The day my life changed was December 4th, and I was working one of my required 12-hour shifts – from ten to ten. It was six in the evening, and I was starving, to say the least. A new hire walks up to me, “I’m hungry,” she starts, “I got here at one, can I go eat now?” She looks a bit weary. You can always tell the ones who are new to retail. She probably wont make it another week. If she got here at one, she has probably got to eat lunch, a luxury I haven’t had today.
“Fine.” I mumble. I just wont eat today. I can feel myself getting all self-righteous. “Go tell Allison.” I tell her, hoping that our store manger will notice that I myself haven’t had my break during my 12-hour shift, but the new girl is leaving after only five hours, and she gets off in another two.
I watch as she approaches Allison, who checks the schedule, and the new hire is on her way, clocking out and slipping out the front door, mostly undetected.
My frustration clicks up a notch, as I stand near the register, straightening the largest pile of underwear, for the fifth time that day.
I shouldn’t be angry. I’m a manager, and she’s new. I’m older, seasoned. While this is her first job. She is probably out there congratulating herself for making it this long. And, technically, it is time for her break, but mine was skipped. But still, I can’t seem to control my emotions. And like a huge wave crashing over me, I become completely exhausted. The cheery smile is wiped from my face, replaced by an emotionless stare. I didn’t notice, as I continue to stack underwear, matching polka dots with polka dots and stripes with stripes, and search for the rest of the frogs wearing Santa hats. Nicole walks up to me, another recent hire, except she knows a little more about what she’s doing, she started this past back to school season. “Are you OK?” she asks. It’s the one question that is guaranteed to make me bust into tears, pretty much no matter what.
“I’m fine.” I lie, as a tear rolls down my face, completely busting me out. I wipe it away quickly. I can’t very well tell an associate that I’m in the middle of a pity party because I’m hungry.
“Are you sure?” She starts, “Because, you look upset. And I just wanted you to know that you are the reason that I like it here so much. You do a great job, and you make it fun. I don’t want you to be upset.”
I try to explain that I am just a bit tired, but I know I didn’t really convince either of us. She pretended she was satisfied with the answer and walked away. I run to the bathroom to clean up quickly, only to find it locked. Probably by someone who already took their break today. At that moment, I wanted to bang down the door, scream and yell, and just have an all out tantrum right there in the back room, on top of the heap of men’s jackets and the pile of unopened freight boxes. Instead, I wiped my eyes where I stood and trod back on to the sales floor.
I mindless wander from front to back, avoiding eye contact, aimlessly straightening things as people continue to ransack the store. Another thirty minutes pass, and I see new hire come in, looking refreshed and full of some kind of food court confection. I am totally envious. Allison walks over to me and says I can go to lunch. Lunch? I laugh.
I walk in the back room and grab my purse and my lunch bag. I stand and stare at the safe under the desk. A minute passes, and before I know it, my fingers are flying turning the dial to the numbers burned into my brain. The safe opens with a satisfying clunk. I am greeted by the sight of Christmas, the petty cash has been increased to $900, and the days interim deposits are scattered on both shelves – wads of hundred dollar bills wrapped with paper slips and rubber bands. I don’t even hesitate; I throw my keys into the safe and lock it back.
I walk to the front, have Meggan check my bag and walk to the parking deck, phone in hand. Quickly, I text “Bye.” to Meggan, hoping that she will get the hint. I dial Will’s number and the tears start flowing before he even answers. I am so chocked up that I can’t speak. “Are you OK?” He asks. “Valerie?”
“Yes.” I mumble between sobs. “I can’t go back. I don’t want to.” It was something that had been brewing, under the surface for a while now. Since the day I turned twenty-six four months ago, since the day I found out the new assistant was hired in at more money than I was currently making after four years with the company, since I had it out with my DM over the stupid perfume debacle.
After a long pause, as I sat there sniffing, Will said the words I have longed to hear for almost a year, “Don’t go back. Come home.”
“Really? Are you sure?” I ask, wanting confirmation, but not wanting to push him back into reality, because what we are talking about is me quitting my job.
We have savings, and we would be OK, and I have an MBA and seven years of retail management experience. I could find a new job in no time flat.
“Yes. The job sucks and you hate it. I would rather you be jobless and happy than put up with that crap any longer.”
We hung up and I walked back into the mall, and sat down at a bench in front of the store next to mine. I waited over an hour. Sitting, wondering how long it would take for them to realize I was gone. My cell phone finally rings. It’s Allison. “Hello?” I answer, both dreading and looking forward to the conversation that I know will follow.
“Are you coming back?” Her voice sounds so tiny and meek.
I suck in a deep breath, “No. I don’t think so.” I had made up my mind, but I was leaving her the option to convince me to stay. It’s a Saturday night, the end of our workweek and I had more than forty hours. If she had simply suggested I take the night off and come back tomorrow refreshed, I might have done it. Of course, I would have ended up doing this later anyway.
“Why?” Again, her voice so timid and small. I don’t know how she managed to become a store manager; she avoids confrontation at all costs.
“I don’t have to tell you. You know. It’s everything. It’s the money. The stress. The crazy customers. I just don’t want to do it anymore. And I shouldn’t have to.” I throw my hands up in the air, despite the fact that this conversation is taking place via phone.
“You know you can’t use this as a reference if you do this.” She challenges me. With this statement, I get up and start walking towards my car. The conversation went on for another fifteen minutes. My confidence in myself and my decision grew the farther away I got from the mall. We hung up, still friends, neither of us angry, both knowing this was the best decision.