Monday, August 24, 2015

The Repaid Gift

I have a very hard time taking a vacation.  I know this goes back to my childhood where money was tight and taking six kids anywhere rarely happened.  My only memory of going on a trip was when we all piled into the station wagon to drive to LaCrosse, Wisconsin so Dad could see his old Navy buddy.  They were a family of six as well - all boys. For my sisters and me it was nine boys and a weekend of misery.

Mark was brought up going to Michigan for two weeks every summer for fishing and swimming.  He has very fond memories of those trips and is more than willing to get in the car or on a plane in the middle of summer.  It has been hard to mesh these two different ingrained experiences when it comes to getting away so it is a BIG deal when we go somewhere.

It was seven years ago that we threw caution to the wind and decided to go to Florida.  I got on a house rental site and picked a place in Seagrove.  We drove and stocked the kitchen with food upon our arrival so that we wouldn't be eating out all the time.  The house was perfect.  It had a huge kitchen that was a joy to cook in.  The wrap-around porch had an outdoor table and chairs and we ate all of our meals there. We walked to the beach every morning, would come home for lunch and then go back again later in the afternoon.  The kids would stop at the neighborhood pool on the way back and Mark and I would start dinner.  It was a perfect vacation for us.

While all of this was in the planning stages, I was working with someone who was going through a very bad breakup with a partner who was emotionally abusive.  I had a front row seat to witness what many women go through when they decide to walk away from someone like that and it rattled me to my core.  The absurdity of the common question of "why doesn't she just leave" became very clear to me.  It is never that easy.  Many times this woman and I worked together until close on Friday and so she would come home with me and have dinner with us.  Mark and I were very worried about her and protective of her fragile situation.

While I was excited and looking forward to our trip to Florida I was also feeling guilty about this wonderful opportunity in the midst of the suffering of someone I cared so much about.  Besides the constant emotional abuse she was under she was also in some dire financial straits.  Mark and I discussed it and decided to write her a check to help her out.  On the day before I left I wrote her a note telling her that despite what she was now hearing from someone who used to be an important part of her life, she was truly, deeply loved by all of us at the store.  That even on her worst days her light shined brightly.  I told no one at work and put the note and check in an envelope and clipped it to her time card.

My note made clear that the money was a gift and any intention she had of paying us back was never our intent.  I felt instant relief once I took care of that - as if it was finally okay for me to enjoy the beach with my family.

By the time we got back there was a letter in the mail from her thanking us and saying that she used the money to hire an attorney to see what her rights were.

My return to work was on a Saturday morning where she and I were opening the store.  I was running late and she was already there and counting the drawer when I arrived.  We both cried when we saw each other and when the owner arrived he asked what in the heck was going on. "We missed each other," I said.  "A lot."

We would work on and off again in other places as the years went by - always connected through the retail world of women's clothing.  Not a single time did we ever discuss what was attached to her time card that summer day.

One day she called me and asked me to help her with some furniture in her and her roommate's house.  "I want to pay you," she said.

"You know that I love doing this and I don't want you to pay me," I said.

"Then I'll pay you in wine," she said and the next night I went to her house.

I listened to them as they told me what was not working for them and we ended up doing a massive room move late into the night.  I suggested that they live with it for a few days to see if they liked the changes and that I would come back and help them rearrange it again if it wasn't what they wanted.

The next day I went to work.  A few hours into my shift I decided to get some coffee and went into the back room to get my wallet.  When I opened my purse there was a huge wad of cash.  Too many fifties to comprehend and my heart started pounding.

Honest to God I thought it was drug money that had been planted in my purse.  I didn't even want to touch it.

Where had this come from?

I went to the owner of the business I was working for and asked her if she had given me a bonus.

"A bonus?  Are you kidding?  Have you noticed how slow it's been?"

Right.  What was I thinking?  She was the one who had given me a $5.00 Applebee's gift card when I had my one year anniversary so it was definitely not her.

"There is hundreds of dollars in my purse and I don't know how it got there."

"Maybe it was from Mark," she said.

"We never have cash on us and if either one of us had this much we would say something.  It was just there when I opened my purse."

It was like an Agatha Christie mystery and we churned over the possibilities all afternoon.  Finally my boss asked, "Did you leave your purse somewhere that somebody could have put the money in without you knowing?"

"No.  I went to a friend's house last night to help her move some furniture.  It was by the fireplace all night and........  Yes.  Oh.  Yes.  Oh my gosh."

When I got home from work I called my benefactor.  "Were you the fairy godmother in my life last night?" I asked.

"I was.....just like you were to me a few years ago.  I added a little interest.  Now you and Mark need to do something fun with it."

