I made cupcakes this past rainy Sunday: vanilla cake with vanilla buttercream frosting and strawberry jelly filling topped with sparkle sugar. Feeling fairly proud of my effort, I posted a couple of photos to Instagram. A former coworker commented that she missed me & my delicious treats. Not wanting to keep ALL the cupcakes for myself and my expanding waistline, I decided to drop off extra cupcakes for some of my favorite former coworkers.
When I went back to visit my former employer, west elm, yesterday it felt like going home in a good, familiar, welcoming way. I won't lie. I miss it. I miss the physical space that is west elm Austin. I miss the energy and familiarity of my former coworkers and of the store in general. After working for eight months at a different retailer (hereafter known as Employer B) that was an awful fit for my personality and personal style, in a drab poorly-lit space with ugly fixtures, inconveniently located at the corner of Urinestink Avenue and Noparking Street; going back to visit west elm provided a stark and refreshing contrast. From pulling into the designated, clean, security-patrolled, free parking garage adjacent to west elm, to basking in the abundant natural light in the store with modern fixtures and wish-list-worthy merchandise, the store greeter had me at "hello".
When I worked at west elm, I was infamous for bringing baked treats to share with happy, hungry and appreciative coworkers. When I worked at Employer B, I brought homemade treats only once. One coworker said she was mad at me for trying to make her fat. I'm afraid she was less then half-joking and more than half-mad. (Also, she was not fat at all.) Another coworker pointed out one cookie (out of thirty-six cookies) that looked slightly burnt on one bottom edge, then after the cookies sat for two days, the majority uneaten, he said that the cookies were stale from the moment I brought them to share. (The cookies were freshly baked the evening before I brought them and not stale upon arrival.) Another coworker said I must have hosted a party where I originally served the cookies and not invited him. He started demanding to know if anyone else went to this imaginary party. (When I hosted a real party at a later date, he was not invited.)
I relay these contrasts not to say that west elm is, or was, a perfect or even near-perfect employer. A friend who has worked there for over three years still cannot get the full-time hours with benefits she desperately wants. Another friend gave me the I-can't-say-what-I'm-really-thinking eyes when she mentioned recent staff turnover. I remember the crazy 3:00 AM to 8:00 AM shifts that led me to seriously seek employment elsewhere. I remember the on-call employment situation that made budgeting my time and my expected income difficult. I remember that one work-bully at west elm whose controlling actions now seem so mild in comparison to the work-bully I encountered at Employer B. (I called it quits at Employer B for a number of reasons: one being the presence of a work-bully on the tiny staff. This work-bully waged psychological battles bent on mutually assured destruction. The second I figured out that seemingly innocent conversations with work-bully would end in hurtful gossip, mean-spirited innuendo and outright lies, I disengaged as much as possible.)
When a west elm manager brightly enquired yesterday if I wanted to work there again, I suppressed the impulse to look deep into her eyes and exclaim too loudly, "Yes, please!" Instead, I took a breath and told her I might want to come back part-time in the fall when I go back to school. And in that moment, I sincerely meant it. When mid-August rolls around and my travel calendar calms, I may still mean it. Also, my poor feet may be healed enough to withstand working retail again at that point.