This Is Just the Beginning

by Frankie

    Being on my journey to understand God certainly didn't eliminate the adversity in my life, but it did result in a few positive short-term developments. After a year in Florida, Norma returned and approached me with a peace offering, apologizing for her previous behavior; it was a cup of Starbucks coffee. Although the gesture was kind, it bothered me that she relied on others to get ahead to the point that she would hurt someone else. And, as sincere as she appeared in acknowledging she followed the wrong crowd, Norma refused to accept responsibility for her part.

    Nevertheless, accepting Norma's apology felt like my only option. Because in truth, whether she meant it or not, it was something in herself she had to live with, not me. So, with my decision, we went about our business as if nothing had happened. We even had dinner together a couple of times throughout the weeks. Eva thought Norma's apology was disingenuous and often upset with me for accepting it. But acknowledging it didn't imply I trusted her; believe someone when they show you who they are. Understanding who is on your side and who is against you takes time and, in most cases, experience. After my on-again-off-again friendship with Olivia, I learned about the emotions that underpin oppression, and none of it had anything to do with me. And the more I analyzed it from this perspective, the wiser I grew, even to the degree that the voice from ten years earlier became more relevant with each encounter.

        Returning to the organization at the same time as Norma was our new supervisor Kenneth. We'd met years before, only after he'd continually made advances toward me and wouldn't take no for an answer. His brown-nosing and womanizing attributes further enhanced his shady persona. Unfortunately, Kenneth looked more unlawful upon his return, despite quoting scriptures and praising God for every little thing. Don't get me wrong, worship God whenever you feel like it, but if there's more praising going on in public than in private, it's likely a ruse, especially in Kennthe's case. At the very least, if all his praises were genuine, he would've stopped sleeping with his best friend's wife at some point.

    Caleb and Kenneth had been good friends for 15 years, and Caleb and his wife, Deanna, had been married for ten of those 15- years. Out of the ten years of their marriage, however, she'd been sleeping with Kenneth, five of them. So, clearly, there was no moral or ethical code in place for Kenneth, whether he was for God or not. As for Deanna, her non-Christianity didn't excuse her behavior. In fact, the spirit of her disrespect extended into lunch dates with Caleb, to which she'd invited Kenneth to accompany them, but enough about that.

     The writing was on the wall when I soon noticed Norma joining Kenneth and Deanna for lunch. She tried convincing me that it was nothing more than trying to figure out whether Deanna and Kenneth were actually sleeping together, but Stevie Wonder could see that was the case. So I assumed Norma either liked Kenneth or was attempting to maintain a good relationship with him since he was in charge of giving her quarterly appraisals; the latter sounded more plausible.

    It didn't take long before Norma was back to her old self, or should I say, discarded her disguise. So, once she started rubbing elbows with Kenneth, it was fair to say that people like her don't change. And even though Kenneth and his team of followers were only a little further along in their careers, Norma still believed she could get ahead by gravitating toward the herd. In my mind, surrendering to someone else's principles as a means to progress should've been that light bulb reaction, to where Norma asked herself, "Why would I repeat the same behavior that got me sent away and put me at risk for a promotion that didn't get me any further ahead than everyone else?" So what was going on in her head to believe the same actions would yield different results? Come to find out, there was a lot more to Norma's makeup.

    As a child, Norma battled dysarthria, likely contributing to a bullying environment. She'd undoubtedly recovered from her condition, but the ordeal left a scar that made her feel unworthy. Norma compensated by assaulting those she believed were better than her in some way. Unfortunately, she didn't realize it didn't diminish the scars; it accentuated them. Yet, although she felt secure with Kenneth and the others, they would throw her under the bus to save themselves if necessary.; no one should ever trust individuals like that because their loyalty only serves themselves, and Norma should have known because hers was no different.

    However, Norma married soon after her return despite her evident obsession with Kenneth. Yet, her husband's (Don) interest in someone other than Norma might explain her attraction; Eva exuded vitality and sexuality that most men couldn't resist, and Don was one of them. Nevertheless, it wasn't Don's interest in Eva that piqued my attention; it was knowing that he repeatedly dragged Norma out of the house nude and left her there for the neighbors to see. Therefore, the tension of being harassed caused her to project her feelings since she felt Don didn't care enough to listen, and stress, good or bad, demanded an outlet.

     As confident and intelligent as Norma thought herself to be, her confidence was in other people, and her intellect derived from the Dunning-Kruger effect. It wasn't that I didn't believe Norma was smart; I'm sure she was. But I would never know because she rode the coattails of those she thought would put her ahead.

