After college, I secured a job teaching in a Christian school on the east coast. As part of my contract, I signed the customary code of behavior. It was standard practice for churches and Christian schools to require their employees refrain from practices such as drinking, smoking, using drugs, and often more benign things like going to the movies or dressing immodestly. Of course, “immorality” such as fornication, adultery, and homosexuality were also forbidden in the contract. What differentiates these contracts from codes of ethics offered by other employers is that the employee is expected to follow them 24-7-365, not only at work, but also in their personal lives.
Though I was taking the job so I could live with my lesbian girlfriend Rita (all names have been changed), I signed. When you’re living a secret life, you do everything you must to protect yourself. The school was connected to a hyper-conservative Baptist church. My girlfriend was teaching at another school connected to her Baptist church and had signed a similar contract.
This was my first job — EVER. I was 23 and very naïve. I had just gotten my first driver’s license. You see, my parents, who were extremely controlling, had never allowed me to work outside the home or drive, even while I attended college thousands of miles from home. As if this background wasn’t limiting enough, I also found myself in a culture very unlike my own with a deep history and subtleties in communication I cannot to this day understand. Had I been living only one life I would have been in over my head, but with a secret life on the side, I was doomed before I even started.
Rita was one of the most tortured souls I have ever know. She abused alcohol and showed me how to as well (I had never had a drop before moving in with her). She introduced me to her rowdy lesbian friends who partied with drugs. Somehow I never tried them. At home, she abused me physically and emotionally, but I was used to that from my family of origin. I even put up with her affairs. She was corresponding with a man in prison, and we visited him once. I let her use this as a ruse to throw people off our clandestine relationship. Once she came home and confessed she had slept with one of our lesbian friends. I was deeply hurt, but forgave her. Only when I realized the friendship she had with another teacher at her school (a mother of 6) was actually another affair, did I begin to think of leaving her.
Then came my birthday. Rita and I were on the outs (though still living together) and had no plans to celebrate. And here we come to my tips on how NOT to fire an employee.
DON’T call them on their birthday and ask them to celebrate at your house only to ambush them when they arrive.
Kelly, my principle’s wife and someone I considered a good friend, did just that. It sounded like fun, so I packed a bag (she had invited me to stay the night) and drove to her house. When I walked in the door, she and her husband and the pastor of our church were waiting in the living room with stern faces. I wish I had turned around and left. They sat me down and told me they had figured out that Rita and I were more than just roommates. They had already grilled my friend Jenny in whom I had recently confided. They browbeat me into a confession.
DON’T forbid them to return home even to pack a bag or pick up mail, instead insisting they LIVE FOR A TIME WITH YOU.
You read that correctly. I was essentially under house arrest at the home of my employer. Over the next 24 hours I was forced to compose and sign a letter of resignation delineating my breach of contract and admitting I was guilty of homosexuality. I was humiliated at every turn, and all the while made to believe these abuses were for my own good.
DON’T forbid them to contact their friends and family.
These were the days before cell phones. To call my family in another state would cost money I didn’t have, and I was not allowed to call them on the phone where I was being held. I was told I should protect them from the truth of my “fall from grace.” I was also not allowed to talk to Jenny, or rather she was not allowed to talk to me as doing so would be considered “the appearance of evil.” In this nightmare, I felt completely alone.
DON’T be surprised when the only job they are able to get is door-to-door sales.
The school was my only employment history. They wouldn’t give me a good reference. I had no experience to draw from. After days of checking the help wanted ads, I settled for a “job” selling encyclopedias door-to-door. Terrible choice. The principal and his wife watched me as I spent hours memorizing a dozen-page script. Every day from 3 to about 9, I would go knocking on doors with a team of people. We were lucky if we made 2 sales in a day. After 3 weeks, I finally made a sale, earning about $100 to be paid out at the end of the month.
DON’T be surprised when under these circumstances they eat an entire batch of your homemade snickerdoodles.
DON’T accuse them of lying about getting a job as a ruse to go home to their lover.
Yes, I really was selling encyclopedias. No, I really hadn’t been continuing a relationship with Rita or going to the home which still held all my earthly belongings. But I hadn’t brought home any money, so they made up their minds that I had been doing exactly that. And they kicked me out.
DON’T after all this kick them out of your house with $20 to their name.
I spent the day driving around town trying to figure out what I was going to do. Would I sleep in my car? I didn’t have enough for a hotel room and barely enough for food for a couple days. But I was FREE. No one was holding me captive any more. No one was telling me what I could or could not do. I called home, collect.
My parents listened and cried with me as I told them the sordid story. My dad called the airline and arranged for a ticket to be waiting for me in the morning. He told me to call Rita and ask if I could spend the night. She and I spent that night packing all of my stuff into my car. A couple of weeks after I came home, my dad caught a plane and drove my car back. A very dark chapter of my life was over, but it would take years to put it behind me.
DON’T ignore them when they try to make amends you don’t deserve.
After 24 years, I saw the principal’s name on facebook. I decided to message him, to clear the air. Here’s what I wrote.
There was never a reply.
I have since realized that what I thought was love from them was really manipulation and control. They didn’t even know how to love someone like me. It would appear they still don’t.
Someone asked why on earth I ever thought I owed them an apology. Truthfully, I didn’t. I was still steeped in fundamentalism when I wrote it. Over the last three years I have broken free! I’m sharing more about that journey on my sister blog, Rhythms of Grace.
If you would like to read more of my story, you may do so in this post.
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