In an unusual twist, Amethyst prepared this evening’s meal. Naturally I thanked her for it, a few times. We’re that way; we are polite to one another and express our gratitude, always. And not just because our mothers forced us to learn the words — we really do appreciate each other and feel compelled to express it at every opportunity. Just as we were finishing up, she turned to me and said, “Thank you”. It’s a normal enough thing, as when I cook (which is most of the time) she thanks me one last time at the end of the meal. But tonight she cooked. So I asked her, “For what?”.
“For being the only one who has ever treated me right”.
Our screwy brains are like that. The subconscious has to process things in its own time, and sometimes in the presence of new information it has to go back and re-collate old data, which of course means hauling it out and looking it over. Overload the thing and it won’t process new information until it finds the time to get around to it — thus, patterned responses, pleasurable self destruction, PTSD, bad dreams rooted in experiences of long ago, and all of that shit. The subconscious does not trust the conscious mind to keep the organism safe, and like the judge who hears the case when you’re wrongly accused it demands a mountain of perfectly consistent data before it’ll even think of switching off the hang ’em high switch. After our ugly stint in Hillbilly Hell, then with her mother, followed by dealing with a false friend and the killer clique in her job at the hospital, Amethyst’s subconscious was overloaded and she’s been overloading it since with misperceptions about stray unpleasant looks, careless words, and so on in her new job. No one could blame her for that, as wounded as her wonderful, warm heart has been.
Amethyst had her annual employee performance evaluation at her “new” gig last Wednesday, and it was excellent. She got one very minor ding, and other than that it was a real rave of a review that came with a nice raise in pay. They just love her there because she’s ultra-reliable, conscientious, intelligent, eager to lend a hand and take on new responsibilities, warm and friendly, quick to smile… All of that Amethyst stuff. So that review took the excuse for misperceptions away and gave her subconscious the round tuit. And it gave us a topic of conversation for after dinner, too.
Y’know, it really sucks being a human resource, or a semi-human resource. That’s one of the reasons I wish companies would ditch the term and go back to the world personnel. Personnel starts with the word person, and sounds kinda like personal. It feels warmer. Human Resources sounds to me like employees are viewed as being on par with feedlot cattle or petroleum, things that exist solely to be exploited for profit. And being viewed as semi-human resources is something Amethyst and I have always had in common. Our purpose was to give of ourselves to enrich the lives of others, and our value was determined by what we could give or do for others. It started in childhood and has been that way ever since, except within our relationship. We’ve been semi-human resources our whole lives to everyone except each other. Family, spouses, children, friends (if I might use the term so loosely as most do), neighbors, employers… As my mother has so often said, “If you can’t do [something] for me then what good are ya?”.
It’s not so unusual a thing, really, being a semi-human resource. We 21st century Norte Americanos are generally a lot more selfish than we’d like to admit to being. That’s why every third article attempting to explain to us how to be happy stresses the importance of gratitude. It’s the thing we need most to master and most of us suck at it. An example that comes easily to mind is my mother-in-law: One evening a few months before we left Las Vegas she and I had a pleasant conversation, and she remarked that one of the things she’d always loved about me was that I made her laugh. The very next morning, the first words out of her mouth were, “I need you to give me a ride to the florist”.
It got right under my skin. “I need you to” is not a request. It’s a demand. I have a need and I’ve chosen you to meet it. Period. There will be no discussion. We had a little friction then, she and I, and as anyone who knows me would expect I expressed myself clearly. It was several hours before she deigned to apologize and ask me nicely for a ride. She didn’t mean the apology, didn’t feel it in her heart, but she wasn’t about to call a cab and she wasn’t comfortable with calling the florist to place her order. She had to see the picture in the catalog before paying for the thing.
I suppose that it’s because we grew up that way and hated being semi-human resources that Amethyst and I practice gratitude as a habit. It’s not a conditioned response, as it didn’t matter for either of us whether we were grateful or not as children. Her mother gave her things because she was keen on shopping and Amethyst was as good an excuse as any. My parents gave me things (not so often) to make me feel obligated. For my parents, every little thing that might be construed as positive, even an apparently kind word, was (and still is, with everyone) commerce. A loan you can’t refuse that comes with a usurious interest rate. My parents have rarely ever made requests. It was always, “You’re going to” — a not so nicely couched version of MIL’s “I need you to”. You, young man, are a semi-human resource. If you want gratitude look it up in the dictionary. It’s somewhere between gestation and greed.
