Good-Bye Sweetheart, Know That You Were Loved!
Chris is dead and I have to live. How do I do that? How do I heal from the blow that holds my heart hostage? What can I learn from this? Why did it happen?
I met Chris the day I walked into my new job. I was the new General Manager for The Bagel Factory, the largest Wholesale/Retail Bakery/Bread Market and Restaurant in the
I had my hands full, I knew this and the proving ground was very apparent. The last Manager had been a man and had been accepted in his position. It was not going to be as easy for me and I knew it or rather, I could feel it.
The building was divided in half. The front was a working restaurant and retail business and the back was a working bakery. Unique in every way, this place was like no other. The front of the store had stone tiles, the back cement floors. It was real clear, that things changed when you crossed that line, from stone to cement. I would later to refer to it as, "The
He used my good work ethic against me, along with my Parole status. But I took pride in the fact that I got up at , opened the store at and worked till , every day but Tuesdays. Quite often, I would be called in on my day off but he made it clear it was all part of the job. I worked side by side with all 19-25 of my employees, my crew and bakers and would never ask them to do anything I had not done or was not willing to do, including my dishwashers.
The first week of my employment, was the first real test. I was told by my boss to go in the back and find out when something would be done. We had a rush on something for Westin Hotel and things were in a holding pattern. So, I went to the back, which at this point in time, I truly loathed and I approached Walt. Now Walt was a big bald black man who lived in the worst part of the city, he was hardcore to the bone and he looked even meaner. I swallowed real hard, stepped up to Walt and asked, "Hey Walt, how long before Westin is done?" He spun around and barked down my throat that I'd get it when it was done. I think I was covered in spit from the harsh verbal beat down, wiped my face and told him that Big D was asking. "Tell that mf'er, he'll get it when it's done." I said "OK," and walked away. I tried to go back to what I was doing but mentally, I was seething. I tried to shake it off but it just began to build, my ears were red and burning, a trademark tell tale of my anger. I gave instruction to my crew and informed my boss I was going to go smoke. He must've known and simply told me not to explode with a half cocked smile. I virtually ran down the back stairs to the area we smoked, outside the garage that housed the delivery trucks. I went around the first truck and stumbled right into Walt. "Damn," I thought to myself, this is the last person I want to see right now. I looked him right in the eye and walked past him and lit my cigarette. My mind was racing and I was about to burst. "Grab that black bull by the horns." I turned and walked over to Walt. "Look here, I'm only going to say this once. I am the Manager of this store and you will respect me." He said, "You ain't my boss, Bill's my boss." Bill was the Bakery Supervisor and had been with the Company for 12 years. He was a good-looking Indian with long dark hair he kept in a ponytail. He was very much a weight lifter, as were most of the guys and he bulged out of his white uniform. Bill did have Seniority and Bill was sure not my favorite person at the time. But I had to work in cooperation with him, even if he made things a bit curt.
I took another deep breath and stepped up to bat. "Walt, look here. I have a job to do, just as you do. You will see that I am damn good at what I do. You will also see that I respect a hardworking man. I respect your skill, your job and you. I know how fuckin' hot it is back there and I know how hard you guys work. Now, I have to fight to get my job done and I don't like that. I am the Manager of this entire store and I have a lot on my plate. As I said, I respect you and your craft, I see how hard you work and you are damn good at what you do. I could sure use your cooperation here. You don't have to respect me or even like me but we can't do this right if we don't cooperate, right?" He shook his head yes in agreement. I extended my hand, inviting him to shake on it. He took my hand and we firmly shook and he smiled. He said, "You just earned my respect, girl." I smiled, nodded and we went back to work.
