Thursday, 9 April 2015

50 Shades of Purple

A confession from well before the time I was this angelic (wink!). It connects a pharmacist, a former Secretary of State and a beloved actress – spill da beans!

I love when I change my mind about someone - for the better of course. This is exactly what happened in the case of Monica Lewinsky. While lazing away my days in sunny Florida, I got to catch up on a mounting list of saved articles to read and videos to view and cartoons to laugh at. Along the way an interesting TED talk I had in queue finally got its turn.

For anyone who holds an opinion about her affair - funny how all references to certain Oval office events of '96 - '98 calling it "Monicagate" or the "Lewinsky Scandal" fail to acknowledge there actually was a he, the owner of the infamous pair of unzipped pants - or for those of us who have had similar calamities of our own to work through, it is 22 minutes well worth your time.

So as not to spoil your viewing experience, I will only say that what I loved about it is not necessarily how brave Monica Lewinsky is today to openly talk about her affair or how poised her presentation skills are (although I did enjoy seeing the wise and vulnerable woman who grew into her strength right in front of our eyes. Despite of all of our eyes. And our clicks.) What I actually loved the most is that she gave a blueprint for earning/deserving forgiveness. A simple two step process that can be used as a bounce-back from any mistake.

Step 1: I'm truly sorry.
Step 2: How may I serve others?

But then Monica is "lucky" - despite the fact she was the "index case of the news going viral" which resulted in years of cruelty, cyber-bullying and subsequent depression. She is lucky because her redemption at age 41 can be heard and her bounce-back witnessed. And although it's far from smooth sailing - apparently, the admin of the TED page still has to deal with an avalanche of hatred as a backlash of her appearance - there are many people, perhaps just like myself, who will decide to let her tell them about her struggle and recognize something positive in it. And it was worth it - Monica is now serving a purpose far greater than her grief as a result of a mistake she made at age 22.

But what happens to mistresses who are not Monicas should they decide to apologize and redeem themselves through serving others? Is anyone even listening? Do they matter?
Furthermore, what happens to those mistresses who decide to hold on to their sense of righteousness for going after a douche who was clearly infidelity-ready?

Welcome to Serbia of the '90s
While I was still living in Belgrade, freshly suffering with the wrecked emotions from my own infidelity-ready douche and our mistress, a glamorous-looking woman entered the pharmacy where I worked. She wasn't looking for any medications but rather for an extremely high-end and expensive line of face creams that we just managed to import from Germany. We had it standing in the well-lit locked glass cabinet at the top of the counter to prevent theft yet to attract the more sophisticated buyers if there were any. This was 1996, the year of the 95.6% inflation rate... not many people coming to my pharmacy bought anything that wasn't a bare necessity.

So when a heavily-perfumed fur coat with that dazzling woman in it walked in, I took notice. She wanted only what was in the well-lit locked glass cabinet. She didn't ask for the price. And she took it all: day cream, night cream, anti-wrinkle, neck cream, serum and toner. I was familiar with the high-quality ingredients we had in our own lab and so I managed to convince her to also try our matching store-made products which cost just a fraction of the prestigious brand. She was sceptical, but I was so sure of how I had made it only a day earlier that she stood no chance - she shelled out a credit card that covered a bill that was almost equal to everything else we sold that day. All of that happened while I, as the only employee in the store, was still serving other patients - answering questions and not skipping the small talk my local community heavily relied on. Courtesy and kindness matter more when all else is lacking, especially health and money. When the last patient left, she turned around to face me, her fur coat swirling, while my brain subliminally registered she looked like a pretty version of Cruella Del Vil. In a confident and convincing voice she said:

"You have to come work for me. I am opening a new store on the Slavija Square early next year. The carpenters are now working on state-of-the-art shelving and counters. The marble floors are already in. You have to say yes. I've been watching you work. You are so good with patients and boy, you can sell! I need you! C'mon, it will be fun! We will do this together - two single moms!"

Her big spiel was unnecessary. The owner of the pharmacy I worked for had already started to neglect giving us our salaries. What that meant was that only a fraction of our salaries went into our accounts, the legitimate way. The rest was paid to us in cash so as to save on taxes and future pension obligations. Given the messy Civil War/Bosnian refugee situation, we all agreed to whatever we had been offered. There was zero room for negotiation. That cash portion arrived at first, on the 1st of the month. Then it was more like the 4th or 5th and then the 9th and then the 15th. The last salary I received at that time was over 3 weeks late and it was only handed to me begrudgingly after I timidly asked for it, blushing with discomfort as I justified that I needed it to buy Pampers for my son in their very store - at the full retail price, of course. The Slavija location was also only one bus line away, cutting my commute by a good 45 minutes in each direction. Hell yes - I was IN! 

Cruella Del Vil
Things changed for me the very first week in that new and posh looking pharmacy - when she walked in late one day, just before the closing, with an older looking gentleman in a trench coat. He looked unattractive to me - kind of tired, with a grey stubble and an air of a smoker around him. Her otherwise composed and confident demeanour was now unusually girly and flirty and overly cheerful. It was cheap. It was sad. And it was infuriating.

