I'm participating in the Blogging from A-Z Challenge again this year. Today's post is brought to you by the letter B.
My big mouth has gotten me into trouble more times than I care to count. Though I'm a people pleaser and non confrontational for the most part, I have a huge issue with speaking without thinking. This is something I have known since I was young, yet I can't seem to perfect the art of shutting the hell up. While I don't keep track of each time it has happened, I do love to tell the story of the time the backlash from my big mouth changed the trajectory of my entire life.
Before I tell this story, I'd like to state that this is 100% the truth. I'm not exaggerating and if I could find a copy of the paper I refer to, I would share it in a heartbeat. I feel like people think I'm telling tall tales when I share this with them, but if you've ever lived in a small town in the deep South, you know I can't make this shit up.
In early 2000 I was living in Clinton, Arkansas. Having been transplanted there from Oregon 6 years earlier, I was pretty well acclimated to how things work in rural town USA. I understood the dynamics and how certain things that would be unacceptable in a metropolitan area were run-of-the-mill in a more tight-knit community. Though I longed to move back to my hometown, I was married and had started my adult life in Clinton. I figured I would never live anywhere else. Until the day I opened my big mouth and got run out of town.
There was a small, independently run paper called The Ozark Bee. From what I could gather, it had only been in circulation for a short time, but I really enjoyed reading the articles because they were so completely different than the little town newspaper that was printed each Wednesday. One particular edition of the Ozark Bee included a story about a corrupted police force in the area and asked for readers to chime in with their own opinions or tales of woe. Rarely one to keep my opinion to myself, I drafted a letter to the editor and without a second thought, mailed it.
My letter was eloquent, but scathing. At the time, I didn't really understand the implications of what I was saying. I wrote about my experience with the mentality in our small town that allowed certain officials to bend the rules in order to give their friends a "free pass" or make them privy to confidential tidbits of information. I sited one such experience I had that involved my step dad. He was really good friends with a high ranking officer who showed him crime scene photos and told him insider info about different happenings in town. Because of their friendship, when I needed to call the police for help because my step dad was stalking and harassing me, I was given the brush-off. In fact, my step dad's officer friend was the one who responded when I tried to file a report and refused to do so, telling me I couldn't prove that these things were actually happening and that I needed to work it out with my step dad privately. Never mind that my step dad had a history of physical violence, particularly against me and my Mom. Due to that experience, that officer was the focus of my letter.
In my sarcastic way, I threw in snarky comments about how I never spoke up before because I figured if I did, I'd be sporting an orange jumpsuit, cleaning trash off the highway with the rest of the criminals. I also threw in a barb or two about how I was an outsider and that caused me to be singled out in an area where most residents had lived there for generations. I admit, it was pretty harsh. True, but harsh. I should have known my dry sense of humor wouldn't be well received.
The way I found out my letter was published was through a phone call. The officer I mentioned in the letter had a daughter roughly my age. She called, cussed me out, then hung up on me. Over the next 24 hours she called several more times. Ever call was the same: she'd cuss me out, call me names, make threats, and then hang up. Next, I got a call from one of the district managers of the restaurant I worked at asking me about the letter and stating he had received multiple calls that morning from officers demanding that I get fired and refusing to escort me to the bank to make the nightly deposit. (Our store had been robbed at gunpoint a couple months earlier, so we were required to have a police escort to make bank drops.) When I asked if I was fired, he skirted the question, stating I needed to lay low for a couple days and see if it passes.
I felt cornered, unsafe and scared about what would happen if I lost my job and had an entire police force mad at me. My husband at the time was dealing pot, so being on their radar would have been devastating. I have no police record; not even so much as a speeding ticket. The thought of going to jail had me so terrified I couldn't breathe. Immediately I formulated an escape plan. Two short days after the letter was published, I had quit my job, packed a few small things, and boarded a bus to Oregon. At only 19 years old, I was understandably nervous about uprooting the life I had started in Clinton, but also excited to be heading back to my true home. The sudden move meant a month-long separation from my husband at the time as he tied up loose ends before following me out West. The whole experience was very surreal.
Not one to accept circumstances that I have no control over, I didn't just leave quietly in the still of the night. Before I left, I started a rumor that I had a nervous breakdown and went to the nut house. It was sort of my immature, final "fuck you" to the small town that had rejected me. Years later, I actually had an old friend from the area ask me about that rumor. The truth was much less dramatic: I rode a Greyhound bus for 3 very long days and arrived safely in my hometown early one February morning. My Grandma Wolf was waiting for me when I stepped off the bus, gave me a place to live for 2 months, listened as I talked endlessly about the trials of being in a small town, and drove me around to drop off applications and go to job interviews.
After that fiasco, I learned a very valuable lesson about "knowing your audience". I still run off at the mouth constantly, but I'm more aware of who I'm talking to and what I'm saying to them. Now, sixteen years post-exile, I can say that while Clinton Arkansas is a lovely place to visit, moving back to Oregon was the smartest decision I could have made. It meant moving away from some beautiful sites, the simplicity and slower-pace of rural life, and some amazing people, but I'm right where I should be. Had something so drastic never happened, I might not have made it back here and my life would be completely different. Even if I come off sounding like a wuss in this story, I've gained enough perspective to appreciate that it happened.