Life lesson No. 57: Sometimes, you just have to walk away

11 years ago

Despite our bold and consistent attempts, we do not always find that silver lining. Regretfully, there are situations and people who will not and cannot change.
Many years ago, I attended a training workshop entitled, “How To Handle Difficult People.” It was an excellent program with a long and well contemplated list of possible solutions. After listening to the lecture and participating in the various exercises, the solution I knew to be most effective (and the most heartbreaking) was the very last item on the list: Sometimes, you just have to walk away.
I recall him to be quite charming, attractive, and witty. Armed with countless attributes, I think he was convinced that condescending behavior was expected; along with rudeness, pompousness, and sour vanity. He was a shift supervisor; blissfully in charge. It was customary for him to take his crew out for pizza every Friday; insisting on picking up the tab. With crossed fingers, his entourage of fellow employees would convince themselves he had “seen the light” and would, from that moment on, change. I was young, wistful, and overflowing with optimism. Each Monday morning, when he arrived at work growling and glaring, I would tell myself I would not be fooled again; at least not until Friday. I needed this summer job and I was determined to grin and bear it.
It happened during my third week of employment. It was unbearably hot on this particular day and there was very limited air conditioning in the building. I was standing at my work station, along with the others on my shift, and he was completing a quality control check. He stopped beside me, quickly inspecting my work. “Looks great, Belinda.” I nodded and focused my eyes on my task when I felt his hand reach out and begin patting my shoulder. “Too bad this job is only temporary for you. You are really fitting in nicely with all of my old hens and it’s nice to have some young blood.” I looked at him in disbelief and asked, “What did you just call us?” He winked at me then, and continued strutting his stuff on down the line, patting each of his “old hens” along the way.
I peeled protective tape from my sore fingers, gathered my things, and punched out. I knew this moment would come eventually. I had been able to deal with his harsh criticism, boasting, and displays of temper, but this most definitely crossed the line; my line.
Before I left the building, I stood in front of the exit door for a long time, thinking of all the things I wanted to say to him. I wanted him to realize his behavior was inappropriate, unprofessional, and disrespectful; but instead, I left in tears. I saw him 30 or so years later, standing in line at the Madawaska Kmart, a tiny lady dressed in a velvet exercise suit by his side. He seemed so frail, with stooped posture and sparse, yellow hair.
As I watched him count out one dollar bills with trembling, arthritic hands, I silently thanked that bewildered young woman of so long ago for carefully choosing her battles, and deciding in the end, to simply walk away.
   Editor’s Note: Belinda Wilcox Ouellette lives Connor TWP with her husband Dale and their Goldendoodle Barney. They are currently working on building a home in Caribou. You may contact Belinda online at: dbwouellette@maine.rr.com.