"She is a mistress" - the thought lodged in my mind and would never leave me, no matter how hard I tried to re-muster respect for her. Even though I was in dire financial circumstances and I absolutely needed this work I could not look at her the same way. Every comment and conversation from that moment on went down as a piece of a puzzle that sealed and confirmed my opinion. She was a mistress - he was paying for all this. Somewhere in this city there was a wife and perhaps kids whose lives were collapsing because of this woman who was nothing like the single mother I was - she was a Cruella indeed. And of course - there was an infidelity-ready douche of a man.

Never receiving an explanation let alone a confession, I dealt those years with the gnawing suspicion of who my own mistress might be as my ex-husband had already physically and legally disappeared from our lives. I would discover the truth two years later in the funniest way possible (I promise a blog post!) right at the time Bill Clinton's impeachment trial was about to start. Hillary and I, who would have thought?!

Either she sensed that I knew and fiercely protested of her behaviour or I have zero actress material, nonetheless my work-life quickly turned into a nightmare. Cruella was changing my hours; prolonging them daily. Scheduling me in each Saturday doubling my weekend shift. Never paying me overtime. Cancelling on the cleaner that used to come every second day, making me mop the floors after 10h of standing at the counter. I took great pride in my work so I accepted all chores - my patients followed me from the other location, I couldn't let them enter the sacred space and see smudged marble floors. Then the verbal abuse and screaming started. Then my salary - again - failed to come on time.

I feverishly looked through the newspapers searching for another job. Hopefully closer to home. The day after I got a verbal confirmation that a pharmacist was leaving a dark and dingy store neighbouring a graveyard, Cruella walked into the store and lashed out at me:

"You are nothing I thought you were going to be! Why do you look at me like that every day? I don't have to tolerate this behaviour! Guess what - You're fired! Today is your last day! And even better - I will not pay you this month, so you can learn the lesson of how not to treat the hand that feeds you!"

Sadly, I learned much later that only deeply unhappy people spill hostility when feeling pressured. Dr.Wayne Dyer gives a wonderful example of orange juice always coming out of the orange whichever way we squeeze it. Trouble in "mistress-land" is the only thing I can divulge when seeing hate-mail my Mr.&Mrs. Ex send on occasion. But I didn't know that then.

What I did know however was chemistry. So just as I shut all but a few lights, ready to leave this pharmacy for the last time, I got an idea. I took a several 10g boxes of potassium permanganate out of a 50 I had just measured, packed and labeled myself in the absence of a hired pharmacy tech. I left a few dinars on the counter with a  note to Olga - a lovely senior pharmacist who had come out of retirement so that she and her sick husband could survive - telling her to ring them through the cash register when she arrived in the morning. Then, as seen in spy movies, I opened the Condy's crystals, box by box, gently "salting" the pale grey marble floors as I walked backwards towards the door. I have to admit, I was shaking - my hands trembled in frustration and anger. I felt overwhelmed with a suffocating helplessness. Granted, this also helped to spread the shiny little dark crystals perfectly and unevenly. Then I left, locking the door and sliding the key underneath it.

"I lived long enough to see that all those who did wrong got wrong done to them" - were words of wisdom my great-grandmother used to say to my mom and my aunt when they were young and protesting why some injustice happened with no fairness in sight. Perhaps I am still 'young' if I feel that sometimes we can help that karma get to the right place a bit sooner?

My favourite Serbian author Mirjana Bobic Mojsilovic recently visited Toronto with the theatre play she wrote the screenplay for: Свлачење (Stripping). One word describes both the plot and the cast: delicious! A theatrical version of my KMnO4. A fun and funny reminder to mistresses that mistress business is monkey business. Eventually everyone will know everything. Plays, memoirs, songs and blogs will be written about it. The only wise way is the Lewinsky way.

I suppose it took ten days for the pharmacy floor to get real messy and for the Magistra Cruella to order an elderly woman to clean it at the end of her shift. It was way past 10 pm when darling Olga called - she was whispering, apologizing she might be waking up my baby, but she needed to tell me:

"I usually don't believe in miracles. Cruella just fired me -- she said that if I didn't clean the floors not to return tomorrow. Child, I am 69 years old and very tired. It is hard to stand all day. So I apologized and said no. She screamed at me - the worst insults I ever heard. She grabbed the mop and kicked the bucket of water spilling it just as I was leaving, holding back my tears. Child, the moment I stepped out all the marble turned purple - big blotches of many different shades. I have never seen that! I was out on the street and at the corner and I could still hear her screaming. Tell me if you don't believe in miracles after this??!!!"

OMG, OMG, OMG, OMG, OMG, HA, HA, HA, HA, HA!!!!! Deep breath. Calm down. 

"Olga, I do believe in miracles!" Mistress Miracles.


  1. milija would be proud of you... well, he mya mot be the bedt person to bringout in this context but then mica "the poison"!

  2. I was expecting one of the former classmates would notice this is less of a chemistry and more of a ONO & DSZ kind of victory (I forget his name!!!) - right in line with "specilajlni rat" ;-)