This is about being seen, my job, and my family.

At 11pm on October 4th of this year I emailed my two weeks notice to my job.

I had been working tirelessly for 5 years for a specialty roasting company primarily conducting hiring and training, providing direct support to the managers below me, and indirect support to our 20+ employees. I made sure operations ran efficiently and I did whatever possible to make sure our employees felt cared for and listened to, and were able to perform their jobs effectively. I liked my job, sometimes loved it, and I knew that I was good at it.

My job started out pretty good. I felt respected and cared for, and I gained fulfillment from my work. I liked my coworkers, I loved my employees, and I felt like mostly my values aligned with the company’s values. But as time went on and the company grew, I found that the owners were making more and more business decisions I didn’t agree with. Business decisions that in my opinion seemed ill advised and a lot of the time lead to failure, many times putting in jeopardy the job security of our employees.

I started spending more and more of my time doing damage control and taking on extreme efforts to keep morale up amongst staff. I would put myself in the middle of a bad situation and do what I could to pacify all parties, mostly trying my best to stop the shit from rolling downhill, while still acting in support of the company’s best interest.

But after enough time of this it suddenly dawned on me that I was actually working for my alcoholic father, and as in so many other relationships, I found myself perpetuating family of origin patterns at work. I could no longer, in good conscience, work to move the company forward, and I found myself moving further and further away. It wasn’t good for me, and I knew it wasn’t good for my staff. So I decided to quit.

I wrote a very brief email notice and included no details as to why I was leaving. I simply stated that this was my notice, that I would be staying 2 weeks, or longer if we discussed another date, and that I was available to speak in person the coming week. I figured there would be a discussion. After all, I helped build their business for half a decade. I was fully ready, willing and able, in fact expected, that I would be asked to help tie up lose ends, possibly train my replacement, prepare the company and my staff for my departure, and leave on good standing. While I hadn’t been feeling great in my position as of late, (actually this job has caused me MAJOR anxiety and stress over the years, but I was in a lot of denial) up until this point I was just thinking “you know what? maybe this just isn’t the right work environment for me.” I didn’t have the highest opinions of my bosses, but that was actually a new occurrence. Like I said, for most of my time with the company I actually felt a mutual respect and understanding. I thought that all small businesses are crazy places to work, and that even though there were some negative aspects, mostly there were a lot of perks to my job. Get this, they had even thrown me a party to celebrate my five year anniversary this past May.

On October 5th at 8am, less than 24 hours after putting in my notice, I received an email from the owner of the company informing me that in fact this would be my last day and that I should return my keys and company credit card immediately- my final paycheck would be ready by noon. No “thank you for all your hard,” no “we would love some feedback on how to improve,” no “why are you leaving?” no “what are you currently working on?” no “could you train your replacement?” no, “we will be sad to see you go.” Absolutely nothing- just the ego-knee-jerk response of an extremely sad man whose business I had cared for. I wrote back – initially from my company email, but that had already been cancelled- and insisted that he might at least want to sit down with me briefly so that I could pass on projects that were up in the air. I never heard anything back.

I should note here that when my male counter part quit a few years ago he was allowed to complete a full month after putting in his notice.

I can’t fully explain exactly what this reaction was about, and I certainly will not take responsibility to speak on his behalf, but two things are clear to me. Firstly, this reaction was based in a deep and abiding misogyny (duh). AND secondly, more importantly to the point of this post, this reaction to me was clearly based on my boss straight up NOT SEEING ME. Not seeing my value, not seeing what I had brought to the table for 5 years on the job, and not seeing me as a human deserving of a proper farewell and a little bit of appreciation. This email was of course not the first time this was made clear to me, but it was the proverbial “final nail.” Furthermore, this was about not seeing that the work I did, which some might see as women’s work, as in the caring for the wellbeing of employees beyond their paychecks, as something of value and importance to the health of this, or any, company.

Raise your hand, fellow femmes and female identified people, if you often realize that someone you are speaking to, or even just standing right in front of, is so clearly NOT SEEING YOU? And how often is that person a cis dude? And how often is the work you do, especially work of care and education, dismissed and not thought of as imperative? Cool, me too.

*Side note- in the weeks that followed I scheduled various appointments to take advantage of my soon to be cancelled health insurance. While I was getting blood drawn the phlebotomist and I commiserated on how little respect we got in positions of management. I said to her, “girl, thats cause it’s women’s work!” and she said “don’t I know it,” and then she assured me she knew I would be ok because it was clear to her that I had a good and sassy head on my shoulders.*

So just like that, after five years of sweat and tears, but not much blood cause that would be against health code, it was over.

I sat in bed not sure of what to do next. I had a therapy session scheduled for that afternoon and I thought, meh, maybe I should cancel it? Take the day OFF? But then I thought, eh, I’ll just go. Clearly, I had big news to talk about.

So I went to therapy and there started talking about leaving my job and the revelation I had that I had been working for my father and taking on a similar role I did as a child within my family. Which lead me into talking about my father and the time we spent together this past summer. Sadly, one of the things he liked to connect with me on were all the faults he found with my brother. And on one occasion I brought up an argument I had had with my brother in which I felt he wasn’t respecting the boundaries I was clearly asking to have respected. So my father starts in with “well of course he doesn’t respect what you are saying, your brother doesn’t really see you, he never has,” and as I am sharing this with my therapist I realize “…which is actually a story he tells himself so as to not confront the fact that HE himself doesn’t really see me.”

And then I remembered. It came back to me- this horribly sad moment I shared with my father over a decade ago. Its really is a wonder, what comes up when you start digging.

I was 17 and sitting in the kitchen, alone with my inebriated father. It was late at night, a dinner conversation extended way past my step mother’s bedtime, having long left the table for bed. I was a captured audience, and so often these conversations started as truly interesting and engaging intellectual discussions. I wanted to be there, I felt smiled upon and excited, like my father viewed me as a worthy partner in discourse. I was chosen; what luck.

But the further down the whiskey bottle he went, the further out of my hands the conversation got. All of a sudden he was crying and talking about my deceased sister, Natalie. She was born 14 years before me, and after her death not only were my parents destroyed, they considered not having any more children. However, a few years later they had my brother and all was well. And about 7 years after that they had me. But the thing is, I was a girl.

There I was, at 17 still merely a child, the overhead light feeling bright on my eyes. I had rarely seen my father cry and I didn’t know how to react. I sat still and he said to me “when I look at you, I only see her. I cannot see you, as you are obscured by her image, the loss of my daughter.”

He was literally telling me, in his most vulnerable state, that he can’t. see. me.

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As I recount this in present day, I start crying, something I rarely do in therapy, and I feel a heaviness.

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I firmly believe that as we try our fucking hardest to move further into consciousness, at least within the groups of people that I surround myself with, we need to both take responsibility for our actions AND hold accountable those who abuse their power. This abuse of power could be conscious or not, ultimately it doesn’t matter. What matters is that in many relationships, especially within family and always within a work place, there is an imbalance of power. This imbalance isn’t necessarily anyone’s fault, but it is real nonetheless. And how you conduct yourself within a power structure that you benefit from has serious repercussions for those around you. You have a responsibility to treat your power and those in your life with care and skill.

As I come into personal understanding of how familial structures have informed my life, I have started to take responsibility for perpetuating that which doesn’t serve me. I have come to find that I align myself, quite a lot actually, with people that don’t see me and that don’t respect my boundaries. A perfect example is the relationship I had with the people I worked for at my most recent job. I have to do work to advocate for myself, I have had to learn, and fail, at this work many many times. But still, I insist on persevering. Because I very much believe in self work and personal evolution.

I have also done work at trying to understand that of course I am not always an innocent bystander in relationships that feel negative to me. I too perpetuate negativity and push emotional responsibility to others. The work I can do is to see that which is mine, and claim it. And then move from there.

In relationships that don’t feed and nurture you, sometimes there are various solutions you can come to. You can identify what you need, and ask for more. You can ask what your counterpart needs, and see if you can provide it. You can move on from things, and contextualize, and work to understand and have compassion. Relationships can be extremely worth very very hard work.

And sometimes, just sometimes, it is totally ok to move on from that which doesn’t serve or value you.

 

 

 

BBQ Man

This week my father starts chemotherapy to treat a tumor he has growing in the lymph nodes on the side of his neck. Last year when the season was changing he had moved himself from Vermont down to Chile to enjoy the southern summer months. This spring when it was starting to get cold he called me and told me he was planning on coming back up north to pass the summer months here. I suggested that he come stay with me for part of the summer.

He got to Portland mid July of this year. Due to a million circumstances, many of them consequences of his actions, he finds himself at 77 with no house, no partner, his personal belongings fitting into two suitcases and one shoulder bag, which he guards with his life. This shoulder bag contains both his passports, Chilean and American, and various other papers and forms which he refers to as his “documents.” “Mis documentos” he would say, when I was a kid, referring to whatever official paperwork was ascribed to various things in his life- his car, his house, his citizenship. Currently his Documents only pertain to his earthly form, paperwork that allows him to cross borders, and a few others that prove he belongs in this country and has the right to healthcare.

Within his first 5 days here I took him to the doctor to get some prescriptions filled. While we were there the very kind and patient doctor asked my father if he was aware of a swelling on the side of his neck.

Over the course of the next two months I dedicated myself, with so much invaluable help from my amazing partner, to get my father to doctors appointments, undergo testing, and figure out his diagnosis. It was challenging to find myself in the unexpected position of sole care provider, it was hard to act as translator, explaining to him as best I could in Spanish the medical jargon that doctors spouted at us in English, and it was hard to rearrange my expectations of his visit; this was to be a vacation, not a medical incident. Hardest of all, however, was confronting the reality of our relationship. To date, this is the longest consecutive amount of time I have ever spent with my father, and things surfaced that I didn’t expect.

An important theme in the personal work I have been doing lately is to understand how to assert my boundaries and to see, with as much clarity as possible, how I have allowed myself to sustain relationships with people who disregard and ignore my boundaries. Understanding the responsibility I have to make my needs clear, but also the fact that I can ask directly for respect, and then to take a step back and away in the event that I realize I am not receiving the respect I know I deserve. The respect I work very hard for.

My father is a recovering alcoholic. He drank heavily for most of his life, stopping only three years ago. As a result of this life long addiction he never developed coping mechanisms. Like all of us, he feels sadness, anxiety, and fear. But what comes out is anger, rage, and a notoriously short temper. For most of my life this short temper has been directed at his spouse and my brother. While he was living in Portland, it was directed squarely at me.

At the doctor’s office right after receiving his final diagnosis- stage 2 non-hodgkin’s lymphoma- my father started yelling at me in the hallway in front of nurses and patients. My transgression? Asking the doctor if I could have a moment alone with him so I could better grasp the scope of treatment and what I could expect as my father’s caregiver. Asking for a moment of personal space to address my fears and needs, without needing to translate or explain myself.

I understand that my father is deeply scared, deeply sad, and feeling vulnerable. I can see that his anger and poor behavior come from a place of fear. But how much responsibility do I have to be his emotional punching bag? To be berated and yelled at in public? Should I subject myself to poor treatment just because I understand that when he is insulting me, he doesn’t “really” mean it? How many times do I excuse his bad behavior?

There is a chance he could die from this cancer. And if not from the cancer, then from some other impending health issue, sooner rather than later. He is in an advanced stage of his life, in poor health, and he himself speaks of his imminent death. I suppose it could be seen as crass to write publicly (to the 10 people that might read this?) about the challenges I have with my father during his time of sickness. But the truth of the matter is that relationships don’t stop being complicated and challenging the minute death seems closer. I know that I need to move to a place of acceptance and peace regarding mine and my father’s relationship. But in order to get there, to find respect and understanding for my father, I also need to find respect and understanding for myself. I need to know my boundaries, the limits of what is ok and what is not ok for me to accept, I need to know when to stop giving and when to step away from that which hurts me.

Last fall at the urging of various important people in my life I took a memoir writing class. I was the youngest person in the class by at least 15 years. We were asked to write a piece using the prompt “and nothing was ever the same again” as the last line. This last line could be included or implied.

I feel a sense of guilt sharing this piece. I have always wanted to make this piece public, share it with more of my community. In my opinion it’s one of the best things I have ever written, and for me it illustrates a part of mine and my father’s relationship that I need to process. Stronger than the feeling of guilt is the understanding that sharing my experience is always valuable, and that there is never a “right time” to do self work and to dig deeper. It is on going and usually not convenient.

It is important for me to start working on processing my relationship with my father- I am feeling called to do this work now, and I can’t ignore that calling. I dont want to wait until after he dies, and I dont want to just sit with it in silence.

There is, of course, so much more I could say. And in time I will write more about it here. I want it to be clear that many of the times this summer when my father would treat me in a way that I didn’t think was right, I would speak up. It lead to a lot of screaming matches. I also think it lead to a deeper understanding between him and myself. After all is said and done, we are actually extremely similar beasts. Along with going through pain and grief with him this summer, we also grew closer, seeing each other more clearly. We went to the beach together, he met my friends, I got him a pair of hip Adidas sneakers which he wore everyday for 6 weeks straight. He spent time getting close with Lola, eating ice cream every day (sometimes multiple times a day), and exploring Portland. He would wake up every morning and walk to the New Seasons Market by my house and buy himself the New York Times; he became a favored regular. We discussed a lot of interesting things, I spoke to him about unpaid femme labor, we talked about death and pain. I spoke more Spanish than I have in years and we gave Lola impromptu Spanish lessons around the breakfast table.

And so, here is the piece I wrote for class.

“My father loves to barbecue. When we were kids him and our step mother relocated from Spanish Harlem to boring-ass suburban New Jersey. My father was a professor at the time and they moved into on-campus housing. We were the only latino family in a Korean dominated apartment building, which faced a college quad. On one end were a few neglected picnic tables, splintering to the touch. And next to those those tables, some unloved public barbecues cemented into the ground.

Based on court ordered custody agreements my brother and I would head out to NJ every other weekend. If it was just over 60 degrees, we knew what was for dinner. The gang of Korean kids who oversaw the quad had a nickname for my Chilean father- Barbecue Man- and would chant when they saw him coming “bar-be-cue-man, bar-be-cue-man, bar-be-cue-man.”

Six years later BBQ man had worked his way out of bankruptcy and had bought a house in another shit suburb of New Jersey, right off the rotten egg stink of the New Jersey Turnpike. One summer night my father had the barbecue fired up. We were eating steak and sliced tomatoes with white onions, mixed with oil and salt and my favorite thing was to sop up the tomato juice with a slice of cheap white bread. White bread, devoid of all nutrients, always a treat at my father’s house, never allowed at my mother’s house; it’s mono-dimensional sweetness mixing with salt and fat to light up all the flavor centers of my tongue.

My father’s nightly enthusiasm for whisky and diet-caffeine-free coke far surpassed my enthusiasm for the white bread. My father lit cigarettes and took sips, removing himself further from our world, and soon he would be in his own dampened universe.

I wish I could remember how this happened, but for some reason the conversation turns to the topic of my tragically alienating experience of teenage pregnancy and corrective abortion. It has been 2 years since that day which feels so vivid and so distant all at once. It’s the smell of the shampoo that I stopped using- its scent too strongly linked to memory, it’s the feeling of a car moving me to a destination, my father and mother in the front and in control. And it’s the deafening silence from my step mother.  Its 365 days and another 365 days during which she doesn’t ask me if I hurt, hear me speak of the experience, help me feel less alone.

I feel the warm tears that I’ve held back start streaming down my face, sitting there before the dinner table, my family bearing witness to brushed off pain. To grin-and-bear-it pain, to sit-in-silence-with-it pain, to present-false-bravery-and-strength pain. To this-isn’t-such-a-big-deal pain. I ask my step mother- “where were you? Why weren’t you there for me?” She responds, crying. Some truth comes out; a missing piece.

“I wanted to be there for you, but your father forbade me from contacting you. He didn’t even let me speak to you; when I called that day he refused to put you on the phone. I wanted to tell you that I love you and that I support you. That I am here for you. But he wouldn’t allow it.”

I am appalled. I am shocked. I am taken aback. I turn to look at barbecue man- speak to this you drunk fuck, I scream in my head. But I know he is too far gone to take responsibility, nodding and mumbling, no one home to pick up the call.

I feel so betrayed, having been allowed to think that the woman sitting across from me had turned her back when I needed her most. The two of us, pawns in a game to keep my father in power and dominance over his children, time and distance an unanswerable equation of deep depression and a continued excuse for addiction.

His weakness comes into grotesque and sharp focus. I am 17 years old, the coals die out, the heat presses in, and I see that my father is a fallible creature.”

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Tattoos

The other day my father and I dropped Lola off at a tattoo appointment. As we drove away he asked me what I knew he was thinking- “Why on earth do you all get tattoos?! I literally CANT understand it!”

My father is kind of Old School. He was born in the 1940s in Chile, spent basically his whole life working in the world of academia as a Spanish Literature professor, and spends his time reading and thinking about language. Things that make sense to him: the opera, The New York Times, the critique of literature, deep thinking, intellectual conversations, and ham sandwiches. Things that don’t make sense to him: pets, unpaid internships, bad grades, his smart phone, vegetables, and mine and my brother’s tattoos. Well, presumably everyone’s tattoos, but more specifically, the tattoos on people he knows. I remember once when I was in my late teens arguing with him and my stepmother about my tattoos, and telling them that whether they like it or not, they are going to have to start accepting these tattoos on my body cause they aren’t going anywhere, and their response: No, we never have to accept the tattoos on your body.

I knew I wanted to be tattooed starting at a pretty young age. I have always been aesthetically inclined, I studied art in high school and college, and my attraction to subcultures has always been strong. My favorite CD to listen to on repeat when I was in 5th grade was Nirvana unplugged, I considered myself a “punk” and a riotgrrl in middle school when I discovered Bikini Kill, I came out as bisexual (ooh la la) at 13, and I wore slips as dresses to school, much to the chagrin of school officials. The groups of people I idolized- homosexuals, musicians, artists- well, a lot of them had tattoos.

I got my first tattoo when I turned 18. Its a poem about the ocean by Chilean poet (and family idol) Pablo Neruda. I got tattooed at MacDougal Street Tattoo, in the Village in NYC, by some super apathetic dude, and while he tattooed the back of my thigh (right under my right butt cheek) I read White Noise by Don DeLillo. I used to be way cooler. I put A+D lotion on as aftercare, and paraded around the halls of my high school feeling very very superior.

At age 19 I got my second tattoo- I picked a super ambitious image (an antique print of a bird I found in some ornithology book at the Smith College art library) and a super ambitious location- right below my collar bone, with the tail feathers wrapping around the side of my left breast. Thats right- I got my boob tattooed at the second go around. This tattoo was done in Boulder Colorado while I was visiting my brother over Spring Break, took hours, and hurt like HELL. That was my first year at Smith College and I was feeling super gay, super liberated, and super entitled to take my shirt off and not give two damns about this tattoo guy seeing my boobs. Apparently everyone else was scandalized- but I was like, tough shit- tattoo my boob please.

My collection of tattoos has continued to grow over the past 13 years. I’ve got a pig, a bear, a key, a lantern, an apple for NYC, a rabbit eating a carrot, a tattoo that says Lez, some roses, a skull, TCB, a snoop dog lyric, 2 pairs of scissors, an umbrella for Portland, a ton of friendship tattoos, a literal “bro-tat” with my brother, some tattoos I regret, some I’ve covered up, some I have  with ex partners, some with ex friends, some with current friends who are also ex partners.

All of them have hurt a lot, some of them more, depending on the location. I don’t have a favorite one, but I do like some more than others. I have two appointments coming up, and in order to support this habit, I recently started working the counter at a tattoo shop by my house. I have been tattooed by some super sweet and incredibly talented artists. I have also been tattooed by some mega douche bags, and a lot of those tattoos I have covered up, or have plans to cover up.

So really though, what is it that I like so much about tattoos? For real, they are expensive. And FOR REAL- I repeat- they HURT. Every time I sit down for one, I think to myself, what on earth is wrong with me? Why am I subjecting myself to this? But deep down inside I know that I am going to keep getting more tattoos, and sure enough as soon as that particular tattoo appointment is done, I am ready for the next.

How do I explain this to my father, who has, over the years, stopped asking me if they are permanent, and has started ignoring my growing collection, but nevertheless, still asked me the question just the other day- why do you get tattooed?

I was recently working behind the bar at my other job, chatting with one of the baristas about our future tattoo plans. She has some beautiful work on her left arm and has been completing a sleeve over the last few months. We were commiserating about how different spots on her arm hurt more, and how the older we have gotten the more tattoos have started to hurt, and so we got onto the question of why we do this.

So I said to her what I think to be the biggest truth for me, one that I have learned over the years: every time I get a tattoo, especially one that captures the image I have in my mind, that fits in the right place on my body, it feels like some part of my self image is falling into place. It feels like I am further claiming that one particular part of my body as mine, and only mine, with which to do as I please, and of which I don’t owe anyone a single explanation.

I started there, at that, with my answer to my father. And I continued: This act, of claiming, is not just important as a female bodied and identified person, its also important as a queer person. Since forever the “female” body hasn’t been regarded as ours, but rather as public property for public scrutiny and ridicule. And same goes for the bodies of queers, those of us outside the “norm,”- truly, how beautiful it is, and how terrifying as well, to forge our own path. Our own “norms” and our own standards of “beauty,” of relationships and family, of life goals.

Getting tattooed is also to fall inline and become part of a historical tradition of body art and modification, one that has been expressed by various indigenous cultures the world over. Getting tattooed can be rooted in religious practice, it can be rooted in the practice of queerness, in the practice of rebellion, and for me, in the practice of self awareness and in the harnessing of personal power.

For me, its also a completely ridiculous exercise in the even more ridiculous idea of “permanence.” Invariably I get people saying to me “I love tattoos, but I could never get anything tattooed because I change my mind all the time and I couldn’t possibly decide on anything I want to look at forever.” Want to know something though? Guess what isn’t forever- this body. And by extension, anything you do to it in this world, in this lifetime, is in no way permanent, and every time I agree to have someone ink my skin, I giggle to myself about the actual impermanence of it all. The moment is fleeting, the pain is fleeting, and in the end, this body, with all its art and flaws, will fall away to impermanence.

You know what else is true? The more tattoos you get, the less precious they become. When I first started getting tattooed, uff, I would think about a tattoo idea for months before I committed! I would draw and redraw, I would ask friend’s opinions, I would draw it on myself. It has felt really good to let go of some of that over time, to instead feel lighter about the experience, and instead of focusing on the permanence, focusing on the fleeting whim of a moment that feels good and memorializing on my body. I am not scared, I do not feel fear of cursing a relationship or friendship, I do not fear regret- this relationship to my body and literally what I do it, is so incredibly freeing.

And lastly- I get tattooed for the art of it, simply because I think tattoos are beautiful, and interesting and as trite as this might sound, fucking cool. Which is a totally legitimate reason, in my humble opinion, to get some permanent art on your body.

I am not sure if this explanation made sense to my father. But it was a great reminder to myself that there are so many ways to relate to our bodies as fully our own, and tattooing is one of my favorite methods. Mystery solved!

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