My relationship with suicide is longer than I would care to imagine. One of our dear family friends, an adult, took his life after several failed suicide attempts, which were explained as accidents to all of the young children who heard about them, even his own children. Those children were a few years older than I was, and I spent much of my younger years watching them struggle to find their places in this world, knowing that it had been too much for their father to handle. I worried, alongside my parents, their mother, and the other adults in our neighborhood, when the oldest child fell into a Goth crowd in high school, worried that his obsession with dark things signified something more, and that he would follow his father's example and take his life. He, and his younger siblings, all came through adolescence as well-adjusted as any other teenager, and I thought that my acquaintance with suicide had ended. What I had not counted on was that depression can be a very sneaky disease, and it does not always present its face to outside observers.
Kimberly, not her real name because of my respect for her family, which still mourns her, was a model teenager. Her mother died after years of struggle with breast cancer, unable to beat its third recurrence. Kimberly was the oldest child in her family of three, and the only one old enough to remember the years before her mother got sick. Her mother's first breast cancer diagnosis came almost immediately after the birth of her third child; a routine post-partum examination revealed a lump that turned out to be cancerous. Kimberly was seven at the time, and she took it upon herself to begin to care for her four-year-old brother and her infant brother, because her father was consumed with working to maintain health insurance and with trying to care for his wife. The first round of treatment was mild, in terms of cancer treatments. Kimberly's mother underwent a lumpectomy and chemotherapy, but soon regained her laughing and joyful demeanor, but the specter of the disease lurked there. No one was surprised by her second diagnosis. This time the doctor's were aggressive, performing a double-mastectomy, radiation, and debilitating chemotherapy. Though Kimberly was only nine at the time, she took on all the responsibilities of the household. However, she did it with a smile. She brought home straight A's, behaved perfectly at school, and cooked and cleaned at home. Everyone thought that she was a perfect child. She remained that perfect child throughout her mom's struggle through her third bought with cancer, and was a rock for her family when her mother died. By thirteen, Kimberly was the mom in the household, handling all of the family tasks, taking care of her younger brothers, and handling a full school schedule. She did it all with a smile, never betraying whatever she must have been feeling inside. The adults in her life failed her. Obviously, a child who had lived through the death of a parent and taken on the responsibilities of a household must have been experiencing a tremendous amount of stress, but no one looked past the smiles.
Her death came as a surprise to everyone. She had an argument with her father one morning before school. What the argument was about, no one knows. She stormed out of the kitchen, which was uncharacteristic for her, and slammed into her father's room. That is where he kept his pistol, but it never occurred to him that she was going for it. She shot herself once in the head, and the gunshot brought her father running from the kitchen, where he was putting together lunches for her and her brothers. She died almost instantly, her little brothers looking on as her father begged the 9-11 operator to have the paramedics hurry. The entire community was surprised. Almost all of the middle school attended her funeral, and the school district called in counselors from neighboring schools to help the students deal with their feelings. Like most of her friends, I felt somewhat responsible for her death. I took the smiles at face value, and never delved in to what must be under them. What Kimberly's death taught me is that all teenagers are at risk for suicide, and that any child who has experienced major turmoil and upset, needs to be periodically evaluated for suicidal ideation. Perhaps if someone had just taken the time to ask her if she had ever considered suicide, she would still be alive today. The world would be a richer place if she were still in it.
Problems with Job Stress, Sexual Harassment
My first real adult job was working for an answering service. The business was a small, independently-owned location. The owner was a very friendly man, who took steps to ensure that his workers were happy and satisfied. There were many smokers at the office, so he provided a smoking room for them, so that they could smoke and work. He arranged to bring in meals for his workers during busy times. He gave regular raises, and rewarded great work performance with bonuses and by rapidly promoting people in his small organization. In fact, he would have been the perfect boss, except for the fact that he was an unabashed sexual harasser. I call him an unabashed sexual harasser, because, when discussing his harassment of female workers, he discussed consulting his lawyer about sexual harassment and discovering that his business was small enough to fall outside of the purview of federal laws penalizing sexual harassment. While his workers would still be able to seek private remedies for his behavior, they would not be able to avail themselves of publicly available options, and, being low-wage workers, it was incredibly unlikely that they would actually bring suit as individuals.
My personal experience with the hostile environment came at the time of my first office meeting. We had office meetings approximately every six weeks, and I was hired immediately after one of those meetings, so I had been working in the office for over a month before the meeting. At first I thought the notice was a joke; after all, what type of office would hold its meeting at a "gentleman's club." However, everyone in the office was taking the notice seriously. In fact, two of my female coworkers were discussing the fact that they would be ordering rib eye steaks at the office meeting, because the strip club was famous for its wonderful steak meals. I knocked on my boss's office door, and, peeking my head in, asked him if our meeting was really at a strip club. He said yes, and looked surprised when I had a problem with it. I told him that I would not be attending a meeting at a strip club. In fifteen years, I was the first employee who refused to go to a strip club. He offered an alternative location: Hooters. When I told him that I would not be going to any sexually-oriented business for an office meeting, he reluctantly chose a local Mexican food restaurant.
From that moment, I became the go-to person in the office for sexual harassment. When he would grab or grope a female employee, they would come to me, and I would go with them into his office. I would instruct him that he was not to touch the employee in a sexual manner from that point forward. My boss, who could have fired me at any moment, seemed to regard my advocacy in an amused manner. He never once got angry with me. Moreover, once he was informed that his advances were unwelcome, he would stop sexual advances towards the female in question and move on to another employee. He never penalized any of us for speaking up to him; in fact, shortly after I accompanied a female coworker into his office to instruct him to stop fondling her, she was promoted to a supervisor position.
What that experience taught me is that sexual harassers are not necessarily the evil predators I envisioned before that work experience. My boss was not an evil man, and he did not condition future employment on tolerance of his advances. However, he was a relic, who considered women as sexual objects, rather than viewing women as individual people. Once he understood that his sexual advances would not be rewarded, he would stop the harassing behavior. That experience taught me that some cases of workplace harassment can be handled by individuals clearly defining their personal boundaries and refusing to bow to the intimidation. However, I am also aware that not all harassers are like my boss was.
Attitudes towards Homosexuality
I am confused about social attitudes towards homosexuality. I really have a hard time comprehending how anything that a consenting adult does with another consenting adult can be seen to have a negative impact on the rest of society. The…