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Rubber Ducky Exposes CIA Sexual Harassment

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“Yes, but what do yellow rubber duckies have to do with sexual harassment?” my brother asks a second time. I’m trying to explain the concept of emotional de-cluttering, and he’s just not getting it. Who can blame him? The connection exists only in my brain, and I didn’t even know it was there until I started trying to decide what to do with the collection of rubber duckies in my bathroom.

In keeping with my promise to you, Dear Reader, I have been (sometimes literally) plowing forward — albeit erratically — with my housecleaning attempts, and being mindful of my emotional reactions to the stuff I find it hard to part with.   https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2012/09/03/emotional-house-cleaning/

Why did these five yellow duckies ruffle my emotional feathers? I began wading through charged memories. The first time I remember hearing my parents fight was over whether I should be allowed to keep Dilly, Daffy, and Dally, the ducklings my uncle had given me (no, was the upshot). The pivotal moment when I decided to pursue an environmental career came as I was sitting at the duck pond at Montgomery Community College, contemplating the effects of industrial pollution on innocent ducklings.

Then I noticed the small printing on the ducky chests – Chancellor Hotel, San Francisco, California.

Fade to San Francisco Bar Scene

Suddenly a memory came back to me of sitting at a bar in San Francisco, which wasn’t an uncommon occurrence, back in the day. I used to spend a lot of time at the Sierra Club headquarters in that fabulous city, and in the evenings, visiting field reps would gather at classy joints (not so much) like Lefty O’Doul’s on Union Square. 

That particular night, I was sitting with a distraught young woman who had just been the victim of an elevator pass made by a male Sierra Club staffer notorious for womanizing. She asked for my advice.

I am ashamed to continue this story, so I will instead take you to an underground vault at the Central Intelligence Agency in McLean, Virginia. (How I went from a job at the CIA to the Sierra Club is another story. You’ll have to wait for my book.)

Jump to an Underground Vault at the CIA

Seal of the C.I.A. - Central Intelligence Agen...

Seal of the C.I.A. – Central Intelligence Agency of the United States Government (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am newly 19 and have just come back from lunch with my 30 year-old supervisor. He had lunged across the seat of his car, kissed me, and stuck his married hand up my skirt. I am asking an older woman in the secretarial pool what I should do. She gives me two pieces of advice – first, I shouldn’t have gotten in the car with him, and second, I shouldn’t wear such short skirts. I’m inviting that behavior.

I get a new supervisor. This one shoves his married tongue down my throat at the office holiday party. I don’t even bother to tell him when another fine, upstanding CIA employee comes up behind me and shoves his (married) hands down my blouse. After all, this is nothing new — the manager at the hardware store where I worked when I was 18 had done the same thing, after I turned down his kind invitation to swing with him and his wife. My fault, probably. I should have been wearing a turtleneck.

Done with Duckies, Guilt, and Shame

So what did I tell this younger woman at the bar in San Francisco, twenty years post-CIA trauma? Thank God I didn’t tell her to wear longer skirts. But I did advise her to weigh her actions in light of her career goals. She was junior, but on her way up, and he was an influential manager. She never reported the sexual harassment. None of us works there anymore.

I haven’t thought about any of this in many moons. It was well-stuffed. The shocked confusion of an 18 year-old kid being asked to bed down with her 35 year-old manager and his wife, the shame of a 19-year-old who has essentially been told she’s a tart and is getting what she asks for, and the stabbing guilt of not supporting a younger woman struggling with similar emotions.

It’s been fifteen years since I’ve seen the woman, but I recently contacted her, and we plan to get together. I’m going to apologize. I should have marched with her up to Human Resources and busted that guy.

Anyway, I’m thinking I’ll get rid of the yellow rubber duckies. Maybe I’ll keep the one with the Santa hat…nah, he reminds me of office holiday parties.

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(If you’re interested in following the history of sexual harassment at the CIA, class action suits, etc, there’s plenty of stuff online. I”m not here to grind an axe; I’m long gone from there and into healing. Plus, I don’t want to get “disappeared.” But you can investigate on your own. Here are recent articles:      CIA steps up harassment enforcement – UPI.com.)

http://www.newser.com/story/149502/cia-investigating-sexual-harassment-among-agents.html  “It’s an old-boys’ network, and that kind of comes with the territory,” says one victim. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Emotional House Cleaning

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Labor Day. The end of summer. Soon I’ll be leaving the muse-mountains of New Hampshire and heading south, back to Johns Hopkins University to continue my quest to “become a writer.” Summer hasn’t worked out the way I’d planned, which isn’t a huge surprise, since I didn’t really have a plan. Well, I kind of had a plan, and it kind of happened. I did go to Assateague, where beach afternoons held vodka & tonics and distinctly un-literary paperbacks, and the evenings featured friends smashing crabs, sucking oysters, and picking through lobster claws while I used my vegetarianism as an excuse to have third helpings of veggie casserole and corn on the cob.

