Guilt and other Misbeliefs

I haven’t thought about this story in at least three decades.  The whole incident was pretty traumatizing and has been buried deep down where it belongs since 1984 when it unfolded.  I chalk this up to being a stupid, inexperienced and vulnerable kid that was likely completely taken advantage of if not completely bullied by an adult who should have known better.

Following high school I took my first job working as a sales clerk at a small boutique clothing store.  Within six months I was promoted to assistant manager and shortly after that to store manager of our sister store just down the mall.  Make no mistake, this had absolutely nothing to do with any glimmer of brilliance in management on my part, but more to do with being in the right place at the right time and having been bred to not say “no,” despite being woefully out of my depth.  I was the personification of the Peter Principle and most assuredly has risen to my level of incompetence!

Thankfully my former assistant manager was promoted to manager when I left my old store down the mall and we would have coffee daily and discuss matters of managing our respective stores.  As a new manager I naturally inherited all the baggage that went along with it not to mention the existing staff who, in retrospect, were probably just eager to suck up to their new boss for obvious reasons.

One slow day at my store, one of my sales clerks began to tell a tale of retail theft which apparently involving my predecessor.  It was relayed to me that when the new shipments would arrive, she would take first crack at the boxes and allegedly pilfer what she liked from them and that this had been an ongoing practice.  At 18 years old, and having been raised the way I was, this revelation was rather shocking and worrisome to me.  I had visions of negative inventory and resulting accountability issues being blamed on me.  I needed to discuss the matter with someone.  God forbid I had the sense to go to my boss with the information!

Instead, I chose to discuss it with my successor down the mall.  As our daily ritual dictated, we took our daily walk to the bank to make our stores’ deposits.  This particular day we went to the bank as usual and while in the bank, I brought up what my sales clerk had told me about the former manager having stolen merchandise from the store as the shipments arrived and my overwhelming concern for my being accused of whatever losses an inventory might reveal.

As it unfortunately turned out, the bank teller who was handling our respective deposits was apparently high school BFFs with the former manager and overheard us discussing the merits of the allegations and, once we left the bank, apparently wasted little time in relaying the details of our “private” conversation to her.

The following day, just as the store opened, I received a very phone call from the former manager’s father who proceeded to threaten to sue me and the store for slander and defamation.  There was a great deal of cursing and even more threats of criminal prosecution and general ruin spewing from his end of the phone.  It was literally in shock and in tears when I hung up the phone.

This incident literally made me sick for a several weeks.  I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I could barely get my job done at the store…though that was probably also due to my previously mentioned incompetence as a manager.  Still, I felt guilty of having committed some sort of crime and horribly fearful that I would somehow end up in jail or worse!  I was terrified of telling my parents because I thought for sure I had done something wrong…after all someone’s parents don’t call you ranting to that degree on the phone and making threats of prosecution unless you were guilty, right?  At least that is the way it was back then and certainly mirrored how I was feeling.

Now in retrospect, having worked as a paralegal for over 20 years, I know now that there was basically nothing he or his daughter could have done about it, as their cause of action was, at best, hearsay and supposition.  However, being young, very inexperienced and even more naïve, I understood very little about the nature of people and ended up feeling trapped in a web of crap that shook me to the core.  To this very day my stomach turns at the thought of the whole incident.  In fact, I don’t even think I’ve ever mentioned it to anyone out of fear that lives with me to this day.

This is one of the many lessons in life that has cemented my policy of trusting absolutely no one who is not in my immediate circle of earned trust, and certainly not with any tidbit of information, however factual or anonymous it may seem, in a even the more remotely public conversation.  This is probably one of the most painful lessons I have ever learned, but certainly among the most indelible!

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