“Mrs. Blake,” the receptionist called, her lips so primly formed that the name almost came out “bleak.” It was exactly how she felt…bleak.
No matter how she apportioned it, $105 a month simply could not sustain her and the baby. The Navy said her husband should be allocating some part of his pay to her allotment check…maybe $35 a month or so…but they couldn’t make him do it. And since he was someplace between the California coast and the Asian, she couldn’t do much about it either.
And so she decided to get a job.
Jean, next door, had offered to babysit. Annie was a good baby…a little colicky at times, perhaps, but mostly a sweet natured cherub. Jean was home all day with her two toddlers and, being a Navy wife too, could use a little extra money. She had transportation and child care all worked out, now all she needed was a job.
The last time she had gone job hunting, it had been an unmitigated disaster. Oh, she had gotten the job all right, but Mother had put the kibosh on it, but quick. She had found a job as a live-in housekeeper and baby sitter for a widower with two preschool children. He knew she was pregnant, he knew she was seventeen and unmarried, and when she said she expected to keep her baby, he just shrugged. “What’s one more in the house?” he asked. “There’s plenty of stuff you can use out in the garage…a crib, clothes…lots of stuff.” She had pretty much been Mother’s housekeeper since she was seven or eight, and her three young siblings…uh, half-siblings…had given her a considerable amount of experience in dealing with young children. She was confident she could handle the job, it provided a roof over her head and a wage, and he had shown her a room with attached bath, private entrance and…very important…locks. He didn’t seem like a lecherous type who would be interested in more than having his home kept up and his children looked after…she had learned the hard way to recognize that predatory aura about a man…and he travelled a lot, so she would be home alone with the children a great deal. Seemed about perfect.
Mother, of course, took a decidedly different view. “You will not go move in with some strange man!” she declared hotly. “Isn’t it enough that you are pregnant and not married, but you have to go shack up with some guy you barely know?”
“It’s not like that, Mother!” she argued back. “It’s a job! I’ll have my own room with a private entrance and locks on the insides of the doors! I’ll get paid! It’s something I know how to do!”
“I will not have you advertising to the whole world what a little tramp you are! That man ought to be arrested, soliciting a seventeen-year-old girl! That’s white slavery! It’s statutory rape if he touches you!”
“He’s not going to touch me!” she shouted back. “I don’t know what you are so upset about! You don’t want me here…and I’ve found a perfect solution to the problem…”
“You are my problem,” Mother ground out through clenched teeth. “And you will remain my problem right up until the day you turn eighteen. And you will do exactly as you are told, not one iota more, not one iota less, do you hear me? And you will not…I repeat, you will not take this job or any other one, for that matter! When you start to show you are going to the Florence Crittenton home and that is the end of it!”
Well, it hadn’t been the end of it, but it had been the end of that job. But Mother was not part of the picture now, even though she and Frank just lived across town, and she was on her own. “You made your bed, now you lie in it,” Mother had said when she had dropped her and Annie off at the little cottage after picking them up from the hospital. “Don’t think you can come running to me when things get tough!”
She hadn’t. She’d gone job hunting. She was eighteen, a high school graduate…with excellent grades, mind you…and she was reasonably intelligent. There had to be something she could do to earn a decent living.
It took just over a week, but she finally found the perfect job. The telephone company was hiring information operators…entry level! She packed up a bag for Annie, dropped her off with Jean, hopped a bus for downtown, and presented herself at the personnel office, ready to start her training. She was a bit surprised to learn that she had to fill out a six page form and then come back tomorrow for testing, but that was OK…she always aced tests, so that actually worked in her favour. Unless, of course, there was a lot of math on it. But why would they want an information operator to do math? She turned in her forms and took the test appointment slip and headed back to her little converted garage cottage full of confidence.
It turned out not to be such a difficult test and, in fact, the last part was actually rather enjoyable. She had had to write an essay about a famous person, living or dead, and what she admired about that person. She had chosen John F. Kennedy, a man still very much in the hearts and minds of people, despite his shocking and untimely death. The test, actually, was much easier than the college entrance exams she had taken back in high school…was that really only a year ago?...and she wasn’t even sure why she had had to take it, since it didn’t seem to have anything to do with switchboards or looking up references or anything she imagined an information operator might be expected to do.
Those college exams…she shook her head, a flush of anger surging over her. She had qualified for a scholarship…she could have gone to college, instead of ending up sitting here in a dingy personnel lobby, waiting for the results of her test and the offer of a job. She knew she had done well on the exam…one of these jobs working for the phone company was surely in her future…a secure future working for a major corporation with benefits and retirement and everything! It was almost as good as going to college, she told herself, tamping down that surge of anger again…and much more immediate. Money by the end of next month instead of in three more years… If she didn’t get this job, she didn’t know what she was going to do…
“Mrs. Blake,” the receptionist called. She looked up expectantly.
