Some days you just can’t fathom how you could love someone so much, and them continue to treat you badly. For you to care an insane amount, and for them to push you away constantly. For you to give them your heart, only for them to repeatedly crush it in their bare hands. You’d think when you exert that level of thought and energy and love towards someone they’d do the same for you, but they don’t, and they’ve shown you that they won’t, time after time. Yet you continue on that path in hopes that things will change. And some days I think maybe the reason they don’t is because they don’t have the capacity to love me. Not to the same depth as I love them. And that’s a hard truth to face but the sooner I come to terms with that the better quality of life I will be able to live. I have to cut out toxicity from my life, it’s just that this one is deeply ingrained, and it feels like carving out a piece of me.
*Names have been changed
Here is a story I’ve been wanting to share for awhile now. I wrote this back in October of 2015 and I now finally feel ready to share.
I was hired by Wendell Albright and his wife when I was about 19; it was my first real job. My mom actually got me the job as she knew the Albrights from working in the mall as well. The store I worked at, Agenda Squad, was a fairly easy retail gig. However, during this time I was going through and extremely deep episode of depression and was trying to cope with that as well as my anxiety. So what would be an easy gig for most, wasn’t so much for me. I was pretty quiet and reserved and I think Wendell liked that as I was never a threat to him and I wasn’t going to try to take over his job. I think as a man in his late 70s/early 80s he was fearful of someone swooping up his job. I should also mention there was shady shit going on with his paychecks, in the way that they were put under his wife’s name so he could still get his pension. I didn’t find this out till much later.
I didn’t see much wrong in his management style. He was pretty laid back and he loved to hear himself talk, which at the time was fine by me. The only thing that rubbed me the wrong way was the fact that he was always flirting with a young, blonde female, around my age, who worked at a another store nearby. It was uncomfortable to hear him making sexual innuendos and jokes with her. She’d go alone with it, I’m not sure why. Could’ve been a number of reasons but whatever it was she was right there joking along.
The first few months I worked at the Agenda Squad I didn’t say anything about the inappropriate behaviour especially, as I recall, it didn’t involve me. But when I came back to work for Wendell a couple years later, it did. I was about 21 when I came back to work for Wendell at Agenda Squad, and I was less timid than before…and then it began. There were jokes he made on a frequent basis such as “if I was 22 or 23 than we would definitely date”. When he was talking about his trips to Florida he’d say “you could come down too and we could go in the hot tub together”. He’d also mention trips in general that we could take together, “we could get a hotel room with one bed and share it”. These kinds of things went on for the 2 more years I worked for him, thankfully we didn’t have shifts together every day but when we did this was the shit I put up with. One of my personal favourites was to do with a child’s tutu we sold in the store for which he came up with a great idea, “you can wear the tutu with nothing else and stand at the front of the store”. There were also a couple ‘brushes’ against my breasts and ass, and one very deliberate hand on my ass when he was recounting a story, for a coworker, about his wife.
This guy was a grade A scumbag, and I didn’t do anything about it. He would constantly ask about my romantic life and want to know creepy details. I also witnessed him talking to female customers and “joking” that he was their boyfriend, to which some would laugh and go along with it, probably because he was so old and presumably harmless. There were a few customers who were visibly uncomfortable by the “jokes”, but he never caught on or if he did, it didn’t stop him.
As I dealt with his lewd behaviour more and more I would try to shut down his advances. For example if he said “we could share a hotel bed”, I’d say we would have separate rooms, or not go on a trip together at all. It slowed him down but he kept up the inappropriate behaviour. I’m not sure if I realized at the time that all his behaviour constituted sexual harassment. I’m sure it crossed my mind but other than complaining about it at home or to friends, I didn’t say anything cause I wasn’t sure. I also needed the money. But I think if you have to ask yourself the question “is it sexual harassment?”, you probably already know the answer.
Towards the end of my time at Agenda Squad I noticed his pattern of hiring young, quiet females grew. He openly said to me “I liked you better where you were quiet.” He was threatened by me as I began doing more things at work than he was, and I was essentially doing his job better by taking more initiatives, (this is a whole other story though). It wasn’t the first time this had happened with an employee. It went on with my coworker and close friend Joan as well, not that long before, (coincidence that this was also a female employee?). Wendell had put her in charge of running Agenda Squad at another location. There she managed the store with no need for him, and more efficiently too. He was threatened and began talking shit and blatantly lying about her behind her back. Eventually him and his wife just stopped giving her shifts. Also a tidbit about his wife, she’d stopped working in the store and was only doing the schedule from home, which she was doing a terrible job of. For example she’d put someone in for a shift on a day they specifically told her they couldn’t work, or she’d change the schedule and shifts without letting anyone know.
Wendell was not only guilty of sexual harassment but was also a bigot, racist, misogynistic, sizist, homophobe, and any other negative “-ists” you can think of. He would make comments about customers like “she is way too fat to wear that”, “I’m definitely not attracted to that, look how she dresses”, “he should go back to his own country”, “oh that kid is going to have a horrible life growing up with two moms”, and so on and so forth. I tried to stand up for people when he’d say things like this behind their backs. Sometimes subtly disagreeing with him, and sometimes I’d just flat out tell him was being racist, homophobic, etc. I found it much easier to stand up for other people than myself.
I think some people make excuses for elderly folks when they’re being intolerant because “they grew up in a different time”, but I don’t agree with making excuses for them. Sure they grew up in a different time but that shouldn’t mean that they are exempt from respecting others and treating them with kindness and dignity. Being old doesn’t give you permission to be an asshole, and being a young woman doesn’t mean you have to keep your mouth shut and take it.
I guess writing this is my way of finally standing up for myself. I hope no other young women have to suffer his harassment, although unfortunately, they probably have.
If you or someone you know is being sexually harassed at work, or by someone in a position of power, I encourage you to speak up. You might get shut down but it’s the only way things will change. Have the courage to do what I couldn’t do then.
It does make me feel somewhat comforted to know that who I am now would never let someone treat her this way.
Thanks for reading,
First poem in my Gory Fragments series