Each and every guy there tried to push my buttons at one point or another but Walt must have relayed my message or taken it all back to the
I came to know Chris the hard way. He looked intimidating, was intimidating and I knew that he was ordered to Anger Management by Parole. So, the day that I had to step to Chris and assert that he was not going to behave the way he had, was not on my list of favorite things to do. One particular day, one of my girls, a crew member and very delicate college student had gone back to grab pastry from a locker. She was in a hurry filling an order. She had moved three pastry racks to get to the locker and had been chewed out by Chris when she'd not put the racks back. As she walked away from him, he slammed the racks back into place, scaring the living crap out of this girl and yelled at her. She'd come back to the front, nearly in tears and ashen white. that was all I needed to start the battle and I dropped what I was doing, gave my boss a dirty look when he tried to stop me and headed back to where Chris stood. "We can do this here in front of God and everybody or we can go downstairs but I want to talk to you." He slammed the switch to one of the machines off and followed me down the steps. I could just about feel his breath on my neck and it was not my favorite moment in time. I faced him, standing there, hands on his hips, condescending look on his face. I smiled rather sardonically and simply told him he would "never ever do that to one of MY girls again. You scared the shit outa this little girl and I won't have it. You got a problem with my people you WILL come to me, you hear me Mister?" He kind of stuttered an "OK" but stated that "your girls need to be mindful to put things back the way they find it." I told him that I would train my people to respect your work area from that minute on but if he had a problem he HAD to come to me about it and not take it up with that person. He agreed, we shook hands and he smiled. His demeanor had changed and he was no longer this big scary guy. As we walked upstairs, we were met with gazes from all the men, I smiled and they looked at me as if they just knew, I had taken the Bull by the Horns. Bill the Head Baker, smiled coyly and went back to twirling his Danish, a trademark way he did the pastry dough.
As the months went by, Chris became very friendly and was always pulling pranks on me or acting stupid in an attempt to make me smile. Our walk-in freezer and refrigerator were right there by his work station. I was rarely able to go in there without some sort of assault by bagel dough and he'd often act like he had to get something out of there at the same time I did. He'd come in there, hands covered in flour wanting to be playful when I was always in a rush. One particular day, I was furiously looking for something, moving large buckets and jars and he whipped a noodle from a bucket I had just opened. It stuck to my lip and we both fell over laughing. He almost kissed me but I ran from it and I was actually on a mission of some sort and in a hurry. I knew something was brewing between us.
I was about to move, in the first week of November 2004 and had no help. I didn't have much but had moved where I was, in a small one room spot, via taxi cab, the year before. Since then, I'd accumulated more stuff. Chris walked by me as I was telling my boss that I needed that next Saturday off and he offered to help me. He had an idea to borrow one of the Company trucks and showed up with it, Saturday morning. It was awkward but we moved box after box and decided to take a quick break. As we sat there talking, me with coffee, Chris drank a can of Pepsi, I listened to him but I was thinking about the fact that I had not had a date or even been with a man since 1998 when I was sent to jail and a stipulation of my Probation was to not have any contact with my ex-husband, Sonny. I noted in my mind, how girlish I felt around Chris. I was listening to him talk but I was really seeing him for the first time and I was smiling. We got up to get back to work and I was trying to pick up something that was pretty heavy. He came up behind me and was moving me out of the way but kind of picked me up and I felt his strong arms around me. He kissed my neck, sending chills up my spine, an old spark I'd thought was dead, was suddenly ignited and my embers were slowly burning for this guy. Most of what happened next has become blurry but he carried me to my bed, one I'd not shared with another in so many years and neither had he. We made love, we had wild monkey sex and I fell for this big Gorilla who chewed Skoal. We both had curfews but every waking minute, we were together when we could be. We worked together and of course, I often had to distance myself as he still wanted to come onto the walk-in and carry on. When I was at work, I had a job to do and I had to let him know that it was not professional for me to misbehave at work. He understood but that didn't stop him from grabbing a peck on the lips or a quick flour covered hug. More than once, I had floury hand prints on my butt, betraying my professional exterior.
Chris made me smile, he made me laugh and he did and went the distance to make me happy. He worked a different shift than me, sometimes and I'd come home from work and he'd have dinner ready or he'd bought me a plant, knowing how much I love them. We went shopping, out to eat, to the movies and we were in love. He was 9 years younger than me and I was a bit self conscience about it but he always made me feel better about it. He said it didn't matter. He knew I had Hep C but didn't care, he just loved me.
