Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Relationships in Turmoil

"Dad, I think Tommy likes me."

I was putting the finishing touches on a proposal, one I had been working on for the past two weeks. Economic indicators reflect a high attrition rate in employee retention. A four-week training course for new-hires every six-week period would help offset loss. "Uh-huh", I said. I had two more hours before turning in my analysis and was just finishing the recommendation.

"We were swinging on the monkey-bars and I was crawling on the top while Tami was swinging and it was kind of windy but I was wearing my Love Pink long pants and Hello Kitty shirt that's black with the sequins and he came over and stood under me and started talking..."

"Uh-huh". Total company employees: 525. Does not include outsourced hiring or relocated employees. My fingers were beginning to cramp. I checked the USB bank to make sure the SmartDrive was in. Didn't want to do all that work and not be able to transfer to my work desktop.

"...then he took a stick and poked my bottom."

"WHAT??!" Tessa jumped back in surprise. I stood up from my chair and stared at her. "Annie, did you hear about this?! I called. I started counting about how many years Tessa had left until she became a teenager. Blurred images of greasy long-haired boys in ripped jeans and Pink Floyd shirts started crowding my mind. I began to wonder where my Louisville Slugger was stashed. Should start getting ready for the future.

"I already talked to the teacher." Annie yelled back. "That's how it's handled. We don't talk to the boy's parents directly." She paused. "And don't even think about where your baseball bat is."

"I wasn't even thinking about that! How old is Tommy?" I demanded from Tessa.

She looked up at me with a worried expression. "He's seven but he's turning eight in March, I think. I had my birthday first, then Christine, then Tommy. But he didn't invite me to his birthday last year."

I stood for a second collecting my thoughts. OK. So it was handled. "Darling, don't be afraid to tell people not to touch you that way. You have to take a stand regarding your own body. God wants you to protect yourself."

"I know. I told Tommy not to do that when we were talking with the teacher."

I sat back down and stared at the computer screen, trying to focus back on the project with images of slides and hopscotch squares running through my mind. I was barely able to save the PDF file to detachable drive before carpooling the children to school.


"Mr. Peoples, would you mind joining me in my office? Sandra Lyons and I would like to see you for a moment."

I straightened my tie and walked down the corridor to Mr. Sander's office. I had spent the morning reviewing the latest unemployment numbers from the East Coast. My meeting to go over the proposal was scheduled for 3:00 p.m. Entering the office, I saw Mr. Sander's sitting behind his desk, while Sandra Lyons sat to his right. I immediately began to feel uncomfortable. Her presence wasn't really appreciated. I took the chair in front of the desk.

"We've been reviewing your proposal, and wondered if you could confirm a piece of your assessment." I sat frozen in my seat. I was pretty sure everything was complete, but Mr. Sanders was a stickler for detail. Having Mrs. Lyons present didn't make things any better; she was known as "the iron heal". It was somewhat of a sexist comment. Managers would describe her criticisms as piercing and unmerciful. No project went forward without her audit, and very few of them passed the second time around.

"'Total company employees: 525. Does not include Hello Kitty shirts or relocated monkeys. The average wage for hopscotch showed an increase of $1.38 per hour compared with 2010.'"

I felt my face turned scarlet. The roof of my mouth began to itch. I had done the spell-check, but didn't have time for Annie to proof-read it. I guess 'monkeys' was spelled correctly. I remembered that there was an extra cardboard box thrown by the resource room, so I wouldn't have to search too long before packing up my desk.

"Mr. Peoples, this is not the exemplary work we've come to expect from you. In fact, there's been a decrease in your efficiency as of late. Your statistics don't match the reports we've been getting from Houston, and you've been coming in late."

I tried clearing my throat. "Um...I know things haven't been up to par, lately. Annie just got a new job, so I've been dropping the kids off at school. We've talked about how to manage our time together, and I've reserved some work time after the children have gone to bed..."

"Your numbers are sloppy. You're going to have to make some more sacrifices to meet the deadlines for the merger," Ms. Lyons interjected. "There are seven departments relying on your numbers and they can't put everything on hold just because you're doing carpool."

