#DifficultPeople

 

June 15, 2008

 

I hoped I made the right decision. I prayed about it but got no answer.  Should I go to work for Senator Billie Jean Jackson, knowing what I know about her? Or should I follow my first instinct? I cringed when her chief of staff asked me to apply for the job. Then I thought better of it. It would be an honor to help her tell her story her way as her communications director.  I could use all the reporting, writing, and political skills I had gained over the years to get her messages out.  I had worked for Madame Senator before – ten years ago when her district director hired me in the District Office back home. I am familiar enough with Madame Senator’s legendary temper tantrums.

“That’s MY goddamned name on the door. The people voted for me! Fuck you!” I had heard Madame Senator scream once when I was on the phone with her office. I had heard her chief of staff fire back.

“Sit your simple-ass down somewhere and let me handle this! Your ass is too hard-headed! That’s what’s wrong with you!”

Sitting at my desk in the District Office, I pulled the phone away from my ear. Where I came from, that language was unprofessional at best.

“Aw fuck you!” Madame Senator yelled back.

“No! Fuck you!”

They went around and around a few minutes.

“That’s Madame Senator?” I asked the receptionist.

“Yep.”

“I hope we don’t have company,” I laughed.

“A reporter just left,” she said. “Who would you like to speak to?”

I explained that we were waiting for approval of a few “thank you” letters from Madame Senator. I wrote letters to or for our constituents daily, then submitted them to Madame Senator’s district director. I hardly spoke with the Senator directly.  Even when I had to call the Hill office, I would speak with her legislative director or her chief of staff instead of her.

“Would you like to speak with the Senator?” the receptionist asked.

Not if I could help it, I thought.

“Just slip a note on her desk reminding her that the District Office is waiting for her to sign off on those letters. Thanks.”

Despite Senator Jackson’s temper tantrums, I have a lot of respect for her. I had loved working in her District Office answering voters’ questions and helping them access federal agencies to solve a problem with veterans’ services, a Social Security check, or a family member in a federal prison. We might get twenty to thirty desperate calls for assistance a day. I had enjoyed working on community events, such as her annual “Congressional Essay Competition” for high school students. Students could win cash prizes and showcase their work in Madame Senator’s newsletter and our hometown newspaper. I had especially enjoyed working on Madame Senator’s annual Christmas party where we dressed as elves and served more than three hundred poor children pizza. We handed each child a toy, a coat, and a book, purchased by donations from corporations. I remembered how much it meant to me to have one thing for Christmas in my youth since my parents could not afford gifts for us.  So it had been an especially rewarding part of the job to spread holiday cheer to other poor children.

I had worked on Madame Senator’s annual “procurement fair,” where we helped local small business owners meet federal agents to later secure federal contracts.  Madame Senator would hold a press conference, assuring voters that she was working to create opportunities for them. She was brilliant and persuasive. It was no wonder she had been reelected to Congress ten times, then elected as our state’s first African-American senator. She became only the second African American woman to serve in the exclusive club of old white men. I worked for her not only because I needed a job at the time.  I also believed I could learn a lot working with her.  That’s what I believed at twenty-six.  Ten years later, I need a job again, but this time, I believe I can give her the edge she needs. She’s getting old now and needs new energy, new ideas.  So, I accepted the offer even knowing what I knew.

I e-mailed my best friend, Victoria, “I accepted the job! We’re about to make history!”

  • List three of the most challenging people you have encountered in your life.
  • What did you despise most about them?
  • How could they possibly be a reflection of you – your fears/beliefs that keep you from behaving like them, your secret admiration of their strengths?
  • Why do you think they have focused their attention on you? What is it about you they admire and are pushing you to overcome or develop?
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