As our relationship evolved, I would get more out of Chris and realized he had an awful childhood. I had to pry most of it out of him but I wanted to know things. Playfully, I had called him Christopher and he had then emphatically asked me to never call him that. It took some time but I found out that his own mother had called him that along with all the foster mothers when he was in trouble and he was always in trouble. His own Mother had thrown him out of a second story window, when he was two breaking both of his hips. He was then placed into foster care. He had been beaten, burned, tortured, molested and deprived in foster care. They wondered why he was so angry as he went from foster home to foster home.
As he grew older, he became a real problem for most families as he fought at every opportunity. He had become a force to be reckoned with and as he got out of hand as a teen, they put him in a program for young men. He set sail on a Schooner that taught them a work ethic, discipline and Chris seemed to thrive. Once he turned 18, he joined the military. In boot camp, he suffered a Heat Stroke and was in a coma for 4 days. He’d broken a record though and came out of the coma filled with pride. It had affected his brain though, maybe slowed things down a bit. He went on to Desert Storm, came out, married, started a logging business and was doing well. He was drinking quite a bit but would always come home to his wife, sometimes bloody from a bar fight. She had older daughters and they had started another family together when they had children together. Things were going well in his business but his marriage was falling apart. Something happened, something real bad. Chris denied, what he had been charged with. To this day, I do not know if it was true but whatever happened changed his life and he was paying for it dearly, inside and out.
He was released after 5 years of incarceration and was ordered into treatment. He completed treatment and we discussed it all. He cried as he told me that he had to admit to his crime in front of the whole group and talk about it. You had to discuss it to graduate the program. I knew he was tormented by whatever had happened, if he did it or not. As we talked, I studied him for any indication that it was true. I knew something was there; it was as real as the scars on his entire body from the brutality he had endured.
I chose to see Chris, then, not as in past tense or to judge his past. I knew he carried a lot of dirty baggage. There were some unexplained behaviors but when you are in love, as we were, it is blind, deaf, dumb, crippled and crazy. All along, he made me smile and brought me happiness, so I overlooked stuff and hopefully, he'd do the same for me. I had my own crap, my own nasty baggage. I found that I was trying to fix Chris, right along with myself and my own life. I was having such a hard time at work. I was tired of being taken advantage of and equally tired of hearing myself bitch about it. I was working 60+ hours a week and becoming weary at the constant improprieties of a less than honest boss. Big D was a small man with money, who took pleasure in making you feel less than himself.
Chris and I had been going along well and were serious, very much in love. We were planning, when I got off Parole in November of 2005 that I would move in with him. He was renting a house from Bill, his Supervisor and was trying to fix it up. He was having a hard time paying for it all and welcomed the day when we could pool our resources and split the bills. I had every intention of spending the rest of my life with this man.
Then, I got the offer...
My little Sister listened to me bitchin' and moaning about it all. Recently divorced, she was about to move into a new home, along with my nephew, in a really nice neighborhood. It was not far from where she currently lived on
We were virtually inseparable. When we weren’t working, we spent every moment together we could. We both had curfews, so we did the best we could under the circumstance. When you are on Parole, you are not supposed to associate with other felons, short of a treatment setting. We’d even gone to Parole and asked permission to be together. They agreed but on one of my monthly visits, my Parole Agent had taken me aside and asked me if I knew about his crime? I told him that I did, in a way but felt it was not all truth. He stated that he could not tell me either way but he warned me to be cautious, “Chris has some anger problems. If he acts weird or you feel threatened in any way, you call us.” I agreed and stated that Chris did not scare me, in the least. We’d had a few fights where he was pretty pissed off but he never ever made me feel threatened.
Before my Sister had made me the offer of moving, I’d gone to a few places, on my day off, seeking employment. I wanted out of my job badly. I’d never worked for an owner who stirred so much shit. This guy just loved to throw a wrench in the works, at every turn. Big D had done everything he could to piss me off to the point that I’d even told him that we needed to go outside. I had every bit of confidence that I could whip his ass and hoped he’d follow me outside. He was an evil little man and he was sucking the very life force out of me.
