I was trembling. My body shivered uncontrollably, nerves disquieted by things I had little or no control over. I sat stewing in a rage of irrepressible anger, the walls closing in on me. I had never in my life experienced claustrophobia but this sudden affliction of terror blended with agitation that had taken hold of me were its’ unmistakable symptoms. I labored to breath; sweat forming on my forehead. My mouth had dried out to an unfamiliar and troubling point of discomfort. I felt as though I was losing control.
All of these disquieting emotions erupted from within me I sat caged within the confines of my office cubicle reading management’s most recent memo
“Due to an incessant abuse of lavatory break privileges, all requests for relief from one’s workstation must be channeled through supervisors without exception. ”
I read it once, twice and then a third time to make sure I understood what I was reading. Management was telling me that I, a grown man and father of three, had to ask another person’s permission to go the bathroom!
My hands were shaking as I clutched the piece of paper, contemplating the indignity. I was experiencing a violent flood of emotions of which anger was the most prominent. The ringing of the phone on the tiny desk before me interrupted my incendiary thoughts. I only had 7 seconds to answer the phone according to company policy. The tangled, spiraling chord tethered to my ear from the automated phone assured that the policy would be strictly adhered to. I transformed instantaneously and answered in the appropriate, gentle tone that the company had trained us to use.
“How may I help you?” I asked.
“My children don’t visit me any longer…” the caller spoke continuing her tepid tirade in an incoherent skip from one topic of her family to another.
This was a “time-killing” call. That’s what the company labeled these types of calls. Calls from the elderly abandoned in nursing homes or left to their own devices by family was common. I had 15 seconds to get her off of the line according to company policy or suffer a reprimand from one of the supervisor’s monitoring the call. I followed the script given to us during training and ended with, “thank you for calling ma’am and I hope we are able to meet your needs sometime in the future,” before disconnecting the call. I have no doubt that she called back. They all do.
In my nervousness to answer the call I had dropped the memo. I retrieved it from the floor and re-read it.
Once again my heart began its’ agitated palpitations and the feeling of breathlessness returned. How humiliating to be a grown man and have to ask another adult for permission to go to the bathroom! Over the years the company had implemented one policy after another, whose only purpose seemed to be to feed on our souls.
I pounded my fist on the desk and propelled my little chair on wheels forward slamming my knees into the jumble of computer and metal recording equipment hanging underneath. The searing pain raced from my right knee throughout the rest of my body. I winced grabbing my knee. Once a month I unconsciously punished myself this way, trying to fit into a cubicle created for someone half my size.
This was the final straw and I would protest this as I had done many things in my youth. When I had been a young man I was fearless, yelling in the face of any and all injustices I encountered. I would not stand for this assault on my dignity!
I could feel the anxiety lessening and that old familiar rebellious fire in my belly rising to the surface. That fire was what I knew I was made of. That fire produced a fearlessness within me that was needed if I were to challenge the inhumane policies of this corporate Goliath.
As I looked up from the nurturing of my right knee the images of my family in small frames greeted me. My wife and three children, all smiles and shining brightly in images from a day at the beach. My heart melted.
One beautiful woman and three adoring children were all the ones responsible for taming the rebellious beast of my youth. I smiled.
“I love being a father,” I thought to myself, “whatever sacrifices were required to care for my family I would make.”
Family. They were my reason for getting up each morning and coming to this place. They were the ones who gave meaning to my daily ritual of subservience.
Slowly, I began raising my hand. The higher my hand went in the air, the lower to the ground my dignity crawled.
I had to go to the bathroom.