When Being Kind Could Cost Your Life
You might want to draw the line with a narcissist
There is a saying that you can’t go wrong with kindness, but I would disagree. Kindness is usually a good thing. And I agree that kindness matters, but some people do not deserve kindness. At the top of that list are people who do not have any empathy for other people. That would be a narcissist.
Eva was the secretary at the furniture factory where I applied for my first real job. I’d had babysitting jobs and housekeeping jobs, and I’d even worked as a cowhand one summer, but none of these jobs required a social security number. My parents, being fundamentalist Christians, equated government numbers with the mark of the beast. The result was that my siblings and I didn’t get a social security number at birth as most American kids did. They thought they were protecting us.
By the time I left my oppressive family and found some people willing to take me in, I was desperate to get a real job with a regular paycheck. When I applied for a position at a furniture factory, I felt conspicuous in my ragged T-shirt and ugly knit pants next to the pretty secretary who wore a hot pink miniskirt as she handed me an application.
I’d never filled out formal paperwork for a job before and hoped I was doing it right. My hand shook as I handed the papers back to the secretary with her well-manicured hands.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but Eva was a cousin to two of my cousins. When you grow up with paranoid parents in an unstable family, many things get lost, like family connections. If I’d known about it at the time, I might have mentioned it in the hope of getting the position.
Eva’s eyes scanned my application while my eyes scanned her outfit. I imagined men adored her blond hair and blue eyes. Her lips shined with fuchsia lipstick. I’d never been allowed to wear lipstick — a fact that left me feeling dreadfully out of place.
It struck me like a punch in the gut to realize Eva couldn’t be more than five years older than me. She appeared to have had a normal life, complete with friends and high school. A girl like me could never dream of fitting in with the likes of her.
When she got to my missing social security number, she handed the papers back and spoke in a matter-of-fact tone. “You’ll need to give us your social.”
While she waited for me to fill out the line, she popped open a small mirror and applied more gloss to her already shiny lips.
I bit my naked lip and tried to hide my distress. “But I don’t have one.”
“Then you’ll need to get one. We can’t hire you without it.”
“Where do I get one?”
My head silently swam with other questions. Will this be the undoing of me? Will Jesus come and find me with the mark of the beast all because I took a job in the real world? I started to hyperventilate.
Eva picked up on my distress and offered me a chair.
“Are you okay?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never applied for a job before. No one told me I’d need a social security number.”
Her voice was soothing. “Hey, it’s no big deal. Everyone who works at any job with a paycheck has to have one.”
I felt embarrassed and scared.
She chuckled. “It’s nothing! Everyone has one. Just go to the social security office, and they’ll give you one for free.”
She opened a jar of candy on her desk and handed me a fun-sized candy bar. “Here, take a moment to breathe. Eat some chocolate. Everything’s gonna be fine.”
By the time I left her office. Eva had promised me a job as soon as I came back with my number. I’m not sure either of us realized how long that would take. The social security office told me I had to send for an official birth certificate, and that took a couple of weeks, but within the month, I was working at the factory. Every two weeks, I stood in line with the other workers waiting for Eva to hand us our paychecks. Each time, she gave me a wink, her way of reminding me that I had made it.
Two years later, my sister moved to town and got a job at the same factory. As sisters do, we both loved each other and fought. One of the biggest fights we had was over a guy named Sam who asked my sister to walk with him after dark.
I didn’t trust Sam. He seemed unstable to me. He’d worked at the factory before, and I’d heard rumors that he had a crush on Eva, who was married. When I caught him lying one lunch break, he tried to gaslight me. At the time, I did not know about narcissism, and I had no words to explain the creepy feeling he gave me.
By then, Eva and I were friends. I remember telling her on a break how Sam creeped me out. He was always hanging around, and I felt he was stalking my sister. Eva smiled. “He follows me too, and I’m married. He’s a little weird, but it never hurts to be kind to people.”
How could I argue with her? After all, she’d gone out of her way to be kind to me when others probably thought I was strange.
That’s the type of person Eva was and why so many people loved her. She was empathetic to people who were down or depressed. She was kind to everyone — even the jerks.
Meanwhile, my sister and I continued to fight over Sam. I was furious that she wouldn’t take my big sisterly advice. I finally got some peace when she started dating another guy, and Sam was no longer in the picture.
A few months later, Sam was walking along the road toward our little college town. He was wearing a jacket which seemed a little much for the warm September night. When a stranger offered him a ride, he got in the car and said he was heading to see his girlfriend. The driver didn’t notice the gun tucked inside his jacket pocket.
Sam asked the driver to drop him off down the street. I had my concerns about him, but I never saw it coming. I don’t think Eva knew what hit her. The door opened, and the bullet struck her chest. Then Sam shot her husband in the legs and turned the gun on himself.
For whatever reason, narcissism, mental illness, revenge, Sam decided to end his life and take Eva’s life too. Eva loved people. She was kind to everyone — a virtue that turned out to be fatal.
Cherilyn Christen Clough broke the rules when she started writing about her family’s secrets. Some claim she sold her soul to the devil, but she prefers to think of it as gaining freedom. You can read about her strange childhood in Chasing Eden A Memoir.