I was in college when my husband (then boyfriend) deployed for the first time. He was in Baghdad when it was not the best time to be in Baghdad. Towards the beginning of the deployment I began a new job. I have always been a person who has a million things going on at once - I work best that way. I work well under pressure, I focus best when busy, I thrive when things are difficult. I worked a full-time management job while taking 18 hours of college courses (sometimes more) and I did well in both. When I was offered the position put before me I was sure to say that there would be a time, and I didn't know what time of year yet, that I would need two weeks off for C's R&R and a week off when he returned home in November. This store had been negotiating with me about a job for months and this was my only stipulation and without hesitation the manager agreed.
When it came around for C's R&R about 7 months into my time there, the attitude was different. I had taken on more responsibility than originally planned and the store took more of my time but this was the summer and goodness knows that is the slowest time for the retail I was in. When I gave the dates my boss would not let me off saying that this PTO request was not a priority and she could not give me that much time off unless it was a medical request. For those who don't know me, my eyes are huge and they have a tendency to pop out of my head when I am shocked whether I want them to or not. My jaw dropped, my eyes popped, and the tears came. I was not sad - I do not often cry when I am just sad. I was furious. This is something I truly hate about my wiring - I cry when I am mad, I cry when I am angry with authority. I have tried so much to prevent this but nothing works and it makes me look weak.
I walked away without speaking. The next day I came back in on my day off and said, as calmly as I could while trying my best to hold back the tears, that I would walk away that day if I didn't get the time off. I am not a person of ultimatums but this was the only thing my boss would understand.
"You can have a week," she said as though she had just granted me some incredible wish out of the goodness of her heart. "But I shouldn't even be able to give you that. I don't understand why you think you should get two weeks off anyway."
I got one week and for the other, C stayed in my condo while I was working. Most of my teachers let me out of class - which was incredible. One teacher, in particular, let me out of an exam.
"Don't even think about showing up for it," he said without me even asking. "You can take it when he leaves."
Just like that. No problem, no request on my part. I hadn't even thought to ask. Thank God for those who understand.
Months later, when it was time for C to come home things got bad. You don't have to work retail to know that things get crazy around Thanksgiving and if you work behind the scenes (especially in the position I was in) they get insanely busy the weeks before. C came home in November - and my boss was furious. When I saw the schedule posted with me working the exact time period his plane would be landing on the ground my entire being went numb. She did not give me off work - no matter what I had threatened - and I made a decision. The week before he was supposed to come home I went into the office while she was working on paperwork.
"I won't be here," I started right away.
"I'm sorry?" she said without looking up.
"If you are going over next week's schedule again, I will not be here."
She had the schedule before her on the desk. I had noticed it wasn't posted on the board. She just looked at me. "I said this when you hired me. You agreed."
"But it's November. You have too much to do."
"It's done. Everything is written down and it is covered." I had been working on things at home and had spoken to my fellow managers who had agreed to pick up my shifts meaning they had to work extra days that week.
"I need you," she continued when I told her things were covered. This was ridiculous. She didn't need me. People who were my superiors had offered to step in for me. They were the ones who taught me - she didn't need me at all. She was being stubborn.
"I won't be here. I just thought you should know."
I called two days after C got off the plane to ask a fellow manager if I still had a job. She said I was on the schedule for the following week. I have worked with some wonderful women and I have worked with some not so wonderful people. Some incredible co-workers stepped up to work extra hours for me and I will always be grateful.
When I returned to work my boss never said a word about it. Never asked how everything went. Never apologized. About two months later, we had a different conversation.
The desk was covered in floor maps and clothing charts. I had a pen in my mouth and a marker and a ruler in my hand. I had closed the door, which I rarely did, but I was having trouble focusing because a coworker was playing "The Office" on her ipod and I kept laughing. I heard keys in the door and turned my store radio on to see if anyone was calling me. She walked in with a serious look on her face - she wasn't supposed to be working today.
"Can I talk to you a sec?" she asked - and she was really asking.
"Sure," I said, beginning to clear off my mess on the desk so she could sit down.
"No, stay where you are," she said unfolding a metal chair and having a seat. I noticed there were tears in her eyes.
"Is everything okay?" I asked - truly worried. I had never seen her cry before.
"No it isn't. I need to apologize." My face gave me away - I had no idea what she was talking about. She raised her hand to stop me before I could say anything.
"I cannot believe how wrong I was with how I dealt with your situation. It isn't an excuse but I just didn't understand." She went into how she had read an article about the life of a military family going through a deployment in one of her favorite magazines. "I could not stop thinking about you after I read the article." The tears began to flow freely. I handed her a tissue, almost like a robot because I could not believe what I was seeing. "I couldn't sleep last night - I had to come talk to you. I am so very sorry for the pain I caused you. I didn't deserve for you to stay."
She spoke for at least thirty minutes and I listened - taking it all in. Trying to process this drastic change and eventually I smiled. All that I could say was "Thank you." And I meant it with every fiber of my being - but there were no other words but thank you.
Sometimes something happens and it just clicks. It doesn't always matter how much breath we waste trying to help a person understand - so often it is out of our hands. We will not all agree. We will not all see things the same and sometimes we have to throw our hands up and walk away. I took a risk - a risk I would not recommend to anyone - and even with that she did not understand. It came from somewhere else, in the words of someone she did not know, for her to understand. She came to me with humility, she came to me with deepest regret, and I listened. Her tears touched me, her honesty surprised me, and her apology did not come too late.
"A soldier doesn't fight because he hates what is in front of him. A soldier fights because he loves what he left behind." - unknown
"God is our refuge and strength. He will protect us and make us strong" (ps 46:1). For those who will fly today, for those who are there now, and for those who will soon join the fight, Lord, shield them from all evil, strengthen their hearts, and bring them home safely.