Unfortunately, I didn’t realize, just how big my Company was or how much influence he held in that town. Every prospect of employment was met with, “Well, we’d love to have you in our business but it would clearly be a conflict and would stress our client relationship.” We literally had every Institution, in that town, in our pocket. Every major University, Hospital, Annex, Restaurant and College were a client of ours, we had the town sewn up. I quickly gave up, I guess to save embarrassment, save face. I’d just suck it up and fight for my rights. I was also extremely loyal to my crew. I could not envision leaving that job. I had rounded out the rough edges, trained every employee in there and business was booming.
When Big D wanted to schlep things, I called him on it. I fought for my crew on a daily basis and felt I was the buffer between them and that nasty, mean man. He was famous for yelling at people in front of everybody, customers had witnessed this on more than a half dozen occasions. I had gone to him, ready to quit and made it clear that I would never tolerate him yelling at me, much less my crew. Things would be handled in a dignified manner and if he had a problem, he needed to bring it to me and I would deal with it. I couldn’t stand the thought of leaving my people in his employee, at his mercy. So, I kept sucking it up, pulled my boots back on and went into work, just trying to make a difference. Now, I was tired. I was tired of fighting, tired of hating my boss, tired of pretending everything was ok. It all played on my mind. My Sister’s offer began to look better and better.
It was a hot and nasty summer and the air conditioning in the restaurant was not working. Sweat rolled into my eyes, it felt like my eye lashes were melting every time I stepped into the back of the bakery. I had two deli cases that were on the fritz and they stunk like something had died. I was running so hard, even Bill told me to slow down. I kept all my keys, store keys, safe keys, etc., on a ring on my belt. He laughed and said, “Barb, I’m kinda tired of hearing your keys clanging back and forth, 90mph. Slow the hell down.” He just didn’t understand, yet he knew all too well, I had no time to be lax, hell I didn’t have time to pee. He went back to making his Pecan Rolls and I went straight to Big D, stood there looking at him. He wasn’t even sweating, as he sat there in his usual spot, in the chair beside the cash register. He looked up at me and knew from the look on my face, that I was pissed. “I have told you, time and time again to get somebody in here to fix these problems. Now, don’t tell me they are coming. That’s what you said two weeks ago. Just like you told me my Slicer would be fixed and you’ve called the people. There are metal flakes from the blade, going onto the meat. My deli case is rotting, we are sweating our asses off here.” He stood up and acted like he was feeling the vent, positioned right beside him. “I think it’s working ok.” I made a choice, right then, that he was an unreasonable SOB and there was no point trying to talk to him reasonably. I went home that night and typed of a letter of resignation, giving him two weeks notice.
I have three sons but Steve should have been my 4th. He even looked like he belonged in my family. Steve was an art student at the Pittsburgh Art Institute and worked for me, mostly part-time, he was my Assistant Manager. I spoke to him about what was going on behind the scenes with me. I hadn’t turned in the Resignation Letter but I set into play a training plan so Steve could step up in my capacity, when I was gone. There were so many little things that I just did, every day and I wanted to pass it on, to make his life easier. I knew the boss would be passing off a lot of work on him and I wanted it to be familiar and easier on him. I also swore him to secrecy. I wanted to talk to Chris about it. I was really cowardly about it and kept putting it off.
As summer began to wind down, Chris could feel something was wrong. I can see now that I had so many opportunities to tell him but I just couldn’t do it. He would ask me what was wrong, had he done something? I would always tell him no, everything was fine, I was just tired. He was steady working on the house, readying it for when I moved in. He’d ask me, where I wanted this or that, what color, he was putting in new kitchen cabinets, carpet. He even told me that he was cleaning out a spare room, just for me, for an office. “If you want, I can get a big bay window, so you can look out when you write.” He was so good to me, yet so messy and a million other things, I told myself, things that were wrong with him. I was looking for fault, talking myself out of our relationship. If you look for fault, you will find it. It was a survival instinct that had kicked in. I felt I had to do this move but I never meant for him to be the casualty.
