Thursday has always been my favorite day of the week. In my current work schedule, it’s my “Friday” (the last day of work before two days off, the weekend) and I get to work with one of my favorite co-workers and when we close, it’s easy and fun. There’s no B.S. and we enjoy working together. I drove home after we closed the store, the quiet drive in the dark and I thought about the upcoming weekend. I didn’t have any concrete plans, just a couple of chores and some free time and maybe getting together with a friend. I was looking forward to that glory of the weekend, not so much the break from work, but the glory of unstructured time, the time for play. Isn’t that how it all begins? A quiet ordinary moment and then the jarring juxtaposition of shock.
I rolled into the apartment parking lot and sat for a moment in the car after I turned off the engine. I gathered my bag and coffee mug and then glanced at my phone. Weirdly, I saw there were 5 text messages, then 10, then 15. The onslaught stopped at around 23. These were from a co-worker, and not the one I had just worked with.
I am not a huge texter. I text regularly with my sister, sometimes with my mom, irregularly with a good friend. With everyone else, it’s usually quick or specific, making plans to meet up with a friend or sending a greeting to someone I was thinking of. In my old job, I used to text with the two members of the team I worked on. We were communicating frequently about logistics, meeting plans for a school, or the conditions of the trail for our Friday field trip hikes.
I have the phone numbers of my co-workers at the co-op. We don’t really need to text each other. Our work is confined to our retail hours. Most of our texts to each other have been sent in friendship. One recently sent me a picture of her dog. One sent me a picture of her 6 p.m. beer, taunting me for fun while I was still working and she had started her weekend. A couple of times I have texted to double check on a schedule change, and one time when I was having car trouble, I texted to let them know the progress while I waited for a tow. A few times, I have texted to make social plans with co-workers, asking if they want to meet up for a beer after work. My boss, who also happens to be my almost next door neighbor (weird and fun coincidence), and I have become friends and we’ll text to meet up for a meal or to hang out, but again, it’s usually perfunctory and with purpose.
The 23 texts from one co-worker was a shock.
I held my breath for a moment and then opened the car door, phone in hand.
I stopped at the mailboxes to grab my mail, excited to see a couple of things I was expecting: a new meal delivery bag for a side gig, a favorite magazine.
My arms full, I made the familiar key-in-door-I’m-home-it’s-the-weekend movement. I dropped the mail on the phone bench. I put my keys on the key hook and dumped my bag on the bench and leaned around the entry wall to drop my coffee mug in the sink, phone still in hand. I locked the door with a groan.
I poured a glass of wine from the spout of the box sitting in the pantry. I took wine and phone straight into the bedroom. I quickly changed into a T-shirt and leggings and flopped on the bed.
And then the text barrage hit me.
I sipped wine and read with incredulity. It was like stepping into an alternative universe. I exhaled and kept reading.
There were accusations of me. There were justifications for his behavior. There were bizarre sentences. It was all fuzzy.
I realized that the person I had been working with, sometimes just the two of us in the store for 32 hours a week, was more than a little weird and quirky.
He apologized for making a work environment toxic and then accused me of being the reason that he was toxic. Blamed me as the reason he was imbalanced.
I cried. I breathed. I picked up my phone to respond. It was a different world than it had been just 10 minutes before.
I texted and asked him to quit sending me texts and that we could talk about this at work, but only in the presence of our supervisor.
He then responded with more texts. I texted him to stop.
Finally, I turned off the light. I put the phone down. I sipped the wine and cried.
Then I pulled out the electronic tablet and cued up the one show that I have purchased and watched a few episodes before falling into a fitful sleep.
I woke up early, around 4:50, no alarm. I woke up with a moment of clarity. I didn’t need coffee. Suddenly, the last year and a half at work had a different look.
I have helped friends deal with spousal abuse. I trained and volunteered for a time for a domestic violence hotline. I read articles with regularity, in disbelief, about abuse. Over the hotline, I then worked with people who would stay in violent situations, unable to pry themselves from the cycles of abuse, even when resources were there to break away. Sometimes, it was more than economics that was keeping people in abusive situations. I worked with some victims who weren’t ready to leave, always ready to give their abuser another chance. It can be difficult for one to see the abuse and it can be hard to realize that it’s not one’s own fault.
I have spent a lot of time and effort in the last few years working on my own healing. It’s not that I necessarily had such a rough childhood, but I still needed to figure out the healing and to make sense and peace with things. I realized recently that I now have all the tools I need. I am, indeed, healed. In fact, I think I proclaimed that very thing in the last blog post. I am healed and yet I know it’s not an endpoint, it’s an ongoing process.
And then the scary night of obsessive texts sent by a co-worker occurred. All of a sudden I had clarity on those nights of work that felt weird, that felt uncomfortable, even painful. I always made an excuse for the behavior. Often it was subtle and only directed at me. It was hard to document, which is why I didn’t.
A few months ago, everyone at my co-op was required to attend a training about harassment so we could recognize the signs, so that we would report incidents, so that we would not perpetuate the abuse. The training was specifically looking at sexual harassment and its many forms, focusing on gender and race instances.
Earlier, this week we all attended a training about transgender issues.
At the end of both trainings, I felt grateful for the training and for a higher awareness of behavior, mine and others. I felt grateful for working for a company that values safety and diversity and dignity.
There have been prior incidents with this texter, this co-worker. I confronted the person. I felt proud for handling the situation, instead of involving everyone, HR and our boss. I kept justifying the behavior, even blaming myself. Each time, I was the one who ended up apologizing and things would be okay for a few hours, one shift, and then it started up again.
I kept blaming myself, thinking that I had been reverting to old patterns, that I was the source of the problem. The night of the 23 texts changed it all.
Yesterday was bumpy and full of tears and anger and then amazing periods of peace.
I talked to a good friend and my sister. I talked to my boss, but only at the end of the day, when I realized I needed to make a move. I prayed. I meditated. I made decisions.
I work on Sunday. So does the other person. Luckily, we only overlap for a few hours. I am still scared.
Last night, I was ready to quit. And the way that I always do, I started brainstorming. I have been thinking of moving on, getting braver to try new things, to pursue some other passions. I have stayed, because I like the store and all the other co-workers. I like the customers. I like that we sell incense and bulk dried beans and organic produce. I like that it’s a co-op.
I don’t know what will happen on Monday when my boss talks with the manager and the HR department.
I realize that this could have ended differently. It could have been a headline. I still don’t know how it ends.
I feel grateful, because I finally have the tools. I feel glad about how I handled the situation. I feel ready. I feel ready to take a new path, if necessary. And I feel grateful for the clarity that comes after 23 texts. I feel grateful for the clarity that comes with hindsight of a year and a half. I am stronger. I also see with hindsight what I could have done it differently. I could have reported the first time. I have complained and expressed frustration at the situation, but never really understood its seriousness.
I have new understanding, new enlightenment, new clarity. I will focus on the healing and the lessons. I will keep going, in love, in peace. There will still be anger and sadness, but that’s part of it all.
I will do my work to make sure this doesn’t happen again with this person. To me. To others.