I've worked every entry level job under the sun; some for days, some for years. I've done everything from answering phones behind a desk, to flipping burgers in a greasy kitchen. However, even with a varying background of experience, nothing could have prepared me for this.
I had just been forced out of a job I absolutely loved, due to the location going out of business, when I found myself working for the "best restaurant in town". It was that local business that everyone wanted to be at, and if they felt so inclined, to work at. I was anxious and giddy whilst training on my first day being well aware of the reputation I had to uphold, yet most of my nerves stemmed from a comment the owner had made to me in my interview. He told me that it was very important that his employees get along with each other, and he asked me if that would be a problem. I replied with a wide-smiled, "Not at all!" Being fully confident in my social skills, I had no doubt that I would make fast friends. My first day was a Friday, and due to the popularity of the Friday fish fry in Wisconsin, it was swamped and we were understaffed. This was why my trainer, quickly realizing my competence for the job at hand, let me start waiting tables on my own after only an hour.
Feeling pretty satisfied in my performance, I was growing increasingly excited for my new journey with this company. Being the local hot spot that it was, my friends were not strangers to the dining room of this restaurant. On day six of my employment, they decided they wanted to see me in action and were greeted at the door by my boss who seated them in my section. I pranced over to their table, but as I closed in, I noticed the puzzled expressions on their faces and asked what had caused them. I remember very vividly that this was day six, because it had taken less than a week for my new boss to start verbally abusing me. This particular day he used the term 'worthless' with them. In days and months to come, this would be accompanied by idiot, good-looking, not good-looking-enough, fat, a joke, incompetent, and many more that I didn't have the luxury of hearing first hand. Not only were the hurtful words tearing my self esteem to shreds, but my boss had such severe mood swings that I never knew if I was walking into a hostile work environment based on his mood. Knowing the money I was making and the prime location, I very reluctantly convinced myself to stick it out.
By the end of my first year, I had established myself as a star employee in everyone's eyes except for my boss'. Now, I've never been one to complain or wallow in self pity, and I've definitely never been unprofessional in the work place even if I was working a minimum wage bartending job. I got through that first year by consistently telling myself no matter how unprofessional and profane my boss was, I would continue to be the best employee I could be. Just after the one year mark, I was one of the longest standing employees, I worked thirty plus hours a week, I would run the restaurant by myself most mornings, almost always had the most in sales, and had more five-star reviews than any other employee. I was on a roll. That was when Liam started.
Having that comment my boss made to me in my interview etched in my memory, I welcomed Liam regardless of his obnoxious personality and conceited stature. At first I ignored the fact that he was constantly in the restaurant while I was working. I ignored his derogative comments towards me. I ignored his multiple advances at me, each attempt met with a polite decline. I ignored the texts, Facebook messages, and the comments. I was the girl who got along with everyone and never had an incident, so I wasn't about to make a big deal over something that realistically happens a lot. It was when my boss started randomly accusing me of giving away illicit discounts and questioning my work ethic that I grew suspicious. I confronted my manager about how Liam was making me feel uncomfortable at work and was ultimately dismissed. Finally, after my boss addressed me a week later about Liam relaying these accusations to him, I realized I could no longer remain ignorant.
Despite the conversation being carried out over text message, I was very civil and to the point when I confronted the guy who had been sexually harassing me for a month straight. I simply told him to never speak to me or about me again. He responded in a drunken rage, clearly displeased with my now very blunt rejection, and I repeated myself, then I stopped responding. Feeling confident that I had done the right thing, I updated my manager immediately of the situation and went to bed.
When I was asked to come in the next morning to speak about the situation, I expected a resolution that would be in my favor seeing as I had done nothing wrong, and I had put a year and four months of work into this place. That's why what I got was such a slap in the face. I received an offer for a demotion the day after confronting my sexual harasser. As for Liam? He remained happily in his position and even got to pick up some of the hours that I was no longer fit to work.
I was completely dumbfounded. Locked away in my apartment for the next three days, I replayed the situation in my head wondering what I had done wrong. I barely ate, and I had waves of self doubt that came with tears and confidence-crushing panic attacks. In a matter of a fifteen minute conversation, I had gone from being comfortably employed to not being able to afford my bills because my misogynistic boss had decided to trust the word of a criminal over an employee who came to work every day and did her job honestly. And yet, I kept my mouth shut.
I showed up to work, bit my tongue, and did my job for two months after. I needed the job, so what other option did I have? It wasn't until I was sitting in a bar having an eye opening conversation, that I realized I deserved better. I was slightly intoxicated by the time Liam's name came up, so I lost all control and spilled out my story to a friend. In return, he let me know that not only had Liam turned my life upside down seemingly guilt free, but he had been bragging around town about stealing from our boss: the man who had chosen his word over mine. In that moment I completely rid myself of that toxic place, and I stopped showing up to work. No, I was never given the chance to ask my boss why he had done everything he had. Why wasn't I given a warning about my performance if it really warranted a demotion? Did everything I had done for him really mean so little? Did I, a loyal employee, really mean so little to him? What had I done that was so wrong?
As I sit here now, writing my story, I've come to the conclusion that it wouldn't have mattered what I asked him. Someone who has that little respect for human life, someone so far emotionally gone, wasn't going to hear anything I had to say anyway.
And I'm okay with that.
Knowing if I were in his position that I could never treat a person that way is enough closure for me. Since quitting, I have heard similar, not as intense, stories from other employees, and while not surprising, it still saddens me that no one used their voice. No woman or man should ever be made to feel like less of a person because of someone else's ego-driven opinions. We are never stuck in a life that we are unhappy with no matter how afraid we are. There is always hope in the ability to rebuild ourselves after disaster and live a life we love. As long as we can be accountable for the things in our control and unapologetic about the things that aren't, we will be just fine.