The next two years flew by in a flurry of non events. I continued working my way up the corporate ladder at my job. With in six months I was a shift manager, taking on more responsibility and more hours. Eventually when I began to build my confidence and form some real relationships with people outside of my fantasy world, I had no desire to be at home and used every opportunity I could find to stay away. Because work was the best excuse I had, and the fact that I could also use the extra money to save for a car which would afford me even more freedom and ability to escape and stretch my wings I spent every available moment at work. My school work began to suffer as a massive company wide change in management swept through the company. I was frustrated.
Eventually it came down to an agreement between my parents and myself. If I took the SAT test and passed with a high enough score, I could quit school and focus on working full time. I had no intentions of going on to college anyway. All I wanted to do was work, buy a car, get a place of my own and gain my independence. It wasn’t a very thought out plan, but at the time it was the only thing I was focused on. My trouble at home, turned into trouble at work. As I was fighting for my independence against the authority of my parents, I was also fighting against the authority of my employer. It was extremely difficult for me to respect and obey people who had started with the company after me, and whom I had been responsible for training. In an ironic twist of fate, my struggles at home were only further enhanced by my struggles at work, and I was counting down the days until my eighteenth birthday. Shortly before I turned eighteen my family had once again been selected by the church to go as part of a missions team to a small town in Bulgaria where family friends had returned and started a very small church of their own. We were scheduled to go for just over three weeks, and during that time I was going to turn eighteen, a legal adult. There were so many different things going on that I wasn’t very focused on the trip, but it was an exciting and memorable experience none the less.
When I returned I expected to find many things different, but what I found was a completely new management team, a completely new boss, and a completely new store assignment. Things were always constantly changing as things do in fast food, but this change was significant. I was upset that I had finally found a team with which I fit in and worked well, and instead of being allowed to stay there and work where I was happy, I was being sent off to another store. It was supposed to be the training store, but when I arrived I found many rules and regulations being broken left and right. Instead of just going with the flow, I wrote out a three page letter taking out my anger at the situation on my store manager.
It was inappropriate, and I probably should have been fired on the spot. Thankfully the new district manager was willing to give me the benefit of the doubt. After a meeting with him and my store manager I decided to adjust my attitude, mostly because I was so close to being able to move out on my own I didn’t want to jeopardize it by being forced to find a new job. I worked for several weeks with out further incident, until yet again they were sending me off to another store. A few weeks spent at that store, and then again back to my first store. It went on this way for several months until I lost my patience yet again. Yet again I got into an argument with the district manager who had stopped by our store to fix a scheduling issue. It had something to do with my ServSafe certification, and going to take a class with several other managers. I had worked with one of them before years previously, but the second one I had only encountered briefly here and there. This manager was a young man of twenty five, Jericho Harrison. Much like Cute Pokemon Guy, and Cute Pizza Guy, I was instantly attracted to him. While we had only spoken minimally, I was still reeling from an incident of miscommunication several months previously regarding me and another male manager, I was very interested in him.
Several months prior, in the shift in management, my store was left with out a general manager. We had an acting general manager, but he was trying to split his time between two stores and was rarely able to accomplish both. As the management team was so strained, we merged the two locations basically into one. The inventory and crew went back and forth quite freely. As if it had been one location. Because I was one of the only managers I started spending a lot of extra hours at work, helping out where ever I could, and learning a lot from, Dennis, the one general manager who was trying to split everything between the both stores. He taught me a lot, and he was just generally a nice guy. He wasn’t too much older than I, but he was married with three kids, who some times would come sit in the dining room until their mom could come get them. Sometimes I would sit and talk with Dennis after hours, but it wasn’t anything other than the semi personal conversations that came with work. It was nice to get a different prospective on the world, and learn how to do my job properly for the first time in my career.
Eventually, the general manager whom had been previously ousted from my store was able to return to his position. I had lost a whole bunch of respect for him. I didn’t trust him, and I was determined to keep tabs on him. Not only had he been stealing, but he had also been neglecting my training, and bogarting the day time schedules. It wasn’t my battle to fight, but I did anyway and eventually it got me into trouble. Trisha, one of my fellow shift managers who was competing against me for a promotion, saw an opportunity and made her move after I came in to help her close. She had baited me into conversation about our new/returned general manager James. I had been ignorant towards her intentions and thus completely honest with her in my opinions of him. I also gathered some information about missing product, which had disappeared on his watch. I printed out and gathered all the necessary proof I needed, and headed home for the night.
The next day when I arrived for my shift, I was surprised to see my parents sitting at a table in the dining room with James. He called me over and explained that Trisha had told him several things about me trying to sabotage his reputation, and that product and money had gone missing after I was in the store last night. I was livid, but unable to speak. I felt trapped and betrayed much like I had during my stint in middle school. I sat there and listened to everything James had to say, and then I listened to everything my parents had to say after their talk with James. Taking over as she had a tendency to do my mom mostly spoke for me. Which on one had was a relief, but on the other was only contributing to my feelings of confinement, and helplessness in the entire situation. After about an hour of talking to everyone together, my mom and James disappeared across the street to speak in another restaurant. I didn’t know what any of that was about, but I was just relieved to have a break from the accusations and lectures.