During our conversation, with my dear Amethyst feeling the brunt of the emotional burden of being a semi-human resource, she pointed out that the only family member we hear from regularly, and on birthdays and anniversaries, is our (formally ex-) daughter-in-law, and she’s the only one who remembers my birthday. I told her, perfectly honestly, that I’m so accustomed to being disregarded that it doesn’t matter at all to me. I focus on those who really do care rather than upon those who don’t. Those who don’t care are just about seven billion in number, so what the fuck. She’s not at a place from which she can see it that way, but when she gets there she’ll be so much happier that a little slog through the manure will have been worth it.
If I had the magic I’d save her the slog and just deliver her to that place. It’s a guy thing — we’re fixers. Especially when it comes to women. That’s our purpose. Honey, wake up. There’s a man-eating grizzly bear in the living room. Okay, honey, you stay here all snug and warm and I’ll go kill the bear with my toothbrush. Don’t you worry about a thing.
I’m reminded of the Mexican (-American) (AKA Chicano) neighborhood that was my last residence in Southern California. The neighbors appreciated me and I, them. The woman across the street whose husband bought a car from me used to send food over when I was single, and despite my being the pinche gabacho I was always invited and welcome at the fiestas — weddings, births, christenings, Memorial Day, Cinco de Mayo (which is pretty much as made up as is Kwanza), 4th of July, Labor Day, any darn thing that was an excuse to hire a band and insult the livers with ethanol. And when I had a do they were all invited, too. After I married X2, our house was where the neighborhood children hung out while the adults partied across the street. We didn’t watch the kids except to check on them every now and then, as babysitting was the job of the girls who weren’t quite old enough to be around where the tequila flowed without restraint. And the boys of about the same age would mill around in our front yard, hoping to catch the eyes of the girls and look cool with the beers they stole from the party. Those folks, they knew about appreciation and gratitude. They knew about integrity and living from the heart. When I got back there a couple of years after leaving to impress upon the tenants of the two houses my parents owned that the rent they weren’t paying wasn’t being paid to an elderly, disabled couple on a fixed income, Reuven (the ese who bought my car, Violet’s husband) spotted my vehicle and rushed over to tell me that it was time to throw together a party for me. We’d get some kegs and tequila, Violet and the other viejas would cook, and we’d have a large time. Why? Just because I was homes and my friends missed me and would like to see their adopted carnal again. No reason but the most important reason of all.
Those folks mattered, and still matter. I was exceedingly fortunate to know them. They’d love Amethyst like crazy because she’s genuine, warm and open, and lives from the heart. They’d teach her some Chicano Spanish, and maybe finally get her to learn which side of the corn husk goes toward the inside of the tamale. They’d laugh and joke, and get a bit risque when no children or men were around to hear it. They’d let her know that she’s welcome, and appreciated, and as good as family.
The others, those to whom we’re just semi-human resources? They don’t matter at all, and they don’t deserve to matter.
It’s a shame that so many of us don’t do appreciation and gratitude. We want to see the money and calculate on a spreadsheet What Have You Done For Me Lately. We want to know which clique we belong to and it better be somehow the best, and if you don’t go to the same church as me you’re something less than those who do. The price of entry into someone’s world is to somehow prove that person’s value, or your value to him, or to reflect highly upon him so his colleagues, or neighbors, or family can see it. You’re just another animal in his herd and the feed is delivered only because you’ll bring more at auction if you’re fat. We’re so accustomed to being semi-human resources that we don’t feel badly when we treat others that way — we think it’s natural. Social Darwinism, survival of the shittiest.
About a month and a half ago, in the course of conversation, Amethyst mentioned to a woman she works with that I make my own fermented hot sauce. The woman said something about how good it must be, or something along those lines, so I took her a bit of it, less than a pint, and told her that if she liked it I’d make her a quart — but it’d take four to six weeks depending upon the whims of the yeasty critters. She liked it a lot. We delivered the quart to her yesterday, and after the verbal thanks (relayed to me because I was outside driving the insects away with the aroma of Satan’s asshole) the question was, “How much do I owe you for this?”. I can’t blame her for wanting to zero the balance sheet if it was a sneaky form of commerce, but it was just a gift from the heart with no expectations except the return of the canning jar when it’s empty.
I wonder if we could change our reality by steadfastly refusing, en masse, to be treated as or to treat others as semi-human resources and to just live straight from our hearts. Of course there would be those who wouldn’t willingly play along, but they’re the whole reason we’d be doing it in the first place. It’d be like taking our power back and wielding it with love, don’tcha think?