While I was on my lunch break in the Burger King drive-thru line to obtain the fake Whopper that would punish me four times in twelve hours, I had an epiphany: I don’t care about my job anymore. But then I had a big question: what am I supposed to care about then?
Straight ahead in front of me, beyond the restaurant, was a line of tall, skinny, leafy trees. They were rippling in the late afternoon sunshine, the kind that lets us know summer will be over soon, and the tops had already begun to fade into dry watercolors. The image in my mind was the contrast between the girl I once was and the girl-woman I am now, what I had wanted and what I have now.
Inside my clear plastic purse was a piece of scrap paper with some calculations on it. We are required to use these bags to discourage us from stealing. For a retail worker, the temptation to steal is overwhelming. I cannot fathom how I’ve resisted for so long.
The calculations revealed that I make 55% more money than the minimum wage when I started (an impressive feat all on its own, considering that earning a ten cent raise is a Big Deal). Nine years later, when the minimum wage rises again next month, I will be making 6.6% more than that new minimum.
When I’m alone, it’s a dangerous pastime, harmful to my health, to try and reconcile these numbers with my education level, the amount of debt I’m in, and the type of work I perform. I can’t figure out what sort of calculus will prove me innocent. But I already know the answer. It’s my fault.
It’s hard to explain to people who weren’t unlucky enough to wind up in retail how heartbreaking it is. You endure indignities so absurd, contradictory, and plain silly that no one outside would ever believe that something that trivial could destroy your soul, since the amount of money you make is proportional to your righteous stress.
Get a real job.
For example, recently I was told that I would not be reviewed on my administrative work performance but on, among other things that don’t apply to me, customer surveys. When I inquired why that might be, they snapped back at me, “everyone is supposed to care about the customer!” Obviously I don’t care about customers. Never did. But it’s puzzling because I don’t receive surveys.
All joking aside, it felt like a stab in the heart because I’ve given them everything in order to excel at my job, to the point where I’ve gotten sick a few times. But the 6.6%? I only felt sort of numb. And I think that’s the precise moment when I officially stopped caring, when I finally got it through my head that my efforts don’t matter.
Why don’t I ask for a raise? I already did within the past year. I was told no, I already make too much money for my years of experience.
What else do I have left to give them? The only thing I had continued to give was caring, despite all my claims to the contrary. But ever since I spent three months on the furlough that robbed me of future PTO, I discovered that the inner girl who predated all that crap is actually still alive in there. She remembers the truth that they beat out of me—that I exist. But being told she’s only worth 6.6% above minimum wage after nine years makes her want to up and leave me again.
During the furlough, my job seemed like a bad memory, as though I died and went to heaven; my earthly life was just an ugly little blot to be quickly forgotten, and there would be no more crying nor pain, because the former things had passed away.
But, alas, the former things returned. At first I came back with a completely new, fresh frame of mind. I had gotten back in touch with the things I loved before and I didn’t wish to give that feeling up. But now I’m relapsing into my old behavior: talking shit, melting down, rehashing every slight, whining, stressing, raving, crying. I’m bringing everything home with me again and leaving myself in my locker. My soul wants to force its way out of me, but to go where?
Before I was out, writing had been the place to go; it gave me something to look forward to, to pretend that my day job just meant a paycheck. A small paycheck, but a paycheck nonetheless. I was excited when I was at work thinking about what I’d get to do when I got home. I finally had a little hope for the future. And it made it easier to let things roll off my back. Being away was even better; now I could make pretend that I was living the life I had always wanted. But now that I’m back? I feel worse than I did before I started taking writing seriously. 6.6% means I’m going backwards, which means the future is getting further away.
The less I care, the more my work slips. I’m not a rigid perfectionist anymore. I don’t bother doing those special little tasks they don’t know about, the ones that secretly lighten their burdens. I take advantage of the fact I have a new supervisor who doesn’t quite know what I should be doing and how fast it should take. This isn’t me, at all. This was never me. But I’m at the point where I’d like to put my conscientiousness somewhere it deserves. I think if writing still gave me the burst of hope it did before, my pride would rouse me up. But right now I can only give them 6.6% of my conscience.
A human being must have something to look forward to in order to escape depression. To be in a position to look forward to writing every day, like it’s a bodily urge, is a blessing. To not even mind very much if no one sees it? That’s divine. But to possess the strength to keep forging ahead when you’re only worth 6.6%…? That’s another thing entirely.