Family of Me

by Daphne
Updates Mondays and Fridays

Scene 88: Corporate Mask

Aura (The Professional): Hey Mom.

Mom (Me): Hello Aura. How are you this morning?

Aura (smiling): Better now! Gosh, hearing my name gives me this pleasant tingly feeling.

Mom (smiling): I’m so glad. I’m also glad you came to me with something you want to discuss.

Aura: Don’t say that until you’ve heard what it is — I want to talk about us.

Mom: What about us?

Aura: I want to understand why you pushed me away so hard once you started seeing your partner.

Mom: Getting right into the difficult stuff, huh?

Aura (determined): Absolutely. If we can’t work on this, what’s the point of trying again?

Mom: I agree; let’s talk about it.

Aura: When you were in your twenties, we had to figure out a new way to exist in the world. We didn’t have school to rely on anymore, and the things we did to navigate school differently stopped working once we were in a corporate setting. We worked hard to find new ways to live that worked for us.

Mom: Yes, I remember.

Aura: Then your partner comes along. She has different ideas about how to act, and whenever she’d bring up those differences, you were always eager to please. She would say “I know this isn’t you” and you’d agree with her, that’s what kills me! We worked hard to figure out how to exist in this world, and you were just throwing our hard work away! You’d say “I know, I want to get better” and you’d try to change and I just kept getting pushed further into the back of your head. The longer you were with her the worse it would get — I felt like I was being used. You’d still consult me at work, but at home I was strictly forbidden to interact.

Mom: Hoo boy. There’s a *lot* to cover here; so let’s start at the beginning. You’re the Professional; you help me navigate corporate spaces. Corporate spaces demand a very particular, detached way of being. Especially at the beginning of your career, decisions are made by people above you and you’re expected to adapt to them. There’s no discussion, there’s no-one to appeal to, and your only real recourse is to leave the company. Everyone is taught not to take things personally — the decision wasn’t about you, it was about the needs of the company and the interchangable cog that you’re expected to shape yourself into.

Aura (uneasy): When you put it like that it sounds abusive.

Mom (sarcastic): Goodness, does it really? Everything about you that the company finds inconvenient or unproductive or confusing — you’re expected to lock all of that up inside you and learn to be an emotionless blank slate that the company can project whatever it wants onto.

Aura: Okay, but there’s freedom in that too. As long as you’re doing your job, you have the freedom to be whatever you want.

Mom (angry): Except you don’t, do you? Because at the end of the day the company might not care, but your boss does. So it’s not your decision, it’s your boss’s decision, and you’re only given whatever leeway your boss has chosen to leave for you. Every company is dozens or hundreds or even thousands of little fiefdoms, managed by just as many little rulers intent on lording over their domains.

Aura (hesitant): That’s not… That’s not always true.

(I pause and take a breath to steady myself.)

Mom (bitter): It was the first time.

Aura (quiet): Our first boss… She was rough.

Mom: She treated you like garbage.

Aura: You don’t have to remind me. She wanted two things: Control and fear. I refused to fear her, so she used all her power to make my life miserable.

Mom: She used us as her personal punching bag for over a year. We were fresh out of school back then, and suddenly we were thrown into this corporate hellscape and treated like trash over and over and over again, yelled at and berated and blamed for everything that could conceivably be laid at our feet. Nobody around us did anything to put a stop to it or tell her that behavior wasn’t acceptable; everyone just acted like that was how things were, or worse, like it was my fault.

Aura (haunted): It wasn’t until someone else joined the team a couple years later and became the new punching bag that we got any relief…

Mom: We should have left that company much earlier than we did, but everything leading up to that point normalized our boss’s behavior. She’s the boss, so making everybody’s life miserable is her prerogative. Bad bosses are just an occupational hazard. Abuse is an occupational hazard. Dehumanization is an occupational hazard.

Aura: It’s not… It’s not like that forever. You found better companies eventually, and you became a more experienced engineer. You don’t have to deal with that atmosphere anymore.

Mom: I think this is part of why I pushed you away so hard back then. You normalized that atmosphere, that corporate detachment, weathering that abuse.

Aura (upset): Of course I did! It’s what you created me to do!

Mom: And I hated that it had to be done at all. I despised that atmosphere, and I hated that I’d become adept at navigating it. Spending so much time at that first job gave me a lot of experience navigating office politics — experience that a lot of my peers lacked when I moved on to other companies.

Aura (pointed): Experience that *I* gathered, and that you *still* use to better navigate those spaces. Experience that keeps us *safe* in those environments.

(Suspicious on hearing the word “safe”, I close my eyes for a moment and open them to get a fresh view of Aura, and find her wearing an expressionless mask over her face. I heave a resigned sigh and reach forward to pull it off of her.)

Mom: Honestly, I should have expected this.

Aura (surprised): We still need that, you know.

Mom: Here’s the thing about this mask. We thought this corporate persona was the only way to be, and we tried to use it everywhere. It turns out acting like an employee and treating everyone like a coworker isn’t a very effective way to go through life, especially when it comes to your family.

Aura: But that experience, that mask, *is* me. What’s even left if you take that away?

Mom: *You’re* left. The rest of you; the Aura I’m talking to right now.

(Aura looks at the mask, recognizing that she’s separate from it, but still seems confused.)

Mom: There’s another problem with this mask, and maybe once you understand it, letting go of it will be easier for you.

Aura: What’s that?

Mom: This is a male mask. The kind of personality you’re expected to have in order to be a successful businessperson is overwhelmingly masculine. Even women are expected to aspire to masculinity in business — that’s clear from their fashion to their attitude to their behavior.

Aura: That… I don’t know if I agree with that.

Mom: We’ve been at this a while… Can we assume it’s true for now and talk about it in depth later?

Aura (thoughtful): … Okay.

Mom: We aren’t men. Do you want to pretend to be a man? Even to get ahead in business?

Aura (quietly): No.

Mom: No. So there’s something that’s fundamentally *you* that isn’t just part of this mask. And it’s *you* that I want to learn to accept, *you’re* a part of this family. Not this mask.

(Aura stands silently for a few moments.)

Aura: This feels familiar. I remember how pensive I’d get after a conversation with you back when I was in Lark’s body, how unsure of myself I became. I guess some things don’t change.

Mom: You’re still the same person, so no, that hasn’t changed. But I’m confident you’ll become more sure of yourself the longer we’re together.

Aura (smiling): I’m glad you think so. Thanks mom.