When we left off with Jaime, our Tattoo Girl, her friend Tamara had offered to help her find a new job. But, Jaime needs to figure out what kind of work she’d like to pursue. She found a couple of volunteer opportunities that might let her use her arts education and background. For now, though, she’s still working at Office Depot.
This post is standalone, but if you’d like to read earlier installments, please see links at the end of this post.
She was in the break room at OfficeCo when Corey came in for a soda from the machine. She thought about leaving immediately – which she’d been doing whenever she saw him in the past few weeks since she’d canceled their date. In the middle of the date, too. Sometimes she felt a pang about it, but then she reminded herself that Corey hadn’t passed muster with Mr. Mittens, her black-and-white cat, and she felt in her gut that there was a reason for that. – Not that Corey was a criminal. (That she knew of.) She might have given him more of an explanation. A note. A Post-it note on his locker. But that seemed too cheesy, too high-school. So, she’d just left it. She didn’t need to justify herself, anyway. It was just . . . awkward.
So she didn’t leave the break room this time. She noticed he hesitated after getting his drink out of the machine. That was fine. She kept her eyes on her Kindle and finished the salad she was eating for lunch.
“So . . . what was that, anyway?”
Corey sat down across the table from her. She could feel her own nervousness.
She looked up. She thought about making excuses, about saying she’d hadn’t felt well, or that she had changed her mind about going out. The old it’s-not-you-it’s-me line – which always meant it was the other person but that you didn’t want to go into it more.
Corey’s expression surprised her. He looked . . . hurt. No, scared. Scared? She’d expected anger, self-righteousness. Hostility. She had, after all, slammed her apartment door on him. Without a “good” reason, only that her cat hadn’t liked him.
Jaime tried to relax. Remember that article on mindfulness in last week’s Skimm? Take 3 deep breaths. Oxygen feeds the brain.
“I mean,” he continued – now he looked down at his Coke – “I thought maybe you heard something. About me.”
She shook her head. “No -”
He went on. “Because if you had, I’d hope you’d at least ask me about it.” He looked up. “I’m clean. I’ve been clean ever since I got out.”
Whoa. This was something she was not prepared for. She was suddenly revising her picture of him. She realized she knew nothing about him, other than he was good at explaining the details of their cell phone plans – something that always baffled her, they changed so often – and likewise with printers and laptops – all the electronic stuff in the store. Her picture of Corey had been vague – he seemed nice, but she knew almost nothing about him. Now she was seeing there was more, way more, than she’d imagined.
“No, I hadn’t heard anything. – And I wouldn’t listen even if I had,” she said.
“It was just possession. I got in with a bad crowd the last year of high school. Well. I don’t want to make excuses, I made the choices, I did the time. But -” he glanced away, “You’d be surprised at how people look at you. – When they find out.”
“Everyone makes mistakes,” she said. “You just have to learn from them, that’s all.”
“You’re right, you’re totally right.” He paused. “I guess you wouldn’t want to go out if you knew all that.” He frowned. “It’s happened before.”
“No, that wasn’t it,” she said, before she knew what she was saying. Then – why not? – “It was my cat.”
“Your . . . cat?”
She shrugged. “He’s kind of my talisman.” No, that wasn’t the right word. “I mean, he seems to know when I can trust people. – I haven’t done so well in the past.” Aurgh. Why did she say all that?
“The black and white kitty, right? The one sitting in the window?”
She nodded. “Mr. Mittens.”
“He’s pretty. You’re lucky. He must keep you company.”
She said, “He waits for me when I get home. We watch a lot of movies together.”
Corey actually smiled. He didn’t look so . . . lost? . . . any more.
“Well. Thanks for telling me. I’m glad it wasn’t because of, you know,” he said.
“No. It wasn’t,” Jaime said firmly.
She didn’t want to go out with him, that was for sure, because she trusted Mr. Mittens, and he’d been right before. But she didn’t blame Corey for getting into a bad situation. Before she’d married Anton, she thought that you always got what you had coming to you. That you could see clearly and make the right choices, and if you didn’t – and got into trouble – well, that was just your own fault.
But then, she hadn’t know Anton was the man he was. The put-downs. The cynical sneers. The violence in his voice when he threatened her. And she should have left him – sooner. She shouldn’t have married him in the first place.
“We all make mistakes,” she said again.
“Okay. Well, thanks.” He stood up. “Thanks for listening.”
Nathan came into the break room just then. He glanced at the two of them, and then went to the refrigerator and got out his lunch, in a red canvas lunchbag, like always. He pulled a leftovers container out of the lunchbag and put it in the microwave.
Corey slipped out.
“So,” Nathan said, over the roar of the microwave oven, “next week’s my last week. Wanted you to know.” He leaned against the counter. He looked thrilled.
“Oh!” Jaime said. “You’ve got a new job, Nathan? Congratulations!” This was unexpected. She fastened the lid on her salad container and put it in the compost-recycle bin.
“Yeah.” He grinned. “You inspired me.”
“Talking about a career, trying to figure out what you want to do . . .”
“Oh,” she said again.
“Yeah, I’ll be doing what I really want to,” he said. “Working with kids. They’ve got an opening over at the Y for summer counselors, and I figured, why not give it a whirl? They lost a couple of folks last month – right before the summer season – so I lucked out. Buddy of mine put me on to it.”
“Huh. That’s great,” she said. “Good for you, getting out of here. You’ll be outdoors, get a lot of exercise . . . ”
“You can say that again. – Oh, s–t!” He whirled around and grabbed his food out of the microwave. “Almost left it on too long! Again-” He smiled wryly and brought his lunch over to the table.
“Spaghetti and meatballs,” he said. “The Greek place around the corner makes a really great pasta, and if I bring half home I can have it again for lunch.” He started to eat.
It was the end of her lunch. “Well, I’ll get back out on the floor,” she said. “Nathan, I’m happy for you.”
“Any luck yet on your job search?” he asked, twirling his noodles on a fork.
“Still exploring. You know. That word ‘exploring’ has a lot of leeway,” she said, laughing.
“Mmm huh. – Things okay with Corey?” He looked up.
“No reason, no reason.”
“He told me he had been on drugs.”
“Huh. Yeah, but -” Nathan glanced at her. “I don’t talk about those things. Employee things like that. Especially if someone’s done their time. It’s hard enough on ’em, without a lot of talk getting in their way. You know.”
“I can see how that would be,” she said. She didn’t have to be on her guard around Nathan. She respected that he was doing his best to be a good human being. And so, she thought, was Corey. As was she. As are we all, she thought.
She thought of Mr. Mittens, her protector, her companion, her confidante. She was lucky to have him.
“Well, I’m back on the floor. – For the time being, anyway,” she said.
As she left the break room, she wondered who would be the manager to replace Nathan. She really needed to get that new job.
I hope you’re enjoying our journey with Jaime, the Tattoo Girl. This week I learned about the barriers for formerly incarcerated people in the U.S. to finding jobs, housing, and making a new life. Susan Burton is an activist and the founder of A New Life, a program in south L.A. that helps women transition from prison to new lives, and I had a chance to hear her speak at the public library. It’s a sobering and difficult challenge for our society.
Have you ever made mistakes that you can’t forgive yourself for? Are you a person with many regrets, or are you a person who can let go of regrets and move forward? I’m both . . . but I’m trying to be the latter. It’s more kind to myself!