Once upon a time, a kid named Alexander had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. Thanks to my parents, boyfriends, and bosses, many of whom I haven’t even mentioned in this memoir yet, I’ve had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad life. To cope, I took diet pills to wake up, downed sleeping pills to keep from tossing and turning, and tried a few antidepressants. Occasionally, I contemplated suicide. For a quick dopamine rush, I ate cream-filled doughnuts or tubs of frosting. Reciting the sinner’s prayer didn’t magically fix my binge-eating disorder or enable me to tolerate people because, as T.D. Jakes said during a sermon, Christianity is a process.
“[W]hat Christ comes to do is to put a new nature in you,” he said. “And to those of you who are trying to change your behavior, it begins with a new nature. Then, allowing the new nature to overcome the behavior is a process. Don’t let any of these church folks fool you. [Christianity] is a process. You can change your acts, but changing the way you think is a process called transformation, which you will go through in degrees the rest of your life.”
My Christianity Process: Phase One
As mentioned previously, I lost my first and only freelance client my first day of vacation on Kauai in October 2014. Unable to apply for unemployment when I came home two weeks later, I began working a $9.25 per hour job as a pharmacy technician five years after I’d graduated summa cum laude as an English and communication double major who’d wanted to edit a magazine. Although Bishop Jakes hadn’t yet preached his sermon about the Christianity process, I figured the position was a test for four reasons:
- I’d become a Christian earlier in the year;
- God commands us to love people, and there’s no better place to practice that than a customer-service position;
- According to Joel Osteen, 25 percent of the people you meet will never like you; 25 percent won’t like you but could be persuaded to; 25 percent will like you but could be persuaded not to; and 25 percent will like you and always be there for you. A pharmacist chose the first category; and
- My fight-or-flight instincts were stymied by my need to pay rent and the fact I would’ve had to squeeze past her round body to get to the door.
Her animosity toward me began before I even started working with her. I’d stopped by the store to fill out a form and waited several minutes near her section of the window for her to retrieve it.
“You could’ve just left it,” she’d said in a way that would’ve prompted my mom to say, “It’s not what you said, it’s how you said it.”
Instead of telling her I wasn’t going to just leave a sheet of paper with my social security number on it lying around, I’d told her I hadn’t minded waiting and left, hoping I’d never have to work with her.
Of course, she was the one doling out pills my first day.
“Put her on register,” she snapped at an elderly coworker without saying hi to me.
I walked over to where the two registers sat and scanned the store from our elevated vantage point in the rear corner. It was empty, and I was scheduled from 11 to 7.
“It’s going to be a lonnng day if I just stand here all day,” I said. “Is there anything else I can be doing?”
You’d think a coworker would welcome someone who volunteers to do more work, especially these days, when employees pull out their phone every few seconds, but apparently I’d challenged her ability to delegate. For the rest of her shift, she instructed me through other people — tell her to do this, tell her to do that — rather than speaking to me directly. When another pharmacist arrived for the changing of the guard, I glanced at her as she whispered about me, punctuating sentences by flicking her eyes in my direction.
Killing her with kindness didn’t improve her temperament and ignoring her was impossible in such a tight space, so, after two months of her glaring at me over yogurt cups and treating me like sh_t, I texted my boss.
“It’s not my fault she looks like the tea kettle from ‘Beauty and the Beast,'” I said. “If she doesn’t stop being such a witch, I’m walking out.”
He talked to her, but nothing changed until I filed prescriptions one evening and saw hers: she was on Zoloft — my first antidepressant. While taking it in 2000, I’d turned into Joe Pesci, dropping F-bombs every other word. Realizing this, I’d stopped taking it — and cut her some slack 14 years later.
With that lesson on empathy out of the way, I hoped God would drop another client in my lap as he had in 2013 and let me go back to freelancing from home, where I didn’t have to deal with people and their hangups. Alas, this little love test was only phase one of my Christianity process.