With the last of the bitch sprinkles trickling onto the pavement, just shy of the compound’s barbed-wire exit fence, I twirl around to take in the rainbow trail that turns the building’s corner and stops at my Harley-Davidson boots.
The sun glances off the top of a neighboring, equally sad building, and I squint slightly, letting a wry smile inch across my face.
Then turn, and sashay away. Leaving behind a noxious emotional stew that’s been simmering for nearly three years, and letting the troglodytic characters who deserve nothing more marinate in it for the rest of their unprofessional days in this insanitarium.
The whole process has been a long time coming–the downward spiral documented time after time ad nauseum.
And then, five minutes after my boots lift from the pavement into my car, it’s a memory blurring into a background bespeckled with glitter.
Because this queen has to make an exit somehow. And leave little reminders to drive the trolls further into their madness.
See, my leave from my working life on a military installation isn’t just that.
It’s the final nail in my archaeology career’s coffin. Which is exactly what I told my supervisor. (Y’all remember Precious, right?)
Precious: “So, uh, can I, uh, do anything for you professionally?”
Me: “Well, Precious. When Starbucks calls and asks, just tell them that, yes, I can make a decent cup of coffee.”
*Precious laughs nervously*
Precious: “Oh, er…uh. So you’re not going to do anything more with, uh…what’d you get your degree in?”
Me: “My degrees are in Anthropology, Archaeology specifically. And no, I’m done with the whole shebang. Wiping my slate clean, starting from the ground up.”
Precious: “So you’re really done?”
Me: “Well, Precious. Ironically, graduate school zapped what interest in it that I had, and this place took the rest of it.”
Me: *Picks up my last venti soy no-whip mocha from base, and sips loudly*
(Did y’all really think kitty was going to retract her claws on the last day? Oh, hunties.)
Precious gives a few of his signature fake, nervous laughs and asks if I can take about five or ten minutes later in the day to speak with him privately.
But later in the day comes about 45 minutes after our riveting conversation.
I waltz in, letting my shit-kickers thud across his office floor as I shut the door behind me.
Precious: *Leans back in chair* “So I know we’ve talked before about plenty of stuff going on over there. But I just, uh, wanted to know what you think I could do…and I can’t fire the federal folks…to help support the others over there.”
Me: *Puts diva hand up* “Let’s back up for a minute to the whole ‘Can’t fire federal employees’ bit.” (I love not giving a shit.)
*Precious shifts nervously*
Me: “Now, you know my history over there. So I’m not going to beat that horse deader than it is already. But here’s the thing, and I’ll, um, analogize it to some sort of medical procedure. What you have over there is a malignancy…and you have to do whatever you can to mitigate it toxifying the rest of the body. You know who I’m talking about.”
Me: “But there’re some components of that body that’re already at gangrene stage, and it’s best to just lop’em off. [This is when I realize the extent to which our recent evening viewings of The Tudors are creeping into my conversation]”
Precious: “Well, uh, what can I do with what I have?”
Me: *Gives up on the medical analogy* “You can be transparent in your actions. I know no one likes a public smack-down, but I think if you went over there, gathered them up, and turned to McNutterpants and said, ‘You are not any of their bosses,’ it’d be appreciated and actually start to have an impact. You just have to be direct in what you task to particular people, and you have to bypass her at all costs.”
Precious: “But I can’t figure out how to do that. I don’t know how the information flow works over there.”
Me, in my mind: *Leaps across desk Mean Girls style*
Me, in reality: “Then you have to start learning.” (Baby’s first training wheels!)
Precious: “But there’s only so much I can do with what I have. Like, it’s just so hard to be able to put my finger on something and say, hey, you need to cut this out. It’s all intangible.”
Me: “Precious, I know we’ve discussed this whole tangible-intangible bit. But the fact that five staffers, six including me, have walked out the door and cited McNutterpants as a principal reason for our departure is tangible enough for me.”
Precious: “Well, wow, yeah. When you put it like that. That’s true.”
Precious: “Well, I really appreciate your time. I’ve always appreciated your advice and input. It’s really sound.”
I nod, get up, and thud my way out the door on my way over to the Pit of Hell for a final meeting.