It was an unexpected and wonderful surprise as the check we had written to her had long been forgotten.

This dear coworker and friend moved west awhile ago.  Every so often I'll think of of those troubled days that taught me so much about the hand that some women are dealt and the quick judgement we pass when we know so little. The same judgement I made before I was a witness to the damage.

I'd like to think that her new start brought her a good-looking cowboy that came with so much abundant love and kindness that it made her forget her past.

A cowboy that knew how to lasso the moon.

She would love that.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Back Room

Since April I have been on nine interviews.  Nine times I've tried to sell my skill set with a wink and a smile and a toss of big words like accounting software, spreadsheets and aging reports......and yet I have not found the right fit.

Last week there was a job for the taking.  Good salary with awesome benefits and a decent amount of time off and I walked away.  Beggars can't be choosers and I seem awfully choosy these days. Coming off a bad breakup from the last place, I know that I am searching every closet and file cabinet to find the crazy that's been tucked away and hidden from company.  I also know that being on a hair trigger for office dysfunction is not healthy.  I am ever-so-slowly learning to filter that out and rely on my gut, but so far my gut is saying "run" or "you don't really want to do this all day, do you?"

In my excitement over all that this last job offered I gushed to Mark about the perks and benefits.  "A big office, Mark," I said. "all my own.  There was even a tree right outside the window with birds. Birds, Mark!!!  I could look at the birds while I worked!"  I noticed this nature moment when the MOUNDS of paper the current office holder was surrounded by started making me all twitchy and uptight and I stared out the window in self-defense.

On reflection there were other negatives.

#1.  It was farther from the house than I wanted to commute and the commute would be in the kind of traffic that usually makes the early morning news.

#2.  It was a small staff.  Four people total.  They ate lunch together every day.  They worked together and they ate lunch together.  Every day.

#3.  The office was deep in suburbia which meant that it was in a nondescript building in a nondescript area surrounded by nondescript strip malls.

#4.  There was no back room.

I got used to a back room from my retail days.  The place you could go to get away for five minutes. The sanctuary (albeit as hot a mess as any basement) where you could regroup and breathe when the latest edict came down from on high. Where your favorite coworker asks you to show her where the large gift boxes are so she can really say, "Can you believe that schedule?  Do they think I'm some kind of mule or what?  Every Saturday this month.  What's that about?"

Many a time I have been the ultimate back room girlfriend and confidant.  I'd gladly meet any coworker in the back and nod and listen in sympathy to the issue of the day.  I'd bitch about my own hours and willingly throw gasoline on theirs. If asked to take up the cause I'd say, "Well, yeah, if you bring it up I'll back you," because I didn't need so much to carry the torch as I needed to have a place to complain about the torch.

The back room is an essential part of every work place.  It cannot be replaced by emails, phone calls or texts.....for there is no trail to uncover to what is said in the back room.

When I told Mark I was going to walk away from this prospect he shook his head.

"I have to work in a bigger pool than that and I cannot spend every minute of the day with coworkers and then eat lunch with them on top of that.  I have to have a break.  At least lunch alone to read the news or to shop Loft's Friends and Family online sale to buy my way out of the misery of working in a job I shouldn't be doing."

I'm not sure he understood my reasoning.  I'm not sure I even do.

All I could think of at the time, though, was what if I got into a relationship with these people and all three of them thought Donald Trump would make a great president?   Without a back room to scurry off to my only option would be to crawl out the window of that paper-piled office and tell the birds to scoot over so I could join them out on a limb.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Meet the Author

On our travels last week we went to the New York Public Library.  It was quite grand and beautiful and oh so far from the maddening crowd.  It was the perfect oasis on a hot afternoon after miles of walking the city to see the sights.  On the way up the steps I glanced to my right and there was a card table with a Meet The Author sign taped to it.  I was fervently waved over but instead smiled and waved back and we went inside.

When we were leaving the library I said to Mark, "Let's go meet the author. I don't know why but I think we should go over there."  We approached the table and were greeted warmly by two men.

The author launched into his sales pitch.  I was expecting there to be a single book but instead there was a variety of neatly stacked books to chose from.

As I perused them I asked "Are you self-published?"

"Indeed I am.  Like all the great authors are - Walt Whitman, Edgar Allen Poe, Rubyard Kipling, to name but a few."

"Well you're in good company," I said.  "Which one of these is your newest?"

"This one," he said picking up the one titled Zoe.  "It's the story of a teenager traveling the country and writing letters home to his Zoe.  Letters about life and love."

"Is that one your favorite child at the moment?"  I asked.

"Oh no, it would have to be this one," he said picking up the one titled Martha.  "The story of a dancer told in poetry."