“Mr. King will see you now.”
She stood and brushed the wrinkles out of her blue wool skirt and tugged down the hem of her jacket. Some of the clothes she had bought with Nana that summer were turning out useful even after high school she thought, moving purposefully, confidently, towards the interview room.
Mr. King gave no preamble. “Well, Mrs. Blake, yours is probably the highest score we have ever seen on this test.” She smiled a very tiny smile, just a slight quirking of the corners of her lips. “And the essay was also one of the very best we have ever read.”
Something was wrong here, she could feel it. Mr. King did not seem pleased at the prospect of having the highest scorer on their test sitting in front of him…in fact, he seemed downright uncomfortable. What was going on?
“You may not be aware, but the position of information operator is a rather repetitious job…not very challenging or interesting. Boring, one might say,” he paused, looking at her earnestly. She nodded for him to go on.
“We have found certain kinds of people do well in this occupation and…well, others do not.”
What was he trying to tell her? If she scored so high, what was the problem? Did she score poorly in the parts that were important to the ability to do the job?
“What I’m trying to say, Mrs. Blake, is that we don’t think you’d be happy as an information operator. Someone as bright as you are…you’d find it boring, uninteresting, and you probably wouldn’t be with the company long enough to justify our cost of training you.” He looked directly at her, blinking owlishly.
She could not believe her ears. “You mean you are turning me down for this position because I’m too smart to be an information operator?” she asked incredulously.
He nodded and gave her a rueful little smile. “In a nutshell, yes.”
“And I don’t get a chance to show you how well I can do this job?”
He shook his head and pushed back his chair, signalling the end of the interview.
“Mr. King,” she said softly. “Mr. King, I need this job! I have a baby and we just don’t have enough to get by…”
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Blake,” he said, his voice now professionally cool. “But I am sure than someone as intelligent and obviously able as you are will be able to find something suitable without much difficulty.” He showed her to the door and nodded to the receptionist to send in the next applicant.
She stood in the wind on the sidewalk outside the glass door. People hurried by her, rushing to their destinations, their own jobs, their own livelihoods. She just stood there, stunned, clutching her purse, unable to move. All her life she had been encouraged to excel. Even Mother, who was almost impossible to please in any venue, would call up her friends and brag when a straight A report card came home…not that Brother ever got one. Be smart, study hard, do well, get good grades, excel…it is the key to success, to getting ahead. Or so she had been told.
It was a lie. A bald-faced, blatant, unequivocal lie. She was too damned smart to be a damned telephone operator…they didn’t want the smart ones, the ones who did well in school, the ones who had good grades, personal discipline, and the ability to use their brains. They wanted to screw-ups, the girls who couldn’t get into the College Prep or Honours classes, and who made barely average grades in their average classes. Excellence didn’t count for shit!
She should have known…she should have had it figured out back in high school… She’d done well on the SATs, she had scored unusually high on the CEEB, and when she applied for a couple of scholarships, her guidance counsellor had offered the opinion that she should have little difficulty winning one or even both of them. She was smart and capable, her grades were good, and she was definitely college-ready. And what happened?
Everyone acknowledged that she had better grades, better scores, even a better record of extracurricular activities than the boys to whom the scholarships were given. Their financial need was not even as great as her own. It wasn't fair! she had cried, but, the counsellor said, despite their lacklustre grades and uninspiring school record, they were boys…they needed the college degree because they were going to grow up and marry and have families to support. She, on the other hand, did not need a degree because she would just grow up and marry someone who would support her and her children. Like now...
She should have figured it out then…that intelligence, excellence, and performance didn’t mean a thing. But she didn’t…she thought it was more of that crap she used to put up with Mother, always favouring Brother because he was a boy...like that actually meant something. But now she knew…she was female, she was smart, and she was doomed.
She turned herself towards the bus stop and began walking. She still had to find a job or she and Annie would starve. She wasn’t sure yet what she was going to do for work, but she knew now that it damned sure wasn’t going to involve her intellect.
It is difficult to deal with a narcissist when you are a grown, independent, fully functioning adult. The children of narcissists have an especially difficult burden, for they lack the knowledge, power, and resources to deal with their narcissistic parents without becoming their victims. Whether cast into the role of Scapegoat or Golden Child, the Narcissist's Child never truly receives that to which all children are entitled: a parent's unconditional love. Start by reading the 46 memories--it all began there.