Yes, you read that right. Let me explain. For 17 years, I have been working as an environmental policy compliance officer at Dow Chemical in Midland, MI, and, frankly, I love everything about my job. I love being able to work with my hands. I love the comprehensive dental plan. I love the hands-off management style. And I love exploiting the hands-off management style to under-report the amount of polychlorinated dibenzodioxin-based chemical waste that we leak into the Tittabawassee river. I’ll say it loud and I’ll say it with conviction: My name is Daniel Arkos, and I am no longer scared to be myself.
Today, I own up to my guilty pleasure and let my freak flag fly. Just like the person who finds themselves addicted to trashy reality TV, the person who indulges in the scent of their own flatulence, or the person who prefers to eat their ice cream behind closed doors, I too partake in premeditated acts of fraud that have directly caused outbreaks of breast cancer in Midland, Saginaw, and Bay counties, and I am sick of being ashamed. I am sick of pretending. I am sick of hiding an important part of myself from the world just because society has conditioned us to feel shame when it comes to our body shape or sexual preference or murder. If, before today, I was closeted, consider this my coming-out.
I am, in many respects, a normal guy with a normal life. I love my family, I adore playing football with my kids, and I hate the commuter traffic I hit when coming from my primary residence upstream. These are the things that I would want to define me as a person. When, some day, I pass, I would want my obituary to read “Recently Deceased, Daniel Arkos, father of 2, serial motivator, decent defensive lineman.” Unfortunately, we live in a messed-up world where something like that is a fantasy for people like us. It sickens me to say, but it is infinitely more likely that the Midland Daily News would run something more like “Thankfully Gone, Daniel Arkos, serial putter of furan in the water; also, his father worked at Dow and made napalm.” It makes me feel unwanted and unseen. I ask, whose right is it to make me feel like an unempathetic, unredeemable piece of human scum for my occasional indulgences in data obfuscation and tacit approval of my father’s complicity in war crimes? No one’s, absolutely no one’s. This is not the world I want for my children, nor for my fellow Midlanders, nor for my partners-in-crime at Dow.
Putting aside my bitterness, I’d like to give attention to the lights in the darkness—though they are sparse, they burn brightly. My example is from personal experience: Ray Martori, compliance department coordinator for over 10 years, has been the singular most supportive ally I have ever had. It was Ray who approached me one day after noticing in passing that I had disabled read-only mode in Excel. I was mortified when he took me aside, but instead of exacerbating the fear and alienation that I had suffered and borne my whole career, he showed me kindness. He explained to me that I didn’t have to pretend anymore—that I didn’t have to sneak around, modifying vessel overflow logs using other employees’ compromised network accounts by the darkness of night. He told me that I am not alone and that Dow supports people like me whole-heartedly. I felt tears welling up in my eyes but I still didn’t believe him—I almost didn’t want to. But Ray pressed on. He showed me that Dow, the company I evidently knew nothing about, whose net income in 2010 had exceeded $2B, paid just $2.5M for all the downstream death, disease, and financial hardship they caused in the years prior. I remember that moment with such intense detail: all the emotional energy effusing out of me like an orange mist against a bright blue Vietnamese sky. I collapsed crying in Ray’s arms. For the first time in my life, I felt seen.
This confession is for everyone who feels like a fraud, like a jigsaw piece that doesn’t fit into the puzzling parameters that our culture assigns us when we’re born, who feels like the game was rigged against them before they even got to the table, who feels like their life experience has been redacted away like the risks of dioxin. I want you, dear reader, to know that I understand your pain and carry with me a message. I don’t know your situation or ability, but I do know that simply being yourself is an act of rebellion. You don’t have to change all at once, bursting through yourself like a runaway flood through a Superfund site. But slowly, drop by drop, you have the ability to become the most true version of you. Every day, being just a little more authentic. This is an ode to not letting your guilt define you. This is an ode to your actions, however small, eventually bioaccumulating and becoming something you can be proud of. This is an ode to unmitigated, unregulated, and unaccountable self-care.