"A dancer?  Really?  We came to New York to see our daughter in a performance tonight.  She's a dancer."

"I am of the opinion," he said, "that a dancer is the most disciplined of all the artists.  That in most cases they give up everything to dance, especially their youth and their bodies.  That the slightest of gestures, the delicate placement of their hands when every muscle in their body is under extreme stress is discipline that takes hours and hours of practice and is over in the fleeting minutes of a performance.  But you know all this right?"

I was taken aback.  Did I know that?  I don't know.  Maybe.

"I thought about this story for years but couldn't figure out how to write it.  Then I went to a live performance and it all came to me when the announcer came on stage before the show started.  Do you want to know what he said?"

We nodded.

"In humanity I see grace, beauty and dignity.  Here.  Let me show you."

"That was my inspiration for my story and I started writing."

Mark and I stood there spellbound.

He continued. "Then the curtain lifts with the rush of Niagra.  The music moves, filling the openness with consoling tones, a melody of the woods twirling ribbons of wind and gently, the dance begins."

"A perfect description," I said.  "That is what I feel when I watch our daughter dance."

I turned to the man who had been quietly sitting there this whole time and asked, "Are you his friend?"

"Every Saturday I come to the library and I kept seeing this man with his card table selling his books. The first time it was bitter cold and he was here for hours.  The next Saturday the same thing, and the next and the next. Finally I walked over to talk to him and I've been keeping him company ever since. That was two years ago."

He reached into his wallet and pulled out a tattered photo.  "See her?  That's my daughter.  She's four years old.  I take her to dance every week.  You and me are alike with our dancing girls. It's crazy, isn't it?"

We bought the book (as if there was ever any doubt) and bid farewell to this author and his companion.

"I don't know what to make of all that," Mark said as we walked down the steps,"except that I feel like crying."

Kindred spirits on the steps of the public library.

It was the most divine intervention.

***You can read more about Garrett Buhl Robinson here

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Easing My Grip

Maggie was recently talking about when she was in high school and wanted to work at the Rainforest Cafe but I said 'YOU CANNOT WORK THERE.  IT IS AT THE MALL."

I don't remember this conversation but it sounds like something I would say.  I hate most malls.  No window to the outside world, the Abercrombie smell from fives store away, the Dead Sea scrub stalkers, the flat-iron kiosk where they eye me so eagerly with their hair tools, and all that stuff.  I will think of any alternative to avoid the mall (including shipping charges) and so the thought of sending my kid there every day must have sent me over a maternal cliff.

She also said I told her she couldn't work at Culvers because the location was sketch and those places don't close until at least 10:00.  This also sounds like me except the location isn't sketch and I am up and down that street at least 2-3 times a week.

Oh the poor firstborn with the drone for a mother.

Will worked at a bagel shop all through high school and on college breaks.  This was acceptable until he had to work on Easter.  "EASTER?  YOU HAVE TO SELL BAGELS ON EASTER?  THAT IS RIDICULOUS AND TELL THEM I SAID SO." But that place usually closed by 4:00 and so that was okay because he wouldn't be coming home after dark and I wouldn't have to go on anti-anxiety meds.

Mal has worked for the last couple of years at a restaurant in the KC shopping and dining district. She often gets off work past midnight.

Oh the third child with the mother who has surrendered.

For two years Mal has talked about going to New York City for an intensive dance program.  She worked like crazy and saved all the money to pay for it herself.  I tended to think (or maybe hope) that my youngest one wouldn't really go to that big city for a whole summer, and so when she'd haul in another big check and I'd see her bank balance online I'd think, "Well good for her.  Look at all that money she's saving."  Then she applied, sent off a video of her dancing and got accepted.

I stuffed down every fear I had and breathed into paper bags.

We talked over and over about her going there by herself.  I tried to enlist her brother to accompany her but he started a new job and had no vacation time.  Mark had a grant deadline and couldn't take off work.  Taking me and my sense of direction would have been a hindrance instead of help.  She insisted she was perfectly capable of going alone.  I ordered a car to meet her at the gate and take her to her summer home and then put the fear of God into her about calling me when she got there.

Her summer dance program ended on Saturday and Mark and I went there to see her and the performance.  I needn't have worried so much.  She has been more than capable of managing the city, her classes, her money, her future career and the subway.

In our conversation about working and first jobs Maggie asked me why I was always so goofy about launching each of them off into the world.

"Oh dearie," I thought.  "Only a mother would understand the answer to that question"

In the blink of an eye all three of them have grown up and surpassed me in many ways when it comes to life experiences. The hard, day-after-day work of raising them is behind me.

My new job is to stay out of their way.