On Sunday, I got a text that caused a cold wave of dread to ripple through my gut.
It was from Ted, confirming to show up Monday at 5AM for my new position.
Huh. Why on earth would that freak me out? It was the exact thing I’d been clawing for…
… but with the torture of the load team officially behind me, I looked forward with clearer eyes
What would this new position be like? Could I handle it?
In the afternoon, I prepared as best I could for sleep. Instead of shifts starting at 2PM and ending well past midnight, they were going to begin at 5AM. It was almost literally swapping my bedtime with my waketime.
I was also taking a pay cut from $13 an hour to $11. I figured the sacrifice would be worth it. Now it was more of a hope.
I got a few hours of sleep, awoke at 4AM, and began my commute
Before the transfer, I drove to work amidst the hustle and bustle of a young afternoon.
Then, even though it was the same road, everything was dark and dead quiet. Barely any other cars.
The warehouse looked vacant as I arrived. But I found some people milling around in the breakroom, waiting for the shift to officially begin, so I joined them.
When 5AM arrived and they moseyed out of the breakroom, I followed. And suddenly wondered just what the heck I was supposed to do…
… so I milled around the main clothes sorting station, trying to make eye contact with workers. Who was the manager?
I noticed a couple whispering while darting glances my way
Finally, an older woman approached and ask if I were starting. She looked pissed just for having to speak to me.
I explained that I’d just transferred over, and was supposed to start training for order-pulling.
“Before you do that, you have to work at the Cancels station otherwise you won’t know what you’re doing.”
Okay fine. As the workers began, the noise picked up. They worked machines sewing, imprinting, and moving the clothes along production lines.
The older woman handed me off to my new trainer, an overweight woman in her early 20s. She directed me to drag in several racks of returned clothes, so we could sort them.
She spat the rules at me rapid-fire: “Denim! Black! Blue! Buttons before snaps…”
She went on and on while we piled clothes onto the rack. Temps buzzed around, extracting some items before disappearing. Another worker darted in to grab some. I kept up as best I could, listening to all the instructions while claustrophobia ensnared its chocking grip on me.
What the hell had I gotten myself into?
Every aspect of the job was intricate, packed with tiny details…
… and fast.
In previous weeks, when I began my truck-loading shifts, I walked by the station I was now working at. I pondered what seemed like a calm workflow. Even a lazy one. That turned out to be an illusion. The very real frantic pace was hidden by the workers’ experience.
And then I was trapped in it.
Immediately, my mind scrambled for a way out.
They had said I couldn’t go back.
Was that true?
As I sorted through more and more hangers, tangling them, dropping clothes on the floor, stepping on them, bunching them up, drawing weary looks from everyone around me, feeling their stares… my mind reeled.
Maybe I could beg to go back?
Or say I’d quit otherwise.
Would they care?
Or even want to help me?
Maybe if I got my numbers up fast enough, I had a chance…
So I re-doubled my focus on the task at hand. And worked straight through lunch while everyone else disappeared.
As the day went on…and on… and on, my trainer told me to run upstairs with bunches of 10-20 hangers’ worth of clothes. Then to drag several racks into the endless aisles of clothes in the back of the warehouse. Tripping over wires, mats, and hitting other stations. Brushing by and knocking over clothes in every direction.
It wouldn’t stop. Until, finally, my trainer disappeared.
I asked where she’d gone, until someone angrily told me the day was over.
So I shuffled outside, feeling the glare of the midafternoon sun hit me. Then I drove home, through town, seeing all the college kids walking about, enjoying their lives.
What the hell was I going to do?
After getting home, I did my standing meditations. Then I immediately plopped in front of my laptop… