They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but I do not agree.
Ever since I got bit by the genealogy bug, I’ve poured over public records, letters, and family photos. Sometimes I run across a photo of me from a younger time. This particular photo was taken for my job as an assistant manager for a fast-food chain (yes, this health nut once worked for the Dark Side).
What do you see what you look at this photo?
In spring of 1979 I left my job as an engineering assistant. In one of my more infamous and embarrassing bridge-burning episodes, I told my boss to shove his job up his ass. It gave me a certain immortality at the company, as I’d said what many others wanted to, but wasn’t helpful for my career trajectory.
The fast-food industry didn’t seem to mind, though, and I enrolled in a management training program. Afterward I moved to a small town where I knew no one. My weekend schedule looked like this: close Friday evening, work all day Saturday, and open for breakfast on Sunday. Not a great gig for a young single woman.
On my nights off, I sat in bars and chatted with other patrons, many of them hard-core alcoholics who, like me, had nothing better to do but nurse our beers. One night I remembered a good-looking bartender I’d met while out with another guy, and I decided to go into his bar.
He intrigued me, with his prematurely gray hair, dark beard, and piercing brown eyes. Better yet, he didn’t charge me for my drinks. Fast food management doesn’t exactly pay the big bucks, so free drinks were a big plus.
He was older than I, more worldly, and he spoke of mysteries as though they were commonplace. He introduced me to Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf. He treated me tenderly…at first.
Then he started threatening to hold me hostage if I tried to get away. He threatened to kill a friend of mine simply for being gay. He ran hot and cold, sometimes treating me like a queen, and other times ignoring me and flirting with other women. He started his day with a couple of beers. He and his friends toyed with black magic.
I didn’t like myself much in those days. When he told me I was horrible, I believed him.
One morning I woke and couldn’t take it anymore. I packed a bag. I closed out my account at the bank. I left town. I didn’t know where I was going, but I no longer felt safe. I even slept with a Bible under my pillow.
I ended up in South Carolina, hiding out with a friend until the money ran out, and then my parents came and drove me back to Illinois, where I stayed with them for a few months. That’s where this photo was taken as I transferred to a store in Peoria.
I’d like to say it got better after that, but it got worse for several years before it got better. I won’t go into it in this post. You get the idea.
I’ve never written this story before. Even now, I am giving a glossed-over version of what happened, because it’s too much for me to bear to expose. Why? Shame, I suppose. Even now, I think I should have known better. I don’t want to admit how lonely and afraid I was, and how I had no one to tell the truth to.
I’m not that scared young woman anymore. When I look at her now, I see how hopeful she is, even though her life is nothing but shards of broken glass and pain. I’m glad she hung in there, because over time she learned to like herself more and to walk away from damaging relationships. It took a long time to get better, but with time, therapy, and a life committed to personal growth, it did.
Maybe sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words, but this time, the photo tells you nothing.