Friday, April 16, 2021

Oh, Henry! Part One

Henry was already an employee of the local public library when his bike and the van collided. He loved that job. He arrived early every day, so early that he was asked to cut it out because he was giving them too much overtime and they couldn't afford to compensate him. He wasn't doing it for the OT. He just felt at-home among the books. He had ambitions -- he taught a short-story writer's workshop at the library and wanted to do more. 

After the accident, he couldn't wait to get back to work. He was still in a wheelchair, still had pins in his ankle, but they welcomed him back. They had him in the back office during the day, handling paperwork (literally, because ever since the accident he has trouble with the computer). When he was more mobile, they gave him a job that he came to enjoy: taking books off the shelves that hadn't been checked out in 24 months. Some would be sold at the annual library book sale, some he set aside for his dear friend Suzanne, who runs a bookstore that handles second-hand books, anything about Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis ended up in my den.

Was he earning his salary? Honestly, probably not. He was doing tasks that could be handled by a volunteer or an intern. But his boss, Miguel, and his coworkers were happy to have him back. They appreciated that he was disabled by the traumatic brain injury and was doing the best he could. Miguel also appreciated how important the comprehensive healthcare insurance was to Henry's recovery.

He had a seizure and one of his coworkers kept him from biting through or swallowing his tongue before the ambulance arrived. He suffered panic attacks. He had mood swings and was paranoid. But Miguel and the gang who knew him before the accident hung on. Henry had earned so much goodwill that they forgave him a great deal. They were happy to have him back.

Then the pandemic hit. In March 2020, the library closed its doors. Most of the employees were furloughed. A handful were given work-from-home computer tasks. No way Henry could deal with those programs after the TBI. Instead of laying him off, Miguel put Henry on medical leave because it excused him from working remotely but still protected his paycheck and benefits. It was a generous thing to do.

That was not how Henry saw it. He insisted he was being "singled out" and "diminished" by medical leave. That it was done to embarrass him. He wanted to know why he'd been put on leave and not furloughed like everyone else. There was no reaching him. Henry was convinced he was the victim of a plot to marginalize him. 

"Miguel is messing with the wrong queen," he told me over and over (and over). "I have information on him. I have seen him commit infractions ..." I know he confronted Miguel over the phone with his delusions and threats. Miguel bore it all. 

When employees were required to go back to work, but the library was still closed to the public, all of Henry's coworkers were doing the busywork he once did. Dusting books, updating the inventory, scanning publications ... So last month, when it reopened to the public, there was nothing left in the back for Henry to do. They were caught up behind the scenes. Henry had to take his turn at the front desk. There were no longer any other options.

Henry insists he's become a punching bag, a victim of being a gay brown man in Trump's America.* Every day, another patron would come in and deride him for his sexual orientation or his accent. He insists he is regularly told by patrons to "go back to Mexico." I don't believe any of this has actually happened. I do believe Henry believes it.

He has been warned not to argue with patrons. He insists it's his right as an American to defend himself. Finally, Miguel put Henry on a 14-day Administrative Leave. This automatically triggered a hearing with the county. Representatives from the library (probably Miguel) and Henry would be asked to explain what happened and next steps would be decreed. Perhaps an action plan, perhaps termination. That meeting was supposed to happen Thursday, 4/15.

It never did. More on why in another post. I just can't do this anymore right now. In the meantime, if you'd like to read more about TBI, click here. The section on Behavioral Impairments paints an accurate portrait of Henry.

*My friend Kathy still talks about MAGA Country. It's so fucking tiring. Donald Trump is gone, people! Rejoice and let him go! Face forward and enjoy life in Joe Biden's America (aka America).