All of my regret
Will wash away somehow
But I cannot forget
The way I feel right now…
Rob Thomas, “Little Wonders”
I wish I could say that I’m proud of what I did today. I wish I could say that I stuck it out for at least awhile. I wish I could say that I would do it any differently.
But I can’t.
I started a new temp assignment today. Six and a half hours later I was driving on my way to meet with the employment agency after having a conversation with my new boss, explaining the best that I could that I wouldn’t — couldn’t — return.
My temp agency had called me two weeks ago asking if I would be willing to do dictation work for a social services agency. It was a job, it was income, it was something that would continue to keep me busy and my skills matched the position, so I readily agreed. This morning I went in as enthusiastic as ever; I was eager to meet new people, eager to learn about a new industry, eager to play with that pedal thing that controls the tape recorder. I had about a half hour of training before my new boss excused herself for a meeting, and so I decided to just jump right on in and start typing up the case.
The actual job itself was easy — listen to what the caseworker was saying and transcribe it into a word document, formatting it in accordance with previous sessions. Simple. Three and a half hours and two tapes later, I was finished with the case. No problem, right?
Only, yeah. There was.
I swallowed back tears as I ate my PB&J sandwich and gulped down a bottle of water. I breathed in, I breathed out; I tried to distract myself by counting how many different colors made up the cubicle paneling (answer: not enough.).
Later in the afternoon, I was handed some copy work and another case. I barely looked at the pages I was copying as I fed them through the machine. But that other case? That couldn’t be helped. I tried to hold back tears as my stomach fell and my heart broke and I shook my head, ashamed to be human. I gathered up the completed file and crossed the building to where my new boss was located. Handing her the file, I asked if I could speak with her privately, to which she guided me into a secluded conference room. I tried to keep my wavering voice steady, tried to remind myself that I was a professional, tried to separate from the situation and become unfeeling, uncaring…Tried to become not me.
I couldn’t. I apologized profusely, explained that I was trying to be professional and that I was here to help them. But she nodded sympathetically and said she understood. She had been at her job for 31 years and cried every single day in the beginning. Even now, she said, she couldn’t do what those caseworkers did; not everyone can. And I nodded and said that I respected and admired every single person in that building because I couldn’t do it. Not even as a temp, not even for a relatively short amount of time.
I’ve never quit anything like this before; usually, I would have looked at it as a learning experience and stuck it out for what it could teach me, for as long as I possibly could. But this wasn’t a bad job, and it wasn’t what the work itself entailed. It was everything else behind the work. I just couldn’t do it. Every single part of me said that I wasn’t strong enough for this. Not this time.
She said that she was sad to see me go because she thought I would fit in perfectly and that I had been so personable that morning, but I could see sincere sympathy from her and I knew that she understood, possibly better than anyone. So I apologized again and we bid each other good luck and best wishes and I gathered my things and drove to the temp agency where I sat down with them, where they were, gratefully, just as understanding, if not a little surprised.
I could have handled anything else, I think, because I’ve learned and I’ve grown and I’ve experienced all of that before. I could have handled the tough boss, the catty co-workers, the challenging workloads…But I couldn’t handle this. And I’m still not entirely sure why.
Suffice it to say, I feel very weak right now. Very much like a failure, a disappointment. Though through it all, I also know that it was the right decision for me. Yes, I would have learned. Yes, I would have developed a thicker-skin. But with where I am now, with where I’ve been the past few weeks, I know, beyond reason, that it would have done more harm than good. Because I would have wanted to help. And I wouldn’t have been able to. And I would have taken it all to heart and I wouldn’t have been able to handle that.
I did learn from today, though. Possibly more in six hours than I could have ever realized, and maybe that’s the point. So much was placed into perspective for me, and I feel almost ashamed that this is what led to it.
I have no right to complain. I have no reason to cry. I have been blessed with a beautiful life and I should thank my lucky stars for everything that I have and be grateful every single moment for every single day for every single piece of it.
Because there are those who are hurting and not comforted. There are those who are alone and not loved. There are those who are vulnerable who can’t speak up for themselves.
These children are in circumstances where they are tested every single day, and they live every single day with a quiet strength at which I can only wonder and admire. And then there are the people who help them realize that strength, help them find that voice. And I can only watch them in awe and be grateful for who they are and what they do and wonder if I will ever have the strength to be able to do the same.