Setting Fire to the Ship

It seemed like an innocent enough request. “Can we call you if we have questions?” asked the interim CEO of the non-profit I will be leaving on Friday. “We would pay you as a contractor for your time, of course,” she added. Being me, I said sure. After all, what’s the harm in taking a phone call every now and then?

If my life were a movie, you might hear the familiar strains of my theme music in the background right about now. I goes something like ~

Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back to the place I was before
‘Relax’ said the night man,
‘We are programmed to receive.
You can check out any time you like,
But you can never leave!’

Somehow my saying “sure” turned into a request for “5 hours a week, to start”.

This is my 3rd time to quit this same job, and the 3rd time someone has asked me to stay in some way, shape, form, or fashion. One day, I’m sure I’ll look back on this whole thing and laugh, but on that particular day, I didn’t find it funny at all.

I spent my whole weekend stressing over how best to say no, wrestling with whether “no” was even the right thing to say. I mean, 5 hours is nothing. I could do that in my sleep and I’d be earning at least some money, right?

Not even my head could rationalize that in a way that convinced my heart.

After struggling for what seemed like hours to find the right words to backtrack my way out of this mess I had inadvertently (almost) agreed to, I decided to take a break and read. Right now, I’m reading One Woman Farm by Jenna Woginrich, a book about sheep and growing things; absolutely the farthest thing in the world from my problems with work. Wrong!

In the midst of chopping wood or butchering a pig (I can’t remember which), Jenna starts talking about failure. Specifically, she tells the story of how Cortez, upon arriving in the New World in 1519, set fire to his ships. His idea was simple – with no way to return home, his men had no choice but to give their all to this new venture.

I thought about that for a good minute and I knew. There was no way I was going to move forward on my own if I still had any connection to my old job. 5 hours or 25 hours, it didn’t matter, they both represented the same thing – a commitment to continue on a path I’d been trying to get off of for more than three years. I had to burn the ship.

So I did. And I did it with just that same anecdote. Whether they enjoyed the story of Cortez, I’ll never know. I never received a reply to that email, just a note from HR confirming my eligibility for COBRA benefits and a payout of my vacation days at the end of this month. But that’s okay. For the first time in all the many years I have had this job, I actually said no when I meant no, and I have no regrets.

Nice Won’t Pay the Bills

The strangest thing happened to me yesterday. I was grocery shopping with my niece when a middle-aged woman approached us in the aisle. She was dressed in a blue scrub-type uniform and white clogs, as if she’d just come from work in a hospital or maybe a cafeteria. She was neatly groomed and when she smiled, I noticed how pearly white her teeth were. In her basket she had a few packages of meat and a jug of apple cider vinegar.

“I hate to bother you,” she said.

Thinking she was about to ask me where something was located or to help her reach an item on a higher shelf, I said, “No problem. What can I do for you?”

“I just need a little help paying for my groceries,” she replied. Before I could say anything, she continued, “I’d give you the shirt of my back and the shoes off my feet if you’d just help me out.”

I looked in my purse and said, “I have a few dollars that I can give you.”

The woman mumbled something I couldn’t understand and turned her cart around, leaving Cassidy and I staring dumbfounded at each other. A few minutes later we got to the checkout. The woman was in line in front of us. Since Cass and I were talking, I wasn’t paying much attention to the interactions ahead of us in line…until…

The cashier gave the woman her total of $41. I looked up to see the woman quickly gathering her groceries as if she was in a hurry to leave. “Ma’am, you still need to pay for that,” said the cashier. “She’s paying for my groceries,” the woman said as she pointed to me.

I’m a little slow on the uptake in situations like this so it took me a minute to register what she said. When the cashier looked at me for payment, my brain finally processed what was happening. “I’m not paying for her groceries,” I told the cashier. To the woman I said (calmly), “I told you I could spare a few dollars, not pay for your groceries.”

The woman then started putting things back, including 2 $8.99 slabs of pepper bacon, to get her total down to $15. Again she gathered up the bags and this time moved more quickly toward the exit. The cashier called out to her and again she told her that I was paying. This time I wasn’t so calm. Okay, let’s just say I was extremely agitated and I yelled out, “I don’t even know this woman! I am not paying for her groceries! Get me a manager!”

The woman dropped the bags, ran out the door, and jumped into a white passenger van waiting by the curb. It sped away.

After I calmed down and was able to tell the cashier what had happened, she looked at me and said, “You look like you’re too nice of a person. You need to go home and practice your resting bitch face so that people will think twice before they approach you.”

The sad thing is – she’s absolutely right. Last year, in the same store, a complete stranger asked me to give her a ride to the neighboring town. A few months ago, a woman at a convenience store asked me to buy her gas. On vacation last year, a woman came up to us as we was getting out of the car and asked for bus fare. Another time in another parking lot, a woman asked me for money to buy lunch. And the list goes on.

To top it all off…I wasn’t even in the store yesterday shopping for myself. I was buying groceries for the kids (my niece and the baby) because she found herself with too much month at the end of the money; and being the nice person I am, I couldn’t bear the thought of a member of my own family going without food. I do the same thing for my mom. In fact, tomorrow I will pick her up some fruit and cereal at Aldi just because I know if I don’t, she will eat peanut butter for every meal.

I feel that taking care of my family is my responsibility. My mom raised us by herself and made sure we had everything we needed. She can’t do all the things she used to do for herself so I try to help where I can. When it comes to my niece, I think back to when I was her age and living on my own for the first time and how if it hadn’t been for my grandparents stopping by every Sunday to check on me, giving me a few dollars here and there, and making sure I was fed, I wouldn’t have made it very far.

Everybody needs a helping hand every now and then. But how much is too much when it comes to helping people out?

The incident with the strange woman brought some things home for me. I struggle with every buying decision I make, from a $2 book to the $90 box spring that took me a year to finally decide to purchase. I can say no to myself but I can’t say no to other people. The woman in the grocery store was a blatant and obvious con and I was able to avoid it but I gave $3 to the woman at the gas station, $2 to the one that wanted lunch money, and I can’t count the number of times I’ve handed over my change to someone I’m certain used it for cigarettes or alcohol. I’m supporting habits I don’t even have!! And it has to stop.