"We're just facing a small change at home. Annie and I talked and agreed that we needed to put our vacation on hold for a year until the East Coast and Southwest regions were converted..."

"I want a revised assessment on my desk in two hours. That's all for now."

I was almost to the car when I heard a voice call out behind me. "Mr. Peoples...hold up for a moment." I could hear Sandra Lyons' shoes clicking against the pavement. I'm fired I'm fired I'm fired I'm fired I'm fired I'm fired I'm fired I'm fired I'm fired I'm fired I'm fired I'm fired sped through my head. They wanted me away from everyone else and waited until I was out in the parking lot. Oh my gosh! What am I going to tell Annie?

Ms. Lyons came up to me and looked directly in my eyes. Her face was emotionless and quite pale. "I understand your church has a marriage group that meets regularly."

I was taken back. Wasn't expecting that to come out of her mouth. "Uh...yes. Our...uh...pastor and his wife lead the meetings. It's a year think couples are encouraged to rely on each other." I was sweating bullets. There didn't seem to be too many cars passing by.

"Your church teaches that a wife is required to "submit" to her husband, doesn't it? She has to do everything he says?"

I cleared my throat. How did it get so dry? "Well, there's a relationship that's talked about in the bible between the husband and wife that should mirror the relationship between church."

"So your church doesn't believe in equality? Is that right?"

I was wondering where this was going. I guess Ms. Lyons wanted a church more in line with society's thinking. Who was she was checking out our church for?

"Well, the bible actually states that the woman was taken from the man's side, so he is not above her...and..."

"So the bible contradicts itself."

My day didn't seem to be going well. First I blow it with my report, then I'm debating the bible with the leading feminist at work in the parking lot. "You know, the word "equal" is different in the bible than how a lot Americans would define it. Plus, one has to look at the context of the verses and see how they fit together as a whole. There's a bible study on..."

"My husband cheated on me."

I didn't expect that. Her face softened for a moment, and I saw her shift her weight back and forth.

There was a short moment of silence, then I managed to get out, "I'm very sorry about that." I meant it.

She pursed her lips. "I believe it started during one of his business trips. An associate in California met with him during dinner to discuss their notes, and they've been seeing each other whenever he travels out there. I think he knows that I know." She drew in a breath, and continued. "I have a few friends that are encouraging the divorce. But I still want to make it work in spite of what he's done. Even though it's in my right to separate from him. I know that's in the bible, too!"

I tried to get my thoughts straight. It was a lot to take in in so short a time. "That's true. And not being faithful certainly isn't what anyone would call 'love'. I don't know the full situation, but I'm glad you're willing to give it a try." I had to think of the best way to go forward. "I think that sometimes we try to fix disputes or conflicts in the way of least resistance, like divorce, or even trying whatever will make us feel better. But the way the bible describes love is, "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."

Ms. Lyons stood there taking it in. Her mouth turned into a crooked frown, and said, "No one is like that. That's a fairy tale for weddings and I've never seen love like that. Is that all your church has to offer?"

Did someone turn the sweat facet on me? I felt like the binders I was carrying were going to slip and fall at any moment. "I think we hope for love like that. And it is real. Jesus displayed that love with those he ran into. I think we have difficulty believing it exists because we don't see it that often. There are a lot of people who do "nice" things and good deeds. But only God can give us the strength and knowledge to love like the bible talks about. And if you and your husband want to work at your marriage, you'll have to rely on that strength to be patient with each other, and kind, and learn to keep no record of wrongs." I felt like I was stepping out a little further, but she had to know what she was getting into. "I've personally experienced that kind of love from Jesus, and so I know you can hope to experience it, too."

She tilted her head and thought about that for a minute. "OK. What's your pastor's number?" I gave her our church's card. She looked down at it and nodded to herself. "I guess we'll see you at church. This is all confidential, right?" I vigorously nodded my head. "Good. And Mr. Peoples...better step it up at work." She turned and headed back to the office building.

I looked down at the papers and binders in my arms. Perspiration clung to the corners. I took a deep breath before making my way to the car. For some reason, in spite of the turmoil of the day, monkeys bars and hopscotch started occupying my thoughts.

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