In an effort to share what I have learned and, hopefully, be an inspiration to others to stay strong and not give up hope, below is a list of some of the bullies I've had the misfortune of encountering in my life.
I grew up in Cornwall, Ontario. A small mill town on the St. Lawrence River, about an hour’s drive west of Montreal. Every brick, every tree, every molecule of oxygen in that grimy little town was saturated with the stench of sulphur and other noxious chemicals from the Domtar paper factory, located in the west end, and (IMHO) it greatly affected the brains and personalities of the 45,000 denizens who dwelled there. Anyone who expressed a talent or interest in the creative or performing arts was outcasted and bullied by their peers, as actor Ryan Gosling can attest. He and I both grew up in Cornwall and, although I was a few years older than him, we were both repeatedly brutalized by schoolmates who had little tolerance for anyone who dared to be different, to express freedom of thought and exercise their gifts. Fortunately for Ryan, his mother removed him from that situation and home schooled him. I, on the other hand, was not so fortunate.
I had a bit of an attitude problem when I was a kid. By “attitude” I mean I was courteous and respectful, and expected the same in return from those I befriended. I was also far more mature than my peers and had a strong sense of right from wrong. Sadly, I was disappointed time and again by schoolmates who were arrogant and cruel to everyone around them, who borrowed my belongings and then either lost or damaged them beyond repair, who threatened to end our “friendship” (or beat the shit out of me) if I didn’t do whatever they demanded, which sometimes included shoplifting, throwing rocks through peoples’ windows, smoking, drinking, taking drugs or giving the cold shoulder to other friends who’d been nothing but loyal to me. You know that old saying “With friends like these, who needs enemies?” Well, my entire childhood was filled with ruthless frenemies that I could never trust or count on to behave with decency and respect.
It also didn’t help matters that I was...shall we say gifted with paranormal sensitivities? Somewhere around age eight or nine I became aware that I could, on occasion, sense the thoughts and feelings of those around me and predict future events. FYI: it is so not cool to tell a classmate that you’re sorry his grandfather is going to pass away in his sleep the next morning – and, then, he does. That little slip-up got me branded as a witch by my peers at a Catholic grade school, and for the next two years I endured some pretty brutal taunts and beatings. The classmate whose grandfather had died cornered me on the school bus and blew salt into my eyes in an effort to exorcise the evil inside me. Later, I was run over by a boy on a bike (still got the scar on the back of my leg), held under water and nearly drowned by three girls during swimming class, poisoned with Drano by a classmate who cheerfully offered to share his can of Coke, and set on fire – twice – by a group of kids chanting “Burn the witch! Burn the witch!”
Back in those days, virtually nothing was done to help the victims of schoolyard bullying. As far as the school staff was concerned, if they didn’t witness the event, it didn’t happen. In fact, reporting the abuse only made things worse. As for parental intervention...well, my parents were clueless and ineffectual in dealing with the issue, so, I was left to fend for myself. It wasn’t until I reached age 15 that the schoolyard bullying stopped. By then, I’d learned to love and accept everything that was weird and wonderful about me, and made short work of anyone who tried to take a stab at me, both literally and figuratively.
A few weeks before my 19th birthday, in 1987, I got the coolest job ever. Working the confection stand at the only single screen movie theatre in town. The manager, Glenn, was quite a character. His very first job was working at the theatre as a teenager, training to be a projectionist. As the years passed, he moved up the ranks to manager. A position he, regrettably, was not entirely qualified for.
I loved Glenn like a favourite uncle (I got married at the theatre 30 minutes before a Saturday matinée, and Glenn was my husband’s Best Man), and did my best to keep things running smoothly. I had a strong work ethic and always did what I was told, when I was told. After a couple years working the concession stand, he promoted me to assistant manager (unofficially and with no real power, mind you, because Glenn didn’t think a chick should have that much control over the theatre – or him). My responsibilities were to train new staff, ensure guest safety and comfort, fill in for ill or vacationing staff and assist with minor repairs to the building. Because of my background in business management, marketing and public relations, he also relied on me to be the friendly face of the theatre, to warmly welcome guests, promote the business in the community and devise marketing strategies to bring kids into the Saturday afternoon matinées. I absolutely loved my job but it had some serious – and I mean serious – drawbacks.
