While these days I’m a full-time writer, I’ve held a number of jobs over the years. A few of them were cushy, but most of them weren’t. I worked as a hotel maid and as a telemarketer. I’ve worked in food service.
And I spent quite a while working retail.
My favorite retail job was working at the Borders Bookstore in Bangor, Maine, in the early 2000s. Sure, I was on my feet for 9-hour shifts. Yes, the pay wasn’t great. And of course customers were often rude.
But I loved being surrounded by books. And for the most part, my coworkers were pretty cool.
One thing I didn’t like, however, was the attendance policy. You were allowed to have a certain number of absences in a rolling 12-month period. This meant that if for some reason you got really sick and missed a bunch of work, you had better be in good shape for a full 12 months — or you’d be let go.
Regardless of how hard you worked or how good you were at your job. Or whether you had doctors’ notes or not.
Have enough absences… and that was that.
One year I got really sick. I was running a high fever, coughing up huge amounts of orange and green sputum. Could barely walk to the bathroom without getting winded. Went to the doctor, who told me I had a really nasty case of bronchitis and put me on antibiotics. The drugs took a bit to work, so I missed a full week of work.
My managers didn’t care about the why. I got a bunch of grief. And I was put on disciplinary status automatically. Because missing a week of work put me in the danger zone.
The next full year that I worked there, it hung over my head. I found myself worrying that I’d get sick again, get fired, be unable to find other work (because the job market wasn’t so great in my area), and lose my apartment.
Even With a Lax Attendance Policy, I Didn’t Feel Like I Could Let Down My Guard
I eventually went back to school, studied medical terminology, got a good job at the hospital. My job was significantly less physical. And I could do it from home — which was great.
It paid better and it was less stress.
This was funny because the attendance policy was much more forgiving, so if I had gotten sick like I had at Borders, I wouldn’t have automatically gone into disciplinary status. It wouldn’t have been a big deal at all.
However, I missed even less work than I did at Borders — because I got sick less often.
Theoretically, I could have abused the lax policy. I could have called in sick when I was perfectly healthy. But I didn’t.
Partly, it was because I liked my job. And I suppose another part was because our sick and vacation days were part of the same Paid Time Off pool, so there was no reason not to use them for vacations (I prefer going on vacations to calling out sick).
But if I’m really thinking about it, I think part of me never got over that feeling that any unapproved absences would hang over my head, like they did at Borders, and potentially threaten my ability to keep my job.
I Always Feel Like I’m About to Be Let Go
It wasn’t until quite recently that I realized that there’s a parallel here to how I feel when I’m in relationships. I was talking to my partner, explaining that I basically spend all of my time in our relationship feeling like I’m on disciplinary status, that I’m in a situation where if I screw up once, that if I miss one more day of work (so to speak), that I’ll be booted out on my ass.
I feel this way all the time, regardless of which relationship I’m in. Like I need to be on my best behavior at all times. Like if I screw up one more time, it’s over.
That I’m on shaky ground. That despite any indicators to the contrary, I’m actually on disciplinary status. And things are precarious.
I told my partner this and they seemed quite surprised. They said this wasn’t the case. That at this point, with everything we’ve been through and how much I’ve done for them, I pretty much have tenure. “It’d take gross malfeasance for anything to change.”
But something inside of me can’t understand this. I always feel like I’m about to be let go.