10 May 2021
Technically, I’m not unemployed yet. Officially, my position will be eliminated June 1st. When I clock out, I disappear. I’ve been with company name for almost thirteen years. If you count the way you’re supposed to, with the Mississippi after every number, you’d have to go all the way up to 409,968,000 to take up all the time I spent dedicated to showing up to company name. I worked my way up, intentionally slowly, until I got to a place I felt comfortable stopping, and found out during the most stressful holiday season of my life that I wasn’t as essential as everyone had been saying.
A couple CEO changes. A major buyout.
Years of district managers, store managers, friends, and family telling me to go higher, to move up. Years of resistance, knowing this wasn’t my “calling” or whatever, only to be told the company was doing a mass restructuring of leadership roles during a global pandemic.
Depending on who you ask, I was one of the lucky ones. I was offered one of the new roles. Even though it was lateral pay-wise, they called it a promotion because of all the people who wouldn’t get the offer. It wasn’t much different from what I was already doing, but there was one major fucking caveat. I would have to promise to move up within two years or step down. I would need to give company name 6,3072,000 more Mississippis of my life before my livelihood would be threatened again.
Those of us who were not offered a new role had the option to step down or take a severance package.
Severance is what I would have chosen had it been offered to me. Because I turned down the promotion, I didn’t qualify. Another kick to the face. If there was a poetic way to put it, I’d try. When the district manager offered me the new role, he knew from the three informal propositions that I was not interested. He knew that once he offered me the position, severance would be off the table.
Due to covid, the formal offer happened over the phone. He read from a script. I listened, wishing he was sitting in front of me, forced to look at the hurt in my eyes. I tried to be angry with him, but couldn’t. It’s not his fault. I was chosen by people I’ve never met, based on numbers. I had seniority, which means the severance payout would have been higher. Unfortunately, I also had high reviews, so I was good for the position, too.
I am so tired of being punished for being good.
So, I decided, after over a decade of dedication to, and I emphasize, a multibillion dollar corporation that treats their essential workers as numbers to be chosen or disposed of, that I was done. I had to be.
I think back to the beginning of the pandemic, when people were panic-buying everything from toilet paper to pasta sauce. This was about three weeks before the CDC recommended face coverings and the company discouraged the use of PPE because it made customers feel uncomfortable. An old man, a few inches shorter than me, gray and angry, confronted me about the lack of bottled water. Like one of those monsters in the cartoons, his body towered over mine. Even though it was invisible, I could see his vitriolic spittle spewing from his wrinkled lips as he informed me how incompetent I was for not thinking to order more water.
There was no hand sanitizer for employee use, so I was spraying my hands several times a day with one of the few surviving spray bottles of 91% rubbing alcohol. I developed a gnarly case of contact dermatitis. The little, red bumps all over my hands stung almost as much as the daily verbal beatings from terrified customers.
The picture of my smiling face dangling from my nametag is one I took after a woman yelled at me for not knowing when we’d have toilet paper again. I excused myself to the stockroom, cried a little, and realized she was the only person who’d yelled at me the entire day. I smiled for the small victory, snapped a selfie, and affixed it to my nametag to assure the masses of my friendly nature once masks weren’t just encouraged, but required.
I may be friendly. Kind. Hardworking. Accommodating. Problem-solving. Reliable. Creative. I may be almost everything an employer wants. But I’m not stupid. Nor am I desperate enough to take abuse from people I’ve never met for reasons that benefit only the bottom line. Not anymore.
I know I’m making the right choice, but I’m terrified. Of being a drain on society. Of being a loser, a disappointment. Of being a failure. I am so scared.
I know I’m not alone, though. I’m not the only capable, well-adjusted human who’s fed up with all this absolute, goddamned, stupid fucking bullshit. Not by a longshot.