If there was ever going to be a subject that frightened those around me, this is it. I don’t mean to alarm those who have put so much trust in me — and indeed I am nothing if not loyal. However, after a year and a half working for Borders, I still feel like I am working for the other side — for Barnes & Noble. I’m not sure why I have yet to feel at home with the company I am now working for. Perhaps it is the many hours I put in at B&N that made it feel like my life.
I started working at Barnes & Noble in August 1998. I had just turned 19 and was full of ideas about how the world should work. During my interview, I told Marla that I would never quit unless I intended to move. I worked part time for some time, bouncing around from café to music to books. The work was straightforward enough, but a certain elitism came with working in a bookstore that I rather enjoyed. I also found my coworkers to be extremely tolerant of others, which I attribute to being more educated and well read than the average retail person.
After a couple years, I took a full-time position as “New Release Lead.” I was in charge of the front of store and the best sellers. After that position, as well as a temporary stint as “Newsstand Lead,” I became the “Gift Lead.” That was the position I used to really prove my value to the company. I excelled in merchandising the gifts & stationery section, increasing our stores sales dramatically in a very short amount of time. Within a few short months, I interviewed and was offered a position as Music Manager.
I loved managing the music department and I did it well. I had gained such a vast amount of product knowledge and was able to maintain the product so well that we almost never had shrink problems, and when we did there would be an obvious reason behind it. Everything was going pretty well there.
Problems really started when John passed away in 2004. He was my direct supervisor and close friend, as can happen when you work with someone for nearly 6 years. Halfway through a shift one day, he left, drove himself to the hospital, where he slipped into a coma and died several days later. His liver had failed, toxifying his entire body. I was devastated and the usual places to turn provided no comfort, as they too were mourning. I turned to Irene, a manager at our store whose popularity was never very high, which was no secret. That decision seemed to leave a mark on my relationships with both Brandy & Marla. But Marla wasn’t blameless in this. Her refusal to get a grief counselor for the store angered me so greatly that I thought about leaving the store. I didn’t.
Marla & I were not really getting along. Subconsciously, I was probably working to sabotoge her, while she tried to find any reason to find fault with the work I was doing. Our feud was evident throughout the store, even as we maintained the appearance of friendship. And we were starting to get better too; we were nearly getting along. That is when the worst thing happened that could have ever happened. On the anniversary of John’s death (give or take a day), JoBeth passed away. From the day the store opened, JoBeth had been the “store mom.” She was our “Head Cashier” and worked hard to make sure everyone was kind towards everyone else. She was one of the happiest people I’ve known, and one of the sassiest. She was a joy.
JoBeth had fought cancer for over a year and it was well known that she didn’t have much longer. She died at home, surrounded by her family and her dolls. It was very sad, but I took comfort in knowing she would no longer be suffering, as she had for so long. But once again, the store mourned alone. I didn’t know how to properly handle this loss and knew that it would be difficult to do so without help. I had just lost a grandmother at the end of 2000, the other in 2002, John in 2004, and now JoBeth in 2005. That is a lot of people to lose so close together. But it didn’t matter. Marla assumed that we could all handle it ourselves.
That was the beginning of the end. I could not have been more furious with Marla and she had to know it. She couldn’t have been more frustrated with me. I knew it. The tension between us was now so obvious that people could pinpoint us as the problem, but I no longer cared. In retrospect, although I feel that I was right about obtaining professional help, I am sure I was looking for someone to project blame on. I didn’t deal well with the whole situation and was sleeping a lot, as I was very depressed. That summer, I often cried myself to sleep for what seemed like no reason.
The third time I was late that summer, I had a feeling Marla would try to get rid of me… and I was really fed up. I had just returned from a small vacation and was leaving on another in a couple days. I decided I would use that time to look for a job in Dallas. At the end of my shift, before counting down my till, I gave my notice to Valeri, my manager at that point. However, while counting my money, Marla came in and let me go.
I don’t know how I feel about it, even now. I don’t think she had proper justification for firing me. It seemed a stretch after working there for 7 years, going most of them without even the most minor disciplinary action needing to be taken. Perhaps, it didn’t ever dawn on her that my problems stemmed from the loss of 2 coworkers in our store. Perhaps I could have worked through my issues more constructively if I had the proper channels to do so. Maybe not. And it is entirely possible that I was offered in order to save her job, as the store was having some major issues.
Whatever the reasons, regardless of anyone’s feelings, I felt betrayed. I didn’t want to leave my home — in fact, I still want to be there. Less than 2 months after working at B&N, I moved to Alaska. Up here, I found my job with Borders and started my new family. But it doesn’t feel right; it may never feel right. I invested too much of my life — I grew up with B&N. And now, I feel like I am working Borders from the perspective of a Barnes & Noble employee — like I am just waiting for a phone call to return to the place I really belong. But I think this may be where I belong now.
I do miss my life.
Images: unknown photo of man with book; Jane Human, Sunflower 06
Featured Image Art: photo by Eberhard Grossgastei (via Unsplash)