Over a year ago, a friend was fired from one of those jobs with low pay, where intelligent but young people work for bosses whose potential and ability faded with their enthusiasm. As we spoke that night, going over the details, mutually incredulous and increasingly angered, I reminded her that sometimes these things happen and that opportunities will open up. Going forward, I suggested, she now had time to explore her options, spend time taking care of herself and that help was always just a phone call away. We both laughed when I reminded her that her mother would no doubt be ready with all manner of comfort, now and whenever the pocket book could not offer her the certainty of home cooked meal.
It was her mother who put the whole situation into a succinct frame. That any employer would cast out a brilliantly educated, ginger-haired wit, such as her daughter, was a clear sign the company was beyond hope: corporate collapse was imminent. If only we could believe in ourselves so completely.
Our conversation reminded me of the first time I was fired. I was a retail clerk, part-time, at a small Carlton Cards shop. The store was located in a vacant suburban mall, populated by the few chains that either could afford to keep the shop open despite poor business, or those businesses that had not yet seen the downturn in demographics. After receiving the news that I was no longer needed and there would be no more shifts for me, I returned home, head down, certain that this episode was the most dismal to date.
When I told my mother, she probed for answers to the unanswerable: “How could they do this? Don’t they have to tell you a few days before? What kind of people are they?” When I shrugged my shoulders and answered with a sullen, “I don’t know”, she cut a slice of pie and served it to me warm. It wasn’t until years later that I learned what she had done after our conversation and to this day I do not have the full details.
One afternoon, she drove to the empty mall. She walked past the insurance agency, with its empty chairs and lone woman, in her tired business shirt with a name tag; past the Orange Julius kiosk, staffed by the university student trying to eek out part-time hours at minimum wage to supplement meagre student loans. She walked into that small store, with its single aisle of birthday condolences, get well soon balloons, and knick-knack curios that appeal to lonely women and those unable to find the words for what it is they meant to say.
I imagine her there: 5’4″, farm-girl seamstress whose hands and steely look tell a story, her thick Finnish accent. What did she say?
To this day whenever we find ourselves in that suburban mall, only recently turning a corner on the backs of some renovations and the new Safeway, she makes a point of looking into that little store. The episode has long since left my memory, replaced by other bosses and now staff; however, I see in her eyes the memory of wrongdoing. A look of warning; a mother’s warning to all that cross the paths of brilliant, educated children: she has her eyes on you.