As planned, my nephew and his four kids descended on Quiet Hills in July, and I returned to childhood for a few weeks as we splashed in the Ashuelot River, caught frogs and toads, reveled in cotton candy, pizza and ice cream, and played Clue and Monopoly before ending the evenings with Tolkien in Middle-earth. I had even planned to maybe consider pondering the notion of starting a blog … and so!

In fact, much of my summer went exactly as planned, but there’s been one crashing failure. I was supposed to throw myself into de-cluttering mode for large blocs of June, July, and August. I donated my Elvis books — a big step in divesting myself of past lives — but beyond that, nada. Why? Why is getting rid of stuff such a huge deal for me? I’m not as bad as the TV show Hoarders, but I can see how they get there.

In lieu of making any actual progress, I bought a few de-cluttering magazines, which provided no assistance and are now cluttering up the couch. Then I signed up for a Feng Shui de-cluttering class at the local community college. The instructor was colorful and billowy and smelled vaguely like a pine tree, or maybe a pile of peat. “My name is Yarrow,” she said. No last name, or maybe that was her last name. She looked like a swami George Harrison might have hung out with.

Yarrow told us about energy spaces and fire and water and yin and yang and color circles and that the bedroom is the most important room and that it needs to be a safe space. This brought to mind the battered cedar trunk that was at the foot of my bed for several decades, a relic from a psychotic roommate who strangled my cat before vanishing. Why on earth had I kept that trunk?

“Where will you start?” The swami billowed up behind me and put her hand on my chair.

“What?” I asked, surprised and feeling oddly guilty, as if I’d been called out for daydreaming in class.

“What’s number one on your plan to create your safe bedroom?”

“Um, the brown dresser, I guess.” I grasped the first thing that came to mind. I hadn’t actually seen the brown dresser in quite some time, but I assumed it was still supporting that massive pile of clothes and shoes.

“Tell us about the brown dresser,” she urged.

“Well,” I said, stalling for time, “it’s brown.”

“Yes?”

“And the finish is gone and its drawers are broken. The clothes are crammed in so that they bulge through the bottom of the drawers.”

She nodded. “And what will you do with this dresser once it’s cleaned out? You’re not going to keep it?” She raised her eyebrows.

I felt surprised and somewhat insulted.  “If I duct tape the drawers again it will last for a while,” I said defensively. “It was my roommate John’s.”

“Ahhh,” she said knowingly. “It was John’s. Now we’re getting somewhere. Tell us about John.”

“John was my roommate for ten years or so,” I said. “We went to high school together. He’s a good friend … or was. He married a woman who I don’t think likes me, so I don’t see him much anymore.” This reasoning sounded lame even to me, and I looked around the room for support.

Everyone was looking at Yarrow, who was making the blah-blah-blah gesture with her fingers, like a yapping Bugs Bunny shadow puppet. “You see?” she said to the class. “This has nothing to do with the dresser. It’s John she’s holding on to. All of this clutter is about emotional attachments. It’s not about the stuff, it’s about emotional attachments.”

Oh. I guess maybe I knew that at some level.

I do know I’m weighed down with a bunch of stuff I don’t want or need.  A brown dresser becomes a fear of abandonment. A faded patchwork skirt embodies a five-year relationship (he had the skirt made for me) and reminds me I’m past the age when I might give birth to the daughter I once planned to give it to. A white ceramic cat that looks like a giant blob of marshmallow crème with a garland of roses stuck in it represents the loss of my mother – she gave it to me, after all; I can’t very well just get rid of it.

Obviously, this is going to be a long journey. An emotional and spiritual expedition with lightness and freedom at the end of it. I hope that writing it down will ensure that this inner and outer de-cluttering becomes a healing process. I’m ready. If you’re a packrat, or if you just like to marvel at the messes people make, you’re welcome to join me. I hope you enjoyed your summer.

Marshmallow Cat

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