It's hard enough to learn to tell someone to stop. Then when they don't.....
This is a tale of two conversations. One was by phone, the other by tweet and email. One with a stranger, the other with an erstwhile friend.
Because this is about healthy boundaries, let me come clean. As an incest and rape survivor I've struggled with them my entire life. Being able to set fair and healthy boundaries is for many of us a fraught journey, especially for women, and most especially for marginalized people. So in all fairness, my personal journey has included plenty of time stepping over others' boundaries as I have learned to set my own.
A month ago or so I checked my Veteran's Administration website to see if a particular prescription had been filled. I have to have it prior to any surgery, this is well-known for decades for my treatment, and I refill it in plenty of time for a procedure.
It hadn't been filled. I wasted an entire day trying to find out why, as I was leaving town until three days before surgery.
Long frustrating story short, after endless phone calls I finally got the answer. Ineptitude and incompetence. Then.
In its idiot way, the VA made the tactical error of asking me to review my experience with the pharmacy.
In no uncertain terms, I told them.
If you're stupid enough to ask a prize-winning journalist what they think of a system which fails its veterans, you'd better hold on to your suspenders.
In its infinite stupidity, the VA then decides that this veteran is in crisis, and assigns some idiot crisis counselor to talk me off a ledge.
A ledge that I am not standing on.
That did not go well.
The young man had one job and one job only, which was to talk this suicidal veteran (which I wasn't) off the ledge (which I wasn't standing on). I have rarely met with this kind of single-minded idiocy, other than trying to work with the USAA phone tree.
Or Xfinity's phone tree.
Those are robots. This guy had no excuse.
I told him my issue with the VA. He cared nothing about that. He had a job.
That trumped anything else, including any and all boundaries I had.
He asked me if I had EVER had suicidal thoughts. I nearly said that I sure do now after talking with you, but I refrained. Truth, who hasn't over the last three years of Covid? But I said, yes, THIRTY YEARS AGO.
I added, AND I am in the middle of my third book AND I have surgery scheduled to get me back into adventure travel AND I have a new company under construction, so I am happy and busy.
I am not suicidal and I am not continuing this discussion. I need to know where my prescription is.
All he heard was The Word. After that it was HIS WAY OR THE HIGHWAY.
He started pestering me with The Questions. Whether or not I had ever attempted. What methods did I use.
He was a house on fire, he had me now.
I nearly took his head off saying WILL YOU STOP WITH THIS.
His response? "It's policy. I have to."
Anyone who has ever been raped knows the feeling. NONONONONONONO is completely obliterated by the male "it's policy, I have to."
Read: I have a penis, I have to.
A crisis counselor, no less, with all the sensitivity and concern of Great White Shark biting a seal in half. I've seen it done. It isn't pretty.
I sincerely hope that the VA, in all its monumental stupidity, doesn't send me a survey to inquire about said crisis counselor, for I will, again, tell them in no uncertain terms.
You already know what will happen next. I will be lying in wait, too.
Then, there's this.
In 2020, the last year I was wandering around rather dispiritedly on Match.com, I connected with a rather remarkable person. He was retired military and a moderate liberal like me (not a typical combination), bright and funny and full of wonderful stories. We were both loquacious people, and a friendship bloomed. He also moved a long way away, which stalled any opportunity for meeting in person.
What followed were many phone calls, emails, and a few texts. I very much appreciated the connection. Enough so that the initial overwhelm that I felt- he would talk over me at times, or hog the airwaves, for example- was accepted as part of his natural enthusiasm. I am built the same way, so it was a mirror.
He got busy, so did I. However he was kind enough to send articles and ideas and supportive materials, all of which I really appreciated, in that way we all do so very much when people reach out and make it clear we're not forgotten. I particularly appreciated being able to have long-ranging, long-winded discussions about politics and religion. That's rare. Such talks were soul-satisfying.
Somewhere along the way something changed. Suddenly he went silent. I had made multiple calls to invite him to catch up.
Then out of the blue I got an angry, churlish note that knee-capped me about talking too much and hogging the airwaves.
It wasn't just that this was classic passive-aggressive behavior and sand-bagging. It was mean-spirited and ugly, coming out of the blue with all the subtlety of a baseball bat to the face.
The part that really irritated me was this: it had become his habit to call me while driving somewhere. Only he was privy to how much time he had, so I had no way of knowing if it was twenty minutes or an hour.
My friend Melissa tells me, especially early in the morning, if she has limited time. That allows me to be respectful. If we have ten minutes, I don't hog all ten.
If my veteran friend doesn't say we only have X minutes, then my natural enthusiasm will likely eat up all that time. I'll have no clue that I'm doing it.
He was angry at me for failing at something he'd set up to fail.
I don't play that game. Nor do I respond well to adults behaving like bratty children.
My buddy Melissa thinks nothing of interrupting me mid-sentence and letting me know she has to GO. Doesn't hurt my feelings at all. It's an adult boundary and we love each other enough to fully understand that there is no malice behind it.
Big people panties.
I took a while to consider my friend's nasty note, carefully. What was my piece in this? What was his? Big people do that. They don't just lash out, and they don't nurse petty grievances.
I am not privy to what's up in his life to make him behave in such a way. Nor is he taking into consideration that my overabundance of words may have (and it did) lots to do with the joy of speaking with someone I admire: himself.
He accused me of not listening. This "not listening" author wrote six stories with him as the central hero. I protected his identity at his request but still honored him with that kind of careful attention.
Not listening my ass.
I wrote a response. It was clear, thoughtful and unequivocal. I laid out my case and did it with respect.
Repeated myself in a variety of ways: we are done.
Ended my email: Do NOT contact me again.
Yesterday he tried to call me. Twice in quick succession.
My bet? Right after he read my email.
Of course he did. Right after he read the words: Do NOT contact me again.
"I have a penis. I have to."
Because his need- whatever it was- trumped my clearly-defined boundary.
What part of NO is not clear?
What part of DO NOT CONTACT ME AGAIN isn't absolutely, positively clear?
It has taken me my nearly six decades to learn to set boundaries.
Now that I am wielding that clarity I see how often people- especially certain people- simply plow right on through. I've done it myself, it embarrasses me to say, but honestly, this is a person in his seventies.
Stop using your Old White Man Senior Officer authority. I've been raped by Old White Man Senior Officers when I didn't have the ability to say no.
Those days are done.
NO means NO.
Stop means STOP.
It takes hard work and energy to build friendships, especially late in life. You can scorch them forever with one thoughtless email, text or message. My fuse is shorter these days because the days of my life are much shorter.
I want to fill them with adults.
Adults set healthy boundaries.
Other healthy adults respect them.
No. Means. No.
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