I have heard that everybody identifies with Charlie Brown; sweet, low self-esteem, downtrodden, kind. But I’ve met a number of people who identify with Lucy, which always baffles me. Their reasoning seems to be that she’s smart and sassy, and that’s good enough, I guess.

But what I’ve always hated about Lucy, what makes me recoil from her, is her cruelty, the meanness, the way she victimizes Charlie Brown and others simply for being in her space. She’s a physical and emotional bully, threatening people with her fists when they don’t do what she wants. Her classic “football” routine I find particularly onerous, as she does it just for the joy of causing someone else embarrassment. She’s outright abusive to her little brother, who is the kindest and most vulnerable kid on the whole show. I remember one comic (I can’t find the exact quote) where she says something like “I won’t be satisfied until everyone around me is as miserable as I am.”

Today I encountered a Lucy.

A couple of days a week, I work at the front desk at music and arts centers in Portland’s park district, which is strictly customer service. I find I enjoy customer service, because I get to help people, and especially at these sites, I get to help people sign up for music and arts classes. It’s such fun for me, and two days’ work is just under my limit for human interaction.

Today, a customer asked a question about a class we don’t offer, but I was looking up the information. The customer was not happy with my answers, which were largely “no, that’s not us.” At a certain point, she became insulting, stopping my efforts to snidely tell me that I was “so negative”, that I didn’t know anything, and “what are you here for if you can’t help me?” She insisted that the class was “in the same catalog” as another class (whose name she couldn’t remember) and was taught by a teacher (whose name she couldn’t remember) and why couldn’t I find exactly what she was asking for? Every answer I gave her was questioned, and the methods I used to find the information were insufficient, and I was the reason everything was wrong. Her harangue became so pointed, so purposeful, that I asked if she wanted to fill out a comment card and leave it for my boss. She declined, though I could tell she was thinking about it. She took note of my name with a sneer, then pointed to some materials behind me that she was sure held the information she sought, information she was convinced I was willfully withholding. I handed her the materials without a word, even as I knew her question was not answered in them.

Fortunately, my co-worker came in and I asked him to take over while I stepped away.

This encounter shook me. I have a difficult time fending off cruelty directed at me. If this had happened to someone else, I would have jumped in and acted as their shield; when it’s pointed my direction, I melt into a puddle of goo, staring blankly at the person launching the tirade, certain they have keen insight into my true nature and are identifying my horribleness for the world to see.

This is the result of living with a pathologically angry and critical father. This is at the heart of the longstanding issues with my mother in law. When someone comes at me with venom, I internalize their attack and cease to function.

This particular person, it turns out, was confused, thought she was in a different place, and had all of her information wrong. I am glad my co-worker was able to work all that out with her. It really *was* her problem, and had nothing to do with me, but for that 10 minutes of abuse, I believed everything she said.

And that, I know without being told, is all about *me*.

This is the intersection of “artistic temperament” and “sensitive to emotional stressors”. What makes me good at helping people is empathy; I can sense the confusion or curiosity or helplessness, and then use my training or knowledge to help them on their way. But that same empathy makes me vulnerable to cruelty; I have no shield against the nastiness that gets thrown around when a Lucy decides she wants to spread her misery.

This is something I have to work on; not internalizing the bullshit that sprays from other people. Plus, given my father’s tendency to be Lucy, and my new-found propensity for anger (however private my expressions of anger might be), I also have to stave off my own potential for becoming a Lucy. These are challenges, but I think I have the tools and the support to do it. I am grateful for my Tim, for the practice of meditation, and for friends who let me talk about my feelings.

But for any Lucys out there, or people who think Lucy is amusing, or people who don’t realize how Lucy they can be when they are frustrated, please remember that that what you put out in the world might just land on someone who can’t absorb or ignore or fight off your ugliness. Find a way to examine your moods, your behavior, and yourself, and lighten the load for the rest of us.

Don’t be a Lucy.




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