I continued to weigh out my options. I’d left home at 14, when my Sister was just little. I’d done a lot of dirt and had been written off by my family, countless times. I really wanted to help my Sister and get to know her all over again. I wanted her to be successful. I wanted to get out of that job. I wanted to write my book. I wanted to get my license back. I wanted a new car. I wanted a new start. I wanted, I wanted, I wanted. But I never wanted to hurt Chris. He was a good guy. He was the kind of guy who found happiness by making me happy. He found joy by making me smile. I woke and turned off all emotion. It was a cool, crisp Friday morning as I walked to work, resignation letter in hand. My mind was dead set on doing this. People were going to be hurt; things were going to get ugly.
Walking On Broken Glass
I laid the letter in its envelope, on Big D’s desk. I watched, out of the corner of my eye, as he read it and placed it back in its envelope. Part of me loved that moment and part of me hated it.
It took him a couple of hours but as I walked by, he spoke to me quietly and asked me, why, what, wasn’t I happy there? I had rehearsed this moment a million times but I stated that I was sick and was going to go live with my sister. She had offered me a really good job and I was going to take it. He then asked me if I had told Chris. I shook my head and told him no but I was going to tell him that afternoon. Every Friday, Chris worked in the evening, packing pastry and such, readying it all for the drivers to deliver. He always killed time at my house, would be there when I got home from work and we’d spend time together before he went off to work. I’d tell him then and hope for the best. Big D specifically asked me not to say anything till Sunday afternoon. He told me that the next two days were big and he needed Chris on his game. He didn’t want him upset and he knew Chris had Sunday and Monday off. He figured it would be better for me to tell him then, he’d have time to work through it and not mess up his work. Friday afternoon, Chris and I had an argument and to this day, I can’t remember what it was. He went to work pissed. Big D had called Chris at work that night to add to an order he was filling. He must have sensed that Chris was mad about something. He then asked him what was wrong and Chris told him nothing curtly. Big D then said, “Is it because Barb is leaving?” He told him all about it.
I was at my computer when Chris walked in the door with tears, angry tears in his eyes. He fell to his knees in front of me asking me how I could have not told him. He felt betrayed, rightfully so and finding all this out from Big D was a blow beyond blows. Through his tears he told me that he’d been working that extra job for two reasons; He was trying to fix things up for when I moved in. Then, he told me that he knew how badly I felt about moving in with him and how it might upset my family, the fact that we were living together. He said he had made the 4th payment on a ring for me and was going to take me down to the Justice of the Peace and marry me. He said, “Did you hear me? I never ever wanted to marry anyone. I married before because she got pregnant and I wanted to do the right thing. I wanted to marry you. I wanted to marry you and only you.” He crumpled and sobbed and I felt like the biggest piece of shit a person could possibly feel like. I apologized, I cried for us both. Then he said he didn’t want to live anymore. Everything he had ever loved was always taken from him. This was the first time he could ever remember being happy, in his entire life and it was all walking out the door. What did he do wrong? What could he do to be better? It was then that I started lying. I told him I was doing this for us. I’d go and write the book, help my sister, send for him or I’d come back after she was settled. As I looked into his eyes, I knew the truth and that wasn’t it. But I couldn’t stand to see this hulk of a man reduced to rubble. He didn’t deserve it. I held him close and reassured him that everything was gonna be ok. I loved him that was the truth; it was the rest that I was lying through my teeth about. I’m not a martyr but at that very moment, leaving him was the hardest thing I ever did. I felt I should have been burned at the stake. He stood and said he knew what he had to do and I felt he was going to kill himself. I half heartedly didn’t believe him and thought he was being dramatic. I told him to stop, we were going to be alright, we’d get our shit together, and it would just take some time. He didn’t kill himself, he went back to work. But I know he died inside, right then and there, it just took longer.
He gathered himself and offered to help me load the truck. He didn’t have much in his house and I gave him most of my stuff. I’d just bought a new couch, air conditioner and dining room set. I gave it to him as if that would right the wrong.
I’d walked off the job after Big D had done his damnedest to make me miserable. I never mentioned what he had done by telling Chris, I didn’t want to give him that satisfaction but after he made a nasty statement about “Well, you’re going to be gone, so you’ll do it my way, “ when it wasn’t even a rational thing to ask, I clocked out and told him he could do it himself. The weight was lifted when I walked out that door but I still had a shit storm to deal with and really didn’t feel good about anything. Nothing made sense.