But then, Precious calls from behind.
“Oh, Matt. Could you, uh, wait ten minutes after I leave for the meeting over there before coming over yourself? I don’t want them to suspect anything.”
After all, I have something more fabulous planned for later in the day.
It should come as no surprise that, after making my leave a reality, I’ve daydreamed about the ways I could torture McNutterpants one last time.
Remind her that, while I may be gone, I’ll always be floating around, driving her even more insane.
And then it hit me: glitter.
So much glitter that it’ll never come out of generic office carpeting. It’ll always be there, sparkling away.
And then I thought of how exactly to best deliver said glitter bombs.
So, after consultation with co-conspira…, er, friends who shall remain nameless, a costume was born.
With a tiara, fairy wings and wand, short red silk shorts I bought for a party several years ago (don’t ask), my “Have A Gay Day” shirt, and my Harley Davidson shit-kicker boots.
So, with this mental image in my mind, I watch Precious skulk over to Hades, and remind myself that I’ll be spreading bits of cheer over there soon enough.
But as the day wears on, and I discover McNutterpants hasn’t yet defaulted to her usual 8 to 4 “ten-hour” shift, I begin to suspect the beast senses something’s amiss.
And as friends go home, and we exchange goodbyes, I realize this might not happen. McNutterpants may just foil my plot.
So, I resign myself to this annoying fact, and begin making preparations to leave, including a final epistle to Precious and his supervisor, Sir Drinks-A-Lot.
Dear Precious and Sir Drinks-A-Lot:
I hope this note finds you both well.
Given that I did not have the opportunity to participate in an exit interview, I wanted to provide my feedback to you both, if for nothing else than record’s sake.
As you both know from intra-office email exchanges and general discussion, my time with the Pit of Hell (POH) has been, for lack of better terminology, a mixed bag. While I have padded my resume with skills I had not anticipated gaining from my role, I also experienced some less than educational experiences that, nonetheless, taught me a few things about working–or participating–in a military context. Now, this is not going to be an email chocked-full of disparaging commentary; rather, it is my honest, uncensored assessment of the POH and its management. If nothing else, I hope that this will provide some context for understanding my experience and the actions I have taken in the past to preserve my professional character.
Before I begin, I would like to sincerely extend my thanks to you both for the interest and concern you have expressed directly or indirectly for my personal and professional well-being. If I have not been diligent about expressing that sentiment, I hope that you both know that I do appreciate the strides you have both taken.
At the onset of my nearly three year experience at the POH, I quickly gained insight into the program–its inner-workings, and all of the characters involved with it. And without any skewed or biased interpretations from anyone, I gleaned from staffers’ interactions with one another the ways in which the program’s operational efficacy was being undermined. Whether by mismanagement or overbearing personalities’ decisions bleeding into professional matters, the program suffered; and, by extension, POH and the installation suffered: projects were unnecessarily delayed, monies allocated for mitigations or other projects were redirected, etc. Moreover, certain staffers took it upon themselves to act as directors, program managers, and police–inserting themselves into professional matters specific to POH staff members.
Now, I like to think of myself as a mature adult, despite the fact that I have been the youngest of all of the POH staff with whom I have worked. And yet, oftentimes, I am the one who has repeatedly taken the higher ground–bitten my lip, sucked it up–to push a project through to completion, or avoid unnecessary drama. Drama has no place in my professional life; each of our personal lives is full of it. But when I have found myself constantly being the adult, and federal employees left unchecked and their actions enabled by managerial inaction, I can only maintain my resolve so long. As evidenced by the emails I sent out a few weeks back between McNutterpants, myself, and Precious, I can no longer stand the ridiculous, petty, and hurtful actions taken against me–even if they are putatively “intangible.” Certain events have transpired in the POH that are very much tangible, such as: (1) McNutterpants pulling my shirt and looking down my chest at my sternum tattoo during my first year (Did I keep quiet? Yes. Should I have? No.); (2) Despicable Gnome coming into the CRMP and talking about sociopolitical matters that directly affected me and —, and becoming belligerent to such a degree that I asked — to leave the building with me (I cried afterward. And emailed Precious. Did I hear anything about it? No. Should I have? Yes.) Now, could I have let the past emails go, let their sting subside? Sure. Have I done that time after time over the past three years? Repeatedly. Can I take it any longer? No.
