Sunday, April 10, 2016

What Fear Can Do

Many years ago, back when I was a single mother attempting in fits and starts to work, go to school and raise my child I found myself working at a high end manufacturing jewelers in South Louisiana. The pay was decent, the work easy, the hours regular and it held a small frisson of an elite sanctuary for those with money.

I starred in many of the store's television ads like some glorified floozy, a Cajun version of a 'Price Is Right' hostess smiling while holding out an armload of glittering Rolexes. Working there and being on television opened a few doors for me. I did some side gigs, such as working at a few trade show and conventions in the area.

It was a hushed and rarefied atmosphere with private viewing rooms, all done up in blue velvets and satins. I thought the place looked tacky, like some enormous old west bordello cum low rent castle ballroom. But what the heck did I know, I was only nineteen the year I worked there. I hadn't had enough time to develop taste or even experience true tackiness in its full glory.

While my tasks were easy, selling jewelry to people, the job was sort of boring in many ways. It didn't require much thinking, and the grabby hands owner made it clear to me from early on that I was hired for my looks. In fact the place had a very stringent dress code. Hair, nails, makeup and clothes, you had to look flawless, like you could have afforded the most expensive diamond ring in the entire joint.

The job was great at first, it was low stress enough that I had no trouble keeping up with my night class and I was out of work by 6 pm. I learned very very quickly to avoid the hands of the middle aged owner.

After I'd been there for a full year the boss called me into one of the private rooms, handed me a wad of cash and whispered that I needed to go out and buy a large quantity of pot for him, about 200 bucks worth. This when you could get a baggy for twenty bucks. Apparently his usual source had dried up, he knew I'd once been married to a musician and I still have lots of contacts in that world. I didn't want to do it, but I liked my easy job with the bonuses for filming commercials, so I swallowed my misgivings and went out to score dope for my boss. I'd stopped smoking some time before but I still knew where to score

Turned out not to be such an easy task. As I ran down friend after friend asking to buy I discovered that the town was nearly dry. Finally I made a connection with a guy I knew whose band was playing a middle of Saturday afternoon gig at a bar six blocks from the jewelry store. Showed up, made the buy, let my pal buy me a drink or three before I headed back to Mr. Grabby Hands.

Because I was carrying a quantity of weed for my boss I slowly drove back down the street using the access roads instead of the main highway. I wasn't long out of the bar parking lot when a police car got right behind me. He followed me all the way back to the jewelry store, pulling in behind me when I parked and hitting his sirens. I remember feeling my stomach fall into my shoes and being overwhelmed by fear, more fear than I'd ever felt. More fear than the time my ex, his friends and I were arrested for him playing mailbox baseball. Much much more fear than the time my ex and his cousin were caught picking psychedelic mushrooms while I waited in the car. All the crazy incidents in the short time I was with my ex flashed through my mind including the reason I'd given up all forms of illegal drugs.

He didn't get out of his cruiser, I could see he was a nice looking well scrubbed looking young man, this police officer. He motioned me over so I got out of my car, oversized purse holding the ten lids over my shoulder and walked over. I burst into tears realizing that I'd consumed three margaritas in short order at the bar so not only was I about to be busted for drugs, with a likely intent to distribute charge, but I likely faced a DUI charge as well.

The nice young officer questioned me about the bar.What was I doing there? before launching into a lecture about it being a known drug dealing spot, but he could tell I was 'too nice' of a girl for all that.

I lied to that cop, telling him I'd dropped off a guitar to the band that my ex had left behind and told him I was crying because I was going through a tough time as a single mother, just getting a divorce,  trying to get by working at this jewelry store and selling off my ex's musical equipment he'd left behind (true, just not true in that moment)

He let me go after giving me a sympathetic talking to and more of that 'nice girls have no business at a biker bar filled with drugs'. I slunk back into work feeling lower than dirt, so guilty and hyperventilating over the close call.

I kept thinking about this long ago incident this week. I was reminded of it a couple of times by my reactions to things religion. The barfing in the parking lot after hearing that worship song. The feelings of guilt and looming punishment when an IFB door to door minister came to invite me to his church. Being put in the uncomfortable position of listening to the witness of a former Mormon on his conversion to fundamental Christianity.

So much of toeing the line in evangelical or fundamentalist Christianity is fear-based. We don't want to be punished, even if there are so many rules, written and unwritten in that world. So we tiptoe around, praying we aren't caught if we swear, look at a guy (or girl) in the wrong way, wear the wrong clothes or slip up and take a drink of a refreshing adult beverage.

During my time in fundytown I noticed that everyone has the potential to do anything to avoid getting caught and possibly punished. When you live like that, in that constant state of agitated fear, hyper vigilant all the time, it teaches you to be secretive, to lie and to conform outwardly, even if inside you're in diametric opposition to what you seem to be.

That long ago afternoon I was masquerading as a young woman of class, money, breeding, when really I was a criminal, a coward and a drunk.  In my old faith community I also pretended, lied and hid who I really was.

This is one of the big problems with the child training theology of Michael Pearl. It doesn't actually change the heart or the attitude, it merely makes kids lie, deny and hide.

Don't do it. Be your authentic self. Don't be manipulated by others into doing things because you fear the consequences. Don't lie when your caught.

Eventually I was forced in that job to be my authentic self. It happened one afternoon when Mr. Grabby Hands stuck his hand down my shirt into my bra. I slapped him and was summarily fired. But at least I knew that time I'd done the right thing.

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