On the morning of November 13th, I kissed him good-bye and set out for N.Y. We talked on the phone for months after that but I never saw him again.
He began his descent into hell about six months after I’d left. He was testing positive for Crack Cocaine and after 12 dirty urines, they threw him in a half-way house, the last resort before going back to prison. He was ordered to 90 days which ended up becoming 4 months and I’d not talked to him at all. When I did speak with him, it was not a good conversation. In my mind, it just helped me distance myself from him. Another month or so went by and he called me again. He’d changed, I could sense it. He was broken but argumentative about stupid stuff. That conversation ended badly, too. I could feel the distance between us and I’d realized that we’d grown apart.
I have so many pictures of Chris, in my picture folders and I kept coming across them. I almost deleted them but something stopped me. When I wasn’t happy here, I sought Chris, in my mind, there. I contemplated what things could’ve been, I thought about it a lot. He kept running through my mind, just three weeks ago. I again had stumbled upon his picture. I studied it and felt the pain, that burning desire for things to be like they were. I looked into his eyes and I saw only emptiness, even in his photo.
Another couple of weeks went by and I had this feeling like I needed to talk to Chris. I wanted to come clean, patch things up and try to make it right. I wanted to tell him that I did love him and always will. I wanted to tell him that he had meant so much to me and he was the last person I’d wanted to hurt. I wanted to tell him that he deserved better than me. I wanted to tell him it was all gonna be alright. I wanted to say that he’d done nothing wrong, that he’d been a good man to me. I wanted to tell him to be happy and that I’d hoped he could find happiness. I wanted to tell him that he’d made me smile and he’d brought joy to my life. I wanted to tell him that I could look around my house and see things he’d given me and that ever time I saw them, I thought of him and the fact that I’d felt loved. I wanted to tell him that it was not true that he meant so little to me that I could just throw it all away. I wanted him to know I was only trying to do the right thing. I wanted to tell him I was so sorry. I wanted, I wanted, I wanted.
I couldn’t find his cell phone number, where was it, Jesus where was it? My phone number had changed since we’d changed carriers; I knew he couldn’t call me. I put it off till the next day and thought about calling Bill at the Bagel Factory. I put that off too because to get to Bill, I’d have to go through Big D. My pride wouldn’t allow it. My stupid pride wouldn’t let me.
It Is Done
I was so glad to get the email from Steve. It had been a while since I’d heard from him. In between school graduation and finding a job, things had become a bit lean for Steve and his wife Rita. The telephone was off as well as his internet and I’d not heard from Steve in a few months. It was short and sweet. The email simply said; “Call me Babs, it’s important. The phone number is the same.”
I was so happy to hear from him and figured he’d tell me about some powerhouse job he’s got. I never saw it coming. He said, “Uh, Big D wanted to call you but I said I would. Barb, Chris hung himself last week.”
Oh God, how I wish…
And lead me through the fire
Be the long awaited answer
To a long and painful fight
Truth be told I've tried my best
But somewhere along the way
I got caught up in all there was to offer
And the cost was so much more than I could bear
Though I've tried, I've fallen...
I have sunk so low
I have messed up
Better I should know
So don't come round here
And tell me I told you so...
We all begin with good intent
Love was raw and young
We believed that we could change ourselves
The past could be undone
But we carry on our backs the burden
Time always reveals
The lonely light of morning
The wound that would not heal
It's the bitter taste of losing everything
That I have held so dear.
I have sunk so low
I have messed up
Better I should know
So don't come round here
And tell me I told you so...
Heaven bent to take my hand
Nowhere left to turn
I'm lost to those I thought were friends
To everyone I know
Oh they turned their heads embarrassed
Pretend that they don't see
But it's one missed step
You'll slip before you know it
And there doesn't seem a way to be redeemed
Though I've tried, I've fallen...
I have sunk so low
I have messed up
Better I should know
So don't come round here
And tell me I told you so...