    Nonetheless, it clarified why Norma ignored Kenneth's philandering and went to great lengths to keep him close. So much so she'd even gotten close to his wife, Lynn, but refused to disclose the affair between Kenneth and Deanna- not that Norma should have. Still, I'm confident her refusal to discuss it had little to do with preserving Lynn's feelings and more with safeguarding her investment. One thing to always expect from Norma: her investments come with a certain degree of tyranny.

    As I was preparing to leave for vacation one afternoon, I received a phone call demanding my presence in the office; it appeared some documents had gone missing that I'd already transferred to another instructor two days earlier. When I explained this to Kenneth and told him that Camille confirmed the receipt of each document by annotating it in the log book, the documents were no longer my responsibility. Therefore, he needed to ask Camille, not me. But, of course, Kenneth still told me to come in.

    Upon entering the office, I'd immediately noted his and Norma's expressions and the absence of Camille, implying that Kenneth had cleared her of any involvement. So, between Camille's absence, Norma's adoration for Kenneth, and Kenneth's rejected sexual advances toward me, I wasn't even sure if the documents were missing or if he and Norma had hidden them to make it appear as if I had lost them. The documents in issue were sensitive material, which meant that an investigation and possibly dismissal could occur if they were lost or stolen.

    Once Kenneth's explanation for Camille's involvement followed my hypothesis, not only did he hold me entirely responsible for the missing documents, but Kenneth wasted no time running to tell our section Manager. But although Donna would have loved to side with Kenneth, she couldn't.

    Trainer-to-trainer exchanges were permitted under company policy as long as each side certified receipt of the documents in the logbook, which Camille and I did. If a loss occurs, the immediate supervisor (Kenneth) must establish who is responsible based on the documented interaction. So, in consequence, I'm standing in the office defending myself, and the one responsible is nowhere to be found. When I asked Kenneth to call Camille in as he'd done me, he said, "She's on vacation with her family!" "Oh, so my family and our vacation meant nothing!" I responded! That was hardly the shock of it all, however. Just moments later, Norma finds the documents on a shelf in the storage room. Aside from that, Donna left Kenneth as my immediate supervisor.

    Determined to get back at me even though he didn't suffer any consequences for his lies, Kenneth fabricated a story of disrespect and insubordination by telling Donna I'd refused to sign three counseling statements for misconduct. When she asked why he didn't mention this earlier, Kenneth told her it seemed better to keep it within the section but now believed I would continue if there were no consequences for my behavior. Eventually, after Donna sided with him, it was ultimately left up to the chief administrator to determine any insubordination, which now meant Kenneth had to convince Donald of his fictitious counselings. I wanted to tell Donald that Kenneth was only after me because I rejected his advances. However, accusing someone of harassment usually results in retaliation, especially when the allegations are against one of the company's most beloved employees. Besides that, Donald was even fond of Kenneth. Nonetheless, I had to presume that the truth would ultimately come out, and Kenneth would get his just punishment.

    The possibility of thinking Kenneth would get his due punishment diminished once his lies began. He even had a rationale for each counseling statement he claimed I refused to sign. One thing was sure, however: this was not Kenneth's first time falsifying documents in an attempt for revenge. His lies were so well-rehearsed that Donald started doubting my professionalism and integrity; I thought I would lose my job. After that, all I could do was pray, pleading with God to protect me from; Kenneth, the Holy man of God, who stood brimming with depravity, and everything he stood for was contrary to God.

    After returning home that evening, I sat in a daze on the side of my bed for hours, tears flowing down my face, wondering whether Donald would fall into Kenneth's trap as Donna had. It was discouraging to believe he would, and whether anyone could catch him in his lies. Granted, turning it into a sexual harassment case seemed the best solution, but it would worsen matters, so I just gave it to God.

    The following week, Donald called me into his office to show me the three counseling statements I'd supposedly refused to sign. At the bottom of each, it read, "Employee refused to sign." My face was expressionless; there was no reason for me not to sign if I'd seen them. Rebuttals are not against company policy, so why didn't I make a counterstatement explaining why I disagreed rather than refuse my signature?

    When Donald saw my reaction, he questioned whether I'd seen the counselings before today. I responded, no. He replied, "Why do you think Kenneth is doing this to you?" "I don't know," I said, bowing my head to keep from crying. "Are you sure there's nothing more to the story?" Donald questioned. "No!" I exclaimed. He then asked, "Are you willing to undergo a polygraph to prove Kenneth is lying?" I quickly said yes, and despite knowing the company wouldn't pay for it, I was willing to pay out of my pocket to prove Kenneth was a liar.