As I said earlier, I adored Glenn but he was truly inept when it came to managing a constantly revolving staff and the thousands of customers who poured through our doors to see movies like Aliens, Terminator 2, Die Hard, Ghost, and Star Trek V & VI. He had no backbone when it came to enforcing workplace policies and procedures, and often hired losers and slackers who were only putting in face-time for the cash ($4.75/hr. – Wow!). They cared very little for the job and even less for their co-workers.
One co-worker in particular, I’ll call him “Steve”, was a bad apple, right to the core. A 21 year-old gay man with a major chip on his shoulder, he hated everyone and had a persecution complex that bordered on psychosis. He bullied the staff and dominated Glenn, who mostly just hid in his office when things got ugly, too afraid to fire him for fear of repercussions. All of the staff, including myself, tried to stay the hell out of Steve’s way in order to avoid the stinging insults, snide remarks and threats of violence. He occasionally got physical with me, grabbing my arm, pushing me against a wall – he even threatened to kill me when his 16 year-old bisexual lover started flirting with me. It was a major relief to everyone when Steve quit after four months in order to attend college in another city. Good riddance to bad rubbish!
When I was 20, I met and later married a notable figure in the Canadian broadcasting industry. Tall, handsome, charming, intelligent and very funny, Michael would’ve been the husband that every girl dreams of marrying, if it wasn’t for the fact that he had some serious mental health issues. Plagued by anxiety, severe depression, paranoia and a profound lack of self-esteem, this divorced man, ten years my senior, was an absolute nightmare to live with during our twelve years together.
It was subtle, at first. The suggestions about what I should wear when we went out together, how I should wear my hair, how high the heels of my shoes should be, what colour lipstick was “appropriate”. But, then, he started telling me what friends I could have (I was absolutely forbidden to be alone in a room with a man), what family members I could associate with and what job I could have. I was perfectly happy working in the retail and hospitality industries but that just wasn't good enough for Michael, whose celebrity status dictated that I elevate myself to his level, both socially and financially. He pretty much forced me to join him in the broadcasting industry, molding and manipulating me, for many years, until I was nothing more than a female version of himself, a mere shadow of the exciting and vivacious young woman I once was.
I lived in constant fear of Michael's wrath and while he never once laid a violent hand on me, his Svengali-like manipulations and relentless accusations of impropriety ultimately alienated me from my friends, family and co-workers until he was all that was left in my world. Finally, at age 30, I’d had enough of his psychotic accusations and emotional manipulations, which had all but destroyed my soul, and I gave him the boot.
Soon after my divorce in the late 1990s, I launched a temporary services agency, called P.A. Plus (your personal assistant – plus!), which remains my main source of income to this day. I provide a wide range of services, including secretarial and administrative work, catering and event-planning, floral arrangements and gift baskets, shopping and errands, house/pet-sitting, home and office cleaning/organizing, writing, graphic arts and photography services, marketing, public relations and promotions. I even do haircuts, manicures, make-up application and image/wardrobe consulting.
I’ve had dozens of clients from all walks of life. Architects, accountants, interior decorators, structural engineers, general contractors, computer scientists, waste management consultants, real estate developers, bike shop owners, photographers, commercial property managers, fitness club owners – even a few celebrities. My training in psychology and sociology, combined with my natural empathic abilities, has helped me cope with a wide variety of personalities. I’ve had some frustratingly indecisive clients who constantly changed their minds about what they wanted from me, while other clients were very precise in their instructions and expectations. I’ve also had a few high-octane clients with big personalities – and even bigger egos (think Tony Stark/Iron Man). That’s cool. I can totally handle that. What I can’t handle are the ruthless, caustic, self-indulgent whack-job clients.
In the spring of 2010, I moved from Ottawa (my home for 15 years), to Toronto in order to take a full-time, live-in position as the personal assistant and household manager for “Gary” and “Mary”, a wealthy, jet-setting couple in their fifties, with a five year old boy that I was expected to baby-sit, on occasion. During the first few days of my employment I developed an affection for their son, “Evan”. Sweet kid, very well-behaved. The same, however, could not be said for his mother. By the end of my first week, I realized I’d made a horrible, horrible mistake. As kind, gentle and respectful as Gary was, Mary was the complete opposite. An immature, selfish, self-indulgent Jewish princess who went out of her way to make me feel small, insecure and unappreciated at every opportunity.