My mom and James returned, and it was decided that because I had provided several years of valuable service to the company I would be assigned to a different store instead of being fired. I did have a write up for insubordination in my file, but really it was just a small slap on the wrist. I was to report to my new store after a three day suspension. I handed over my store keys, packed up my belongings left in the office and other areas of the store and walked out with out looking back. I knew I was in the right, and lost any shred of remaining respect I ever had for James that day. I had only taken on a bigger fish than I could fry, but he was guilty of the same crimes as before and I had caught him red handed, thus causing James to feel threatened and exercise his authority. It didn’t bother me a bit, until a few days later when I was sitting in the dining room at Dennis’ store as I had done many nights before, explaining my plight.
As soon as Dennis walked in the door he told me to leave. He didn’t offer any explanation or reason, he wouldn’t even talk to me instead he just insisted I leave or he would call the police and have me removed. Shocked, and confused I did as I was asked, but it made me really angry to just be shuffled off with no explanation. I immediately set off on the hunt for the answers I was looking for. Was this James’ doing? The other managers who were competing for a promotion? Being heated, I went home to my mom. She in the kitchen as I walked in.
“What did you say to Dennis?” I asked, an angry tone in my voice.
“What do you mean?” Mom asked kind of giving me a funny look.
“Dennis, when you went to talk to him what did you say?” I asked again attempting to clarify.
“I asked him what his relationship with my daughter was.” Mom answered as a matter of fact.
“Mom! He’s married! He has kids! We don’t have a “relationship” outside of work!” I yelled.
“Well that’s not what James said, and I don’t expect you to understand how it works with men. You’re only sixteen.” Mom huffed as she walked away. “I was just protecting my daughter and there is nothing wrong with that.”
“Protecting me from what? Over time?” I yelled as mom walked out of the room and slammed the door.
I couldn’t believe it. My mom thought that I had been dating Dennis or that we had an inappropriate relationship, and confronted him about it. It was not the case, in fact far from it, but my mom would not be deterred, and so resolved and feeling helpless yet again I disappeared into my room. After I talked to her she persisted much like she had persisted when questioning me about Cute Pizza Guy until eventually I was banned from setting foot in this Dennis’ store for any reason, not because of anything I had done but because of what my mother had said. No one bothered to explain this to me, or get my side of the story. I only figured it out through the gossip chain, which is what lead to my confrontation with my mother. I was appalled, but I was also afraid. I felt that I couldn’t be nice or even talk to men from work because every time I did my mom turned it into something that it wasn’t and created a giant scene.
So I turned on the only defense I knew. I became a raging bitch to everyone whom I was even remotely attracted to, or interested in. No it wasn’t fair to them, or helping my case any in terms of being a valuable employee, but it was the only way I knew to protect people from the insanity that came with my mother. For Jericho who (unannounced to me) was going through a really rough break up it was the worst possible thing anyone could have done to him, hate him so vehemently for no real reason. When I found out that he would be one of the three managers traveling with me to take the test I was less than thrilled, and made sure to voice my opinion to anyone who would listen. Not because I truly disliked him, in fact it was quite the opposite. Because I was trying to throw people off of the scent. If I pretended to hate him, no one would figure out that I was actually intensely attracted to him. Or at least that’s what I lead myself to believe.
That day spent with Jericho, the first time I had been confined in a space with him for more than a few moments, we argued back and forth about everything under the sun. He was trying to figure me out, and I was putting up quite a fight. Plus, also much like Pokemon Guy and Pizza Guy he had a razor sharp wit and tongue. It only added to his mystique in my eyes, which in turn made me that much more mean to him. Little did I know that he was going through one of the more difficult times in his life. He was having a really bad day, but I was completely clueless, so I kept pushing him and criticizing him until finally after we had all finished our tests and piled into my car heading home something I said tipped him right over the edge.
Because there were three of us, Jericho had offered to sit in the back seat. We were in the middle of a conversation, and my eyes were on the road. I didn’t know that he had answered his phone and assumed that he was still talking to me, until I glanced up in the rear view mirror and saw he had his phone up to his ear. He was talking to some one named Jen and because we had been in the middle of another conversation when he answered the phone I assumed that the Jen he was speaking to was in fact another employee of our franchise. So I continued to make snide remarks and comments based on the half of the conversation I could hear until he told me that he wasn’t talking to the Jen I thought he was talking to.
It had been a weird segue from our conversation to his phone conversation so I felt a little rude, but I didn’t realize the weight of everything until the car grew increasingly quiet. I thought Jericho’s conversation had ended, but I wasn’t entirely sure so in an effort to not continue being rude I looked into the mirror once again and noticed a few tears had trickled down Jericho’s face, and he was rubbing his eyes.
Ever the one for tact I blurted out: “Are you crying?”
I was sincerely concerned, but since I had been so mean to him through out the entire day it was no surprise when instead of being honest he answered: “No… I just got something in my eyes. Allergies.”
“Oh, I have some Zyrtec in the glove box. Do you want one?” I asked, taking him for his word and trying to be less of a raging bitch to him since he wasn’t feeling well.
“No. I’ll be okay.” Jericho replied.
After that the car settled into a completely silent state. No one spoke, and the next time I looked into the back seat, Jericho had leaned his head back and closed his eyes. I don’t know if he was really sleeping, or just closing his eyes to block out everything and get me to leave him alone. The rest of the ride we continued silently and that was the last I saw of Jericho for several weeks.