    Just as I left Donald's office, I overheard him on the phone, immediately demanding Kenneth's presence. Twenty minutes later, I received a call from Donald telling me it was over; Kenneth declined the polygraph. My first reaction was a sigh of relief, followed by, "THANK YOU JESUS!" The past couple of weeks felt like a 10-ton weight on my shoulders. And even though there was a brief period when I thought Donald would side with Kenneth, his quick thinking won out in the end. Honestly, I thought Donald's change of heart was the product of God's grace because he'd stated earlier that he didn't believe Kenneth would ruin his career by falsifying counseling statements just to make me look bad. At any rate, my vindication felt good; twice Kenneth tried to ruin my career. Luckily for him, however, Donald only requested a transfer to another location in the building. But to fuel the fire, Kenneth undermined the generosity by believing he was still the golden child. So that's when Donald offered him two choices: transfer to Arizona or be terminated. Kenneth didn't want to choose Arizona, but he couldn't afford to walk away, either.

    Vanquishing Kenneth's allegations felt good, but the following week at the company's annual meet and greet, a gathering that brought company employees from the Arizona and Florida offices to the Michigan office, showed overwhelming support for Kenneth. Good thing I'd already experienced ostracization. By the time the gathering was over—barely anyone had spoken to me. Eating at the table alone wasn't as hard as watching the support Kenneth received. Tears were unavoidable, but not as a result of discomfort. I couldn't believe how many God-fearing Christians came to his defense and outcasted me for standing up to a predator.

    After enduring the long silence of sitting alone, Horatio finally joined me, agreeing that conformity was a fast-spreading disease in the company. Nonetheless, the grace of God was my confirmation that no matter how bad it got or how many opinionated strangers mistreated me, I would always triumph.

    Donald's support in arbitrating Kenneth's outcome was immensely appreciated, and he was fair during the process. On the other hand, concerns about his new minister career worried me. Don't get me wrong; I'm not suggesting that a calling can't happen in a short span. But how did Donald go from never going to Church and never mentioning God to now wanting to preach to a congregation? Most people with a calling on their life have known years in advance, thereby investing time and effort to living a way pleasing to God-- now, if Donald had changed, good for him, but from what I could tell, he was no different than before. But even with my skepticism, I tried not to discourage his choice; however, I did ask, "Do you believe God has called you to the ministry?" Without blinking an eye, Donald replied, "I've wanted to be a preacher most of my life, just never told anyone until now." Though his decision appeared more personal than a calling, I chose not to explore much more of my cynicism. Honestly, the consequences would be between him and God if he did it for selfish gain.

    Donald evidently believed in his calling since he became a minister three months later. Typically, the process took six to nine months, but the Pastor who ordained him didn't believe Donald needed that long. Even with the uncertainties, I felt I was in no position to criticize Donald's decision, so rather than fighting it, I chose to end my 12-year hiatus from Church and join him. Returning to Church was not solely motivated by a desire to attend. Instead, my foundation came years earlier; I needed to renew my faith and strengthen my relationship with Christ.

    I couldn't remember the last time I cried so hard, but that first day of Church allowed me to start letting go of my suffering. The tears lasted long after the Benediction, and as I returned home, they forced me to pray some more, hoping for protection, strength, and understanding. When I opened my eyes, I could smell the fresh scent of red roses. The fragrance was unmistakable; I was just unsure where it came from, so I sprang out of bed to look outside my door- nothing. I rushed outdoors to ensure it wasn't coming from the bushes under my bedroom window- nothing. I hurried back inside, making my way through the house, smelling every room, corner, and closet. Nothing; leaving and returning to my room didn't interrupt the smell, either. My only other choice was to call my mother and, later on, Donald, hoping to find some answers.

    Once shared, neither my mother nor Donald could explain my experience, making me more curious about what transpired. The smell lingered for what seemed like an eternity; it was only several minutes in reality. So, to find my answers, I researched the scent of roses online. As it pertained to the Catholic Church, they insisted that the smell of roses symbolized "God's love at work in people's lives," further stating, "One's prayers were answered." More meaningful was: "The smell of roses is a rare opportunity to be in the presence of the Holy Spirit: Moments of supernaturally smelling roses are special blessings that don't occur often." Whether or not any of it was real, I got the strangest sense that the scent and the voice were one in the same, which told me that whatever was going on was preparing me for something much more significant than anything I'd encountered thus far.

To be continued...

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