I’ve been drafting an essay on my identity and forced socialization as a female since birth, and the complications that go along with that– this isn’t that particular essay.
This new year, I hoped to start off strong, motivated, on-task, which somewhat happened. I returned to my practicum on Tuesday after winter break, catching the earlier bus like a boss to arrive on time. On the bus I thought more of my intentions for the year, which included being more assertive, stop apologizing when unnecessary, and allowing myself to feel again and stop becoming numb to things that hurt. I haven’t honestly felt strong emotions in months, mainly in the months following my increased alcohol use. The day moved rather slow until Women’s Support Group. As usual, I got much more out of it than expected, allowing myself to flow into member rather than intern. We all grow together.
There were new attendees searching for advice and support, either as new clients to the agency or as women looking for a new group to attend. A running theme for most of us is mistreatment (an understatement) by men and reaching a point where we accept the bullshit no more. We are all vulnerable, living with various behavioral health struggles, but we are in recovery and ready to fight.
I’m only an image of what you see
You don’t know me
[He reunited with his ex after calling me the personification of our favorite 2016 album, is that convenience? He ended our not-relationship over complications that couldn’t be explained to join her in exclusive-but-not-committed union, is that moving from casual partnership with me to forced partnership after a drunken hookup with her? He said he didn’t mean to kiss my neck and that he didn’t have time to start something before leaving for the summer, but it later hit me that every girl he’d seeked prior-to-present was much lighter than me, is that anti-blackness? He said to just screw these guys then leave, but wouldn’t that make me just like them? These are men I call friends (yes, He, He, He, and He are present friends of mine, which is a whole other story on forgiveness and arriving at peace when a friendship is a better fit). One of the above said that he couldn’t tell if I was actually interested in him then asked what I wanted. Oh sweetheart, my feelings and wants no longer matter once you decided to choose her, can’t you see? What am I supposed to do, beg for a partnership that never was? How pathetic am I to grasp at the hands of an uncertain man? He couldn’t understand my form of protection.]
A hurt woman in search of connection builds a chain link fence (some of us brick walls) with barbed wire above, around her heart and soul. You can reach through the fence and touch her, but she dare not show her feelings too soon because your actions and words are not what they seem. Whisper sweet nothings, offer limp wrists. That fence is our protection because we know you’ll leave, we believe in that because that’s what we’ve been dealt before. A month prior in group while discussing healthy relationships, someone mentioned how this form of protection can inadvertently hurt us because we dismiss/hurt those who actually care about us, who actually don’t intend to leave us alone. But is it worth the risk to continue being so vulnerable?
With roughly two hours left to the day, we got a call about a potential client needing help with paperwork. I decided to go out to the lobby, taking a break from researching in the office and happy to talk to more clients. What I thought would’ve taken maybe five minutes turned closer to twenty-five in total from the time I greeted this potential client to the moment I returned to the intern office after taking a moment to recollect myself and pretend not to be shaken by this encounter.
I was face-to-face with a manipulator who’d already successfully manipulated the other front desk assistant. I picked up on this fact early on when he claimed that I was the first person to really listen to him all day, which I can dispel by the very fact that we were meeting in an office to discuss his issue with paperwork. I wondered if I would need to do a risk assessment, hence the reason he wanted to be more honest on his forms. As he began to speak though, his purpose for assistance unraveled more and more. He kept trying to bring up topics that were best suited for a therapist, his future assigned therapist, not me. So I continuously enforced boundaries instead of discussing these topics- “This would be something to sort out with your therapist once you complete our intake process” or “I’m not here to discuss that, I’m here to help you with paperwork” and eventually “That’s not what we’re here for. This is a behavioral health agency, and we’re here to work with you to manage your mental/substance use disorders. If you’re looking for nice meaningful connections, you may make some good friends in one of our groups.” This guy didn’t budge, nothing I said stopped him from attempting to push and cross these boundaries.
Then his affect shifted. I noticed the pen rolling in his hand, and I grabbed the one closest to me. Did I think he’d use it? No, but I couldn’t take any chances. I was worried about more. His breathing changed, and I knew that sound. He licked his lips out of hunger and thirst. I couldn’t decide if I should vomit or punch him first, but I knew the latter would not go over well for my future at the agency. As his hand started to float to touch my thigh, I backed away from the desk and told him that it was time to go and we’d let him know when he could try to go through the intake process. I stood up, and he hesitantly followed. I kept my back to the open door, trying to get him to leave the room. I looked over at the front desk assistant who was keeping an eye out, and the lead Crisis/Safety Manager stepped out of her office as well. We were using an office within one of our secured areas (which I am so thankful for), and I eventually opened that door once he was next to it. The Crisis Manager told him that it was time to leave, he stood in the doorway to the secure area and wouldn’t move, then he started singing. He started moving closer into the area again, Crisis Manager called over one of our on-site cops and another Crisis Member. He eventually walked in more and got close enough to touch the other Crisis Member who responded by saying he could be charged with assault if he moved any closer. The cop asked him to leave nicely, said he didn’t want to have to get aggressive. The guy kept singing. The cop started to count, and the guy finally said that he was just trying to get attention in hopes of getting into services faster. He walked out calmly with the cop, I shut the door behind them. The Crisis Manager applauded my work as she could hear me in the office redirecting and reinforcing boundaries (I left the door ajar, plus she’s also next door). “I emailed your supervisor to let her know that you were meeting with this client, and I was prepared to go in there if it went past five minutes,” she told me afterward, which filled me with much comfort but not enough to kill my anxiety and my anger.
While debriefing with my supervisor later, I gave her a rundown of the experience, and though I’ve only been there three months, she’s already gotten to know me quite well. “I notice you laughed, but I can tell it wasn’t because that was funny. You had the upper hand but at some point the power dynamic flipped, didn’t it?” I nodded. I couldn’t shake him. I couldn’t get him to quit his game. I felt hopeless but thankfully not helpless. I told her that I wanted to punch him but knew I couldn’t, I admitted that. Obviously she agreed that I made good judgment by not punching him, but she was supportive of my feelings as this is tough work, being a social worker and being a woman.
I’m only a woman if woman is a word
I have no control over the way I’m seen, and that makes living difficult quite often. To be objectified, to be touched with little to no regard that you are another human who controls their own body, it begins to feel like I have no agency over me, no agency over my version of womanhood, no agency over simply being a woman in general, no agency over existing. I’m exhausted by being confined to expectations I didn’t agree to. Someone told me that I’m stronger now since pushing through that incident, but I think my heart just grew colder.
Title inspired by Empress Of’s jam, which a few lines are italicized between two different paragraphs and you can listen to the song here.