way out. And yes there are agencies to report abuse and I did and then was told it was a cultural thing and not my business. But the wheel is turning and soon.. I will no longer have to keep silent... not ever! You may not have been able to speak this time but you will.

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  2. Don't feel like you let that boy down. Yes, it would have felt great to put that woman in her place. Pfft, like buying jewelry is going to make him "that way." He either is or he isn't.
    In any case, while it would be nice if we could be the type of person who didn't have to live in reality and could smash to pieces any injustice we see, sometimes we have to be pragmatic. In this instance, no matter how great it would have felt to say something, it wouldn't have been worth the stress and anxiety you would have faced, for who knows how long, looking for work and trying to pay your bills.
    I've been a follower of yours for a long time and I know you're a hero. Just try to remember, even Superman couldn't be there for everyone all the time.

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  3. You did what you needed to do in that moment. That is all you can do. We are not always able to act the way we want to, or believe we should, in every situation. Sometimes it just is not feasible because we may be putting ourselves in harms way. That woman you stood up for? I would be willing to bet that this was not the first time the man has done this (or worse) to her and it will, more than likely, not be the last. It is definitely honorable that you feel the urge to do what most people will not because they believe "it's not my place." I would be willing to be that the boy felt the tension and knew you did not like what his mother said. That may have been just what he needed at that moment.

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  4. It doesn't sound like you could've done anything differently. I know it's frustrating, even when you personally are the one being verbally attacked. Obviously, I can't say I approve of what she did (even if "that way" meant "transvestite" or "goth" instead of "gay").

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  5. I worked in a nursing home for old people. The hate that spewed out of those people's mouths was utterly incredible. I stayed in that gig until I could get another job, and kept my mouth shut while I was in that job. Believe me, I was the target of so many insults, I began to think all old people felt that way. It was only when I left that job and ran into elderly people that enjoyed their lives (and saw no reason to hate) that I realized people who try to contaminate others with hate are in their private Hells (if I may borrow from the movie Hellraiser)

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  6. My wife has had similar nursing home experiences on the job.

    People just look at me, and (slight exaggeration) flee while wondering "who the hell put clothing on a cave bear?"

    Back in the 1920s, the KKK burned a cross in my Grandfather's lower pasture, when they were on one of their anti-immigrant kicks.

    Years back, when my middle kid was working at a Mcdonalds in Maine, and a customer called him a vile name while he was working at the counter, he was VERY surprised when one of his co-workers (lily-white French-Canadian that they were) actually leaped over the counter to berate the customer, and then chased him out of the restaurant.

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  7. I have been in that position, almost exactly that position, working with the public. The one time I kicked someone out of my store for manhandling their child I had my manager's blessing, luckily. I also frequently debate revealing I have a wife to guests at the hotel. I won't hesitate to say I am married, but I don't point out that I'm married to a woman with some of them (particularly the southern wealthy businessmen who change the lobby televisions to Fox, forgive my stereotyping). It's tough when you work with the public. On the one hand, I am very proud of my wife and love her very much. On the other hand... I am the front desk employee. I need to be approachable and for the more homophobic guest this can create conflict.

    With that said... I cherish your existence in my life and this post makes me love you even more.

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  8. The power of jewelery. I am surprised the GOP hasn't picked up on this and banned it.

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