How to lose your job at Walmart.

It was right before Christmas. I was going to college, my first semester, and I was working at Walmart. I don't remember what brought me to this job...the moment I decided that Walmart was the place I wanted to work. But somehow, I ended up with a 30 hour-per-week job as a cashier.

I wasn't the normal 18 year-old college freshman. I graduated high school with an infant and a new marriage. With the help of relatives, I attended 12 hours of college classes and worked almost full-time at lovely Wally World. And I hated each moment of my time on the job.

Talking to customers and ringing up their purchases wasn't bad. It was the extra stuff. It was the details that drove me nuts. Like the scheduling manager that didn't listen when I said 15 to 20 hours was all that I could work. (Studying and caring for an infant took up more than enough of my teenage attention span.) It was also the ridiculous strictness to which breaks were held.  If you walked away from your register, you had 15 minutes, from the first step away to the last step back, and you better find time to eat lunch or use the bathroom, or face an episode of berating that mirrored, I'm sure, a military drill sergeant's berating of someone gone AWOL. When you factor in the length of time it took to get to the breakroom whilst being stopped by anxious shoppers asking for directions to the aisle with Tickle Me Elmo or any other variety of requests, it was impossible. Darn royal blue vest.

But the cherry on top of my very unpleasant stint as a Walmart cashier came a week after Black Friday. I endured Black Friday, arriving at work before 5 a.m., dealing with the barrage of anxious, ravenous deal-seekers. But the week after, during an afternoon shift, I fell ill.

It began with a general feeling of yuckiness. The kind where you know it's not good, but if you can just will the next three hours to go by quickly, you know you can leave and lay down and all will be right with the world. However, just a short time after this feeling began, I deteriorated rapidly.  I was having chills and hot flashes. I felt too weak to stand on my cushioned mat behind the register. I found myself leaning against the register for support. I flipped the switch on my register light, like you do when a customer needs an override for a price check. The supervisor came over, and I explained my horrible weakness and aches. She had absolutely no sympathy for me and insisted I finished my shift.

Now, as a teenager who'd become a mother and wife by the time I was 18, you'd think I was used to rejecting authority. But you'd be wrong. I was a nice girl. I got good grades, never got in trouble, and only became a mother by accident, doing the same things all the other teenagers were doing. And I married at 18 years and one month old to try and do the right thing and give my daughter a legitimate family. (And also I loved him.) I never said no, I never talked back. But this time, I had been given no choice. I told that supervisor that I was leaving. And I did.

I arrived at my mother-in-law's house, who was watching my daughter, and as soon as she saw me through the picture window in her living room, she knew something was wrong. She took my temperature, and it was 103. The next morning, my daughter and I both woke up with a rash, or really spots. We both had chicken pox.

I called Walmart to inform them of my condition, and they insisted that I bring a doctor's note to excuse me from work. When I explained that I was uninsured and couldn't afford to have a doctor diagnose me for an illness I was already certain of, they were unmoved. When I offered to show up and show them my open sores, they refused. That was the end of my days as a Walmart cashier.

Several years later, my children were about 9 and 11 years old, and we were parking at the Walmart in our current home town. As I pulled up to an open spot, I watched a woman pull in ahead of me and completely side-swipe the car next to her. She put her car into park, opened her door, and stepped out donning the same blue vest I'd worn years before. She appeared to have no remorse, and left no note for the vehicle next to her. She, and her blue vest and dangly earrings, walked confidently into her place of employment.

I was faced with a moral dilemma.

I was in her shoes for a moment. Was she a working mom, just trying to make ends meet, late and afraid of her military-style boss? Or was she an inconsiderate jerk who just side-swiped an unsuspecting customer's car without a second thought?

My children saw the whole thing. I was left with no choice.

I parked my car, went in to the customer service desk, and described the incident, dangly earrings and all.

Months later, she was my cashier. Clearly the incident didn't cost her the job. And maybe the person at customer service never told anyone. And maybe that was a break that poor overworked, underprivileged girl needed. I'll never know. But I sure hope she never gets the chicken pox.


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