The toxic woman who shaped my life

The first time I saw her, she reeked of bitterness, like sweat clinging to a damp body. She moved with a heavy gait, her left leg digging deep into the carpet before switching to her right.

She had a curtness about her which she displayed everytime she spoke about teenage girls. She hated — no despised teenage girls. To her they were loud, and gossipy. But deep down, I could tell that she was envious of youth and the hopes and dreams they still had. Thank goodness she only had boys.

I often wondered, “how the hell is she even married?” But of course, we choose who we show our best side to. And she reserved her nasty side for me.

One Friday morning, after I’d finished hosting my regular community event, I was having morning tea with a colleague when she stormed in and accused me of not packing up.

I was frightened and embarassed of being outed in front of another colleague, so I quickly took off in her direction, leaving my food and my phone sitting on the table. Later, my colleague returned my phone to me and reported this incident to a superior.

There were many instances like this where she would be hostile towards me, and then switch to her good side when talking to another colleague. You never knew which side of her you got and that was the scary part.

Fortunately for me, I was young and ambitious. Despite my naive and loofheaded demeanor, I was no pushover. And although my heart would prickle with anger everytime she spoke to me like that, I used it to work harder behind the scenes.

At the time, I didn’t have any marketable skills, so I couldn’t up and leave my job for a new one. But I took her threats as a challenge for me to change. At night, I’d teach myself how to code, usually waking up at 3am with a sudden clarity of thought, telling myself, I don’t want to be like her. I don’t want to be like her. That would drive me to study harder, writing in my notebook until the wee hours of the morning.

One day, I caught her in a good mood — a rarity. I was alone in the back having morning tea when she popped in to talk to me. My shoulders tensed when I saw her, but I kept my composure and engaged in friendly chitchat with her. I was surprised to find that she had romantic inclinations in her youth. She told me how she always wanted to be a blogger, and write, but life had gotten in the way; she had met her husband at university, had gotten married and had children. Thirty years later, her soft and luscious dreams had crisped and dried out, turning her into a bitter woman.

At the time, I found it strange that she had popped in to talk to me, but now, looking back, I think it was a sign that I needed to get my act together and start working hard towards my future.

Eight months later, after one failed interview, I finally got a job at a small design studio.

I remember her last and final dig at me. We were packing up for the day. I was standing behind the counter, tidying some books when she confronted me about something that I cannot remember. By then, there was a steadfastness in me. I had accomplished what I’d set out to accomplish, and I wasn’t going to let this lady push me around anymore. So I spoke back to her. She spoke back and we engaged in a bit of sparring. I waited for her to have the last word, but instead she grunted, huffed and puffed and to my surprise, no words came out of her mouth. She backed down and I knew from that day on, she wouldn’t scare me anymore.

A week later, I left to start my new job.

The last I heard of her, she had resigned out of stress-related reasons.

Now, 4 years later, it’s time for change again. Thinking about it brings up memories of the first time I brought about change. Back then, I didn’t remember feeling scared. I think I was so driven by the need to get away from that woman, that there was such an overpowering need to change. Often, when I look back, I feel grateful that I met her. If she had not been in my path, I would have stayed where I was, comfortable, but limiting my potential. We all have our reasons for change. But when the time comes, don’t be afraid to strike.

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