I’m a well-educated, highly-skilled professional in my mid 40s, and yet she kept treating me like I was an insignificant peasant, fresh off the boat from Cambodia. Remember the original Star Trek episode entitled “Elaan of Troyius” about an abrasive spoiled brat of a princess whose tears made men fall in love with her? Well that was Mary, only without the tears. She bullied everyone around her, in person and on the phone, trash-talked people behind their backs all the time, and had the same kind of tantrums you’d expect from a three year-old (screaming, throwing things, slamming doors etc.), with no regret or remorse for her actions. Embarrassed by his wife’s behaviour, Gary felt compelled to explain that because Mary had come from a wealthy and privileged background, with a throng of servants who catered to her every whim since she was a child, she treated people in the “service industry” (meaning everyone from general contractors, plumbers and interior decorators to teachers, nurses, waiters and nannies) like they were beneath her.
Naturally, I was dreading the idea of spending the next five years of my life working for that bitch on wheels (I signed a long-term contract), and wondered how the hell I was going to get myself out of this situation. Thankfully, the perfect solution presented itself less than two weeks into my new job when it was discovered that Evan was allergic to my two cats, Aries and Gillian, who lived with me in the nanny’s suite. With her thin mouth twisted into a grimace of distain, Mary insisted that I just had to go. A few days later I was outta there, dead broke but very, very happy to be free of the clutches of that screeching banshee.
Because I work in show business, I have intimate access to certain people in the industry. Actors, screenwriters, producers etc. A few years ago, I contacted a Los Angeles-based actor I’d never met before, hoping he’d be interested in a supporting role on a TV series I was developing for network television. This actor, let’s call him “PL”, was married, with a successful career in the industry up to that point. Although he was not an A-lister, he had an international fan following and an official website in order to promote his work and make himself available to his fans.
PL liked my pitch and agreed to come on board, both of us hoping that having his name attached to the project would increase my odds of selling the show. With PL’s permission, I posted a notice on his message board to introduce myself and announce that he was involved with the project. Dozens of fans from all over the world posted their congratulations and well-wishes. I even got an email from “Trista”, the founder and president of his North American fan club. She was very excited by the news, so I emailed back to tell her how much I appreciated her support. She replied, telling me a little about herself and I responded, telling her a little bit more about myself. Soon, we were corresponding eight to ten times a week, getting very friendly and personal with each other. At no time did I suspect that Trista wasn’t nearly as mentally or emotionally stable as she seemed in her emails. It was only after about seven months of communicating with her, via email, that I discovered some very shocking and disturbing news about her.
While surfing the Internet one afternoon, I stumbled upon a website whose sole purpose was for people to post rude and disgusting jokes, stories, insults, celebrity rumors, porn pics...just the absolute worst things you would never want to see on the Internet. To my absolute horror and dismay, I found several posts from Trista discussing me and my relationship with PL, who had become a dear friend of mine by that point. She copy/pasted excerpts from our numerous email exchanges where I mentioned my unhappy marriage and subsequent divorce, details of my health/weight problems and brush with cancer, my social, religious and political views...just so many very personal and private things. In Trista’s posts (there were about 25 of them), she insulted and scoffed at every aspect of my personal and professional life, my physical appearance, my intelligence and various creative talents. She condemned my relationship with PL and suggested that he and I were having an affair on his wife. Trista encouraged anyone reading her posts to join in the “fun” of insulting and degrading me and, much to my chagrin, many people did.
I emailed Trista to confront her but she just laughed me off saying she had the right to free speech and would go on saying anything she liked about me. It was only now that I realized just how jealous she was of my friendship with PL and, in her delusion, saw me as a threat. Now that she knew I found her disgusting message board posts, she went back to the website and posted my real name (I had a different professional name back then), my email address, home address and cell phone number, urging anyone reading the info to find me and take me out – and I don’t mean to dinner!
The next few weeks were pure hell for me. I got dozens of phone calls in the middle of the night from men whispering “Slut!”, “I’m gonna get you, cunt!”, “You’re dead, you fucking bitch!” I also got anonymous emails from people detailing how they were going to kidnap, rape, torture and kill me. I wanted to go to the police but, after discussing the situation with PL, we realized that if I did, this whole thing – which, so far, was just a bunch of really juvenile assholes having cruel fun – would turn into a media shit-storm that would deeply affect his marriage and his career.
So, I changed my phone number, cancelled my email account, went totally off the grid for three months while I waited for things to die down. I had my lawyer monitor the offending website and track Trista’s actions, in the real world and online, over the next year or so. Eventually, she got bored with attacking me and moved on with her life which, unfortunately, hasn’t amounted to much. As for PL, he got divorced a few years ago (which had nothing to do with me), moved to Europe and started a family with a lovely young woman. We remain on friendly terms to this day.