Last night was pretty rough at work. There’s a girl who comes in from time to time (I call her a girl, but she’s actually in her early twenties). Sometimes she’s by herself, sometimes with her boyfriend. He’s the kind of guy you know from instinct, from vibe, from that little itch in the back of your brain…whatever…is bad news. The kind of situation where you just know she’s being abused. Physically, emotionally, probably both. I know it’s happening. I was even brave enough once to ask her, when she was alone, if she needed some help. The number to a shelter, a cell phone to call a relative, a little cash to get somewhere safe. She denied anything was wrong, but she was lying. I knew it. She knew I knew it.
She came in last night, alone, to buy a bag of tobacco for her boyfriend so he could roll some cigarettes. She stood there silently for a moment, panicked. Because she couldn’t remember what kind he’d told her to get. We have three brands, and none of them looked familiar to her. She doesn’t smoke, so she really didn’t know one kind from another. I wanted to help her out, but I couldn’t. He’d never bought it when I was working, so I didn’t have the foggiest clue which brand he smokes. She finally decided on one, paid for it, and left the store. She was shaking.
The two of them came back a short while later. She was holding the bag of tobacco in her hands. He was gripping her arm. Tightly. He was pissed. She was still shaking.
You guessed it. She brought home the wrong kind of tobacco. It was the right brand, but it was full flavor. He recently changed to menthol.
He proceeded to inform me, and the two customers in the store, that his girlfriend was a fucking idiot. Because it doesn’t take a whole lot of fucking brains to remember what kind of tobacco your boyfriend sends you out for, does it? Or to remember that he’s recently switched back to menthol. And because of her stupidity, he’d had to leave the comfort of his home, after working hard all day, and fix her mistake himself. Because obviously she’s too stupid to be trusted to go to the store by herself. It meant that supper was gonna be late – not that she could cook worth shit anyway – and…
There’s a metal pole behind the counter. It’s got five long, sharp screws poking out of the top of it, in a lovely circle. It looks rather medieval. My boss made it for us to use for protection in case we’re ever in any harm. And what I wanted to do was to use it on this asshole. I wanted start with his big, fat, fucking mouth, paying particular attention to his teeth and tongue, then move right to his nuts and jab at those for awhile. I didn’t want to kill him, mind you. I just wanted to leave him in severe pain. Possibly with some permanent scarring and damage.
I didn’t, naturally. It’s okay to have those kinds of fantasies, but it’s not okay to act on them. I couldn’t verbally eviscerate the shithead, either. I’m not a psychologist, but it doesn’t take a degree to know that he’d just take that kind of humiliation out on the poor girl, too. I could tell the two customers – both of them women – were thinking the same thing. We were all thinking, too, that if he’s this abusive to her in public, what must she have to endure behind closed doors?
Finally I said, “Sir…this is my mistake. She asked me for menthol, but I gave her the wrong bag. I’m truly sorry.” Then I grabbed a bag of menthol tobacco from the shelf behind me and held it out to him. Gently. I even managed the apologetic, “Gee what a pinhead I am” smile I sometimes give customers when I’ve done them wrong.
The change in his manner was immediate and shocking. He almost syrupy with sweetness towards me. No problem, ma’am, that’s alright, ma’am, easy mistake to make, ma’am, no hard feelings, ma’am. The girl handed me the offensive bag of full flavor tobacco. She was still shaking. I offered the fucktard a free cup of coffee, by way of trying to make amends for my hideous mistake. Not necessary, ma’am. We’ll just be gettin’ home now.
To their late, shitty supper.
I harbor no illusions that this made any difference in how the rest of this girl’s night went. Or how her tomorrow is going to be. Or her next week, or her next month. But what could I do? What else could I do?
I’ll tell you what I did. I cried like a frigging baby the moment their car pulled out of the parking lot. Not the kind of crying you do when tears just sort of slip out, but actual sobbing. The kind that hurts your stomach and shoulders. The other women cried, too. It was kind of pathetic, really.
But what else could we do?