Regardless of the one-on-one office time each of us–be it me, McNutterpants, etc.–spends in your office(s), it sometimes takes more. And while it is clearly more comfortable to deal with confrontation or disengagement head-on, direct action is sometimes the most appreciated, even if it is not articulated by those in the background. For me–and other former POH staffers–it was appreciated to have our concerns heard. But when there is no perceived improvement in the work environment, and the tension is still very much palpable, it feels like placation rather than resolution. For instance, I should not have had to move offices because of the tense work environment. The fact that, in the past year and a half, five other POH staffers have left with similar rationales as mine speaks to a larger problem than personality clashes.
And yes, it is easier to let incredibly competent people like me leave instead of initiating the termination process for a federal employee. But I refuse to believe that it is as impossible to terminate a federal employee as has been conveyed to me. My partner is a Human Resources Generalist for a nationally known corporation; he has to terminate people all of the time, in multiple countries, and has to initiate countless processes and follow innumerable protocols. But he gets the job done, because he knows that, if left untreated, a sore will infect the rest of the body and nothing will ever heal or be productive.
There will be no change in the POH if direct, transparent action is not taken immediately. And it will only be a matter of time before the POH fails in its duties, opening the installation to legal action in the form of ARPA, NAGPRA, or NHPA violations. This is not a dramatic, overwrought interpretation; it is fact. When unqualified individuals wave degrees in lieu of actual experience, it is only a matter of time before their incompetence is made painfully clear. In fact, the installation’s POH is the butt of many jokes on a statewide and regional level, mostly because of the long-time staffers who have driven it into the ground.
I do not presume to think that my opinion means anything to either of you, and I do not assume that anything I have written here will resonate and actually inform or effect change. But if I did not provide an honest assessment, I would have felt as though I personally failed those CRMPers whose voices are drowned out by the rabble of a few, whose heads are kept down by choice because they feel that standing up for themselves will elicit the same bullying, reactive behavior that —, —, —, —, —, and I experienced.
Even though I will soon be unemployed, I can finally hold my head up high. Because I would rather stand with those who have stood up for themselves, despite the repercussions, than remain timid and bullied.
And as I sign and fold the note, placing it in an envelope with my access cards, I start to feel the weight being lifted. Still, there’s glitter to tend to.
After begrudgingly confirming the fact that McNutterpants still lingers in her office, I return the wings and tiara and wand, and load my bag down with glitter bombs and bitch sprinkles. If nothing else, I figure I can go out with some sparkly pizzaz. So I walk over, say my goodbyes to the few people I can still stand, and then determine the monster’s location. Hearing her high-pitched Disney voice breaking the eardrums of some poor bastard, I uncap a few vials of glitter and dance down to my old office, coat it, then sprinkle the main hallway full. Then I stop into the former McNutterpants office, dump a bit in there, then skip into the exhibition space and generously apply a little sparkle, emptying the vial on the welcome mat, and outside the door. The heavy door swings closed with its signature Tales from the Crypt squeak, and I pull out my container of bitch sprinkles, open the cap, and walk away.
Soon after turning out of the compound, I notice a familiar vehicle coming up behind me. Cue the Wicked Witch of the West’s entrance music. And there she is: McNutterpants, following me off post. But it just so happens I have another glitter bomb at the ready. So, as we turn onto the road away from the installation, I speed up, tip the vial out the window, and watch the glitter blow out behind me. And while I don’t know if the glitter actually makes it to her car, I like to think that it does. And that that’s why, a few seconds later, she turns off into a gas station.
With her car disappearing into the background, McNutterpants starts to fade from my immediate thoughts. And I delight in the bits of glitter flitting around inside my car like a fabulous tornado. So I relish the cool wind whipping my hair, the glitter funneling about, and Meredith Brooks belting out “Bitch” above it all.
And I raise a glittery middle finger, saying a fabulous farewell to it all.