by Thaddeus Rutkowski
At my job, not a day goes by without a mistake of mine being discovered and held up as an example—a bad example.
“You have to go by the book,” I am told.
I do go by the book, I want to say, but I don’t say that, because I don’t want to disagree. I must behave obsequiously. “I’ll go by the book from now on,” I say. “I’ll follow it to the letter.”
But the next day, I’ll hear, “You didn’t go by the book. You neglected key elements of the book. You did the same thing you did yesterday and the day before. You can’t get it right, can you?”
I had it right all along, I want to say, but I don’t, because I know that contrariness is futile. So I say, “I’ll get it right this time, the next time, and every time.”
But the next day, I’ll hear, “You don’t understand what we are doing. You don’t see that what you’re doing doesn’t fit with what we are doing.”
“May I ask a question?” I ask.
No, you should not ask any questions. You should know the answers already. Asking questions takes time. When you ask, you hold everyone up.”
I begin to arrive at the office early, before anyone else, except for the person who is on European time. She is friendly, shows me how to make coffee.
I need as much time at my desk as I can get, so I can make things right.
I point out that I am putting in more hours on the job.
“You’re here physically,” I am told, and I know that means I am not there mentally.
I wonder why I was hired in the first place. The chief who hired me had said that everyone “loved” me. Things couldn’t get much better than that. But things have changed, because the person who hired me left for a new job. The people who remain see me differently. The chief’s departure has opened the way for the remaining, angry people.
I want to think of a song, a catchy song with suggestive lyrics. I want the song to take me away from the task at hand. I want it to take me to a bar, where I can nibble from a jar, in Jackson. There, a woman will blow my nose, then blow my mind. But the song will quickly be erased from my consciousness by the enumeration of my mistakes.
I sit farther down in my chair, then pull myself up, then slide down again, as I focus on my digital screen and try to think of all the things I haven’t thought of before—all the correct things—and try to forget everything that’s wrong. But my terrible sitting posture won’t help me. People will come by and won’t see me. They’ll think that I’m not working, that I’ve left the premises.
What about all the things I’ve done right? I want to ask, but I don’t, because saying so would bring disapproval—for asking a question.
My onetime friends, I’ve noticed, have become my enemies, or at least neutral observers. They (the observers) seem to know that what I’m doing is wrong, and they want no part of it. They direct their attention away from me, so as not to be caught on the side of wrongness.
All of this criticism, reproach and blame will lead to internal bleeding. Sooner or later, I will feel a dripping, and it will be blood, not some innocuous fluid, though it might come from my nose, or an ear. The flow will quicken, gain in volume. Such bleeding might have had a curative effect in olden days, when it was thought to remove toxins, when people were “bled” to make them feel better. But I don’t want to be bled now. I will end up bloodless and dry.
What should I do about this loss of blood, not to mention this loss of spirit and morale? Should I acquire an AK-47 and take my revenge? But just mentioning an AK-47 would be threatening violence in the workplace, wouldn’t it? I know about violence—I had to take an online course to learn how to avoid it. If someone was arguing with me, the idea would not be to gently nudge that person until he or she was at least three feet away. That would be violence.
And even if I had an automatic rifle, I’d be at a disadvantage. I’m in a tank battle, a battle with heavy artillery.
No, I’ll have to come up with a quieter, more personal plan, one that helps my loved ones and me get on, because that’s what we need to do: get on with our lives.
Get on and move on. Do something I enjoy doing. Simple as that.
Thaddeus Rutkowski is the author of the books Guess and Check, Violent Outbursts, Haywire, Tetched and Roughhouse. Haywire won the Members’ Choice Award, given by the Asian American Writers Workshop in New York. He teaches at Sarah Lawrence College, Medgar Evers College and the Writer’s Voice of the West Side YMCA in New York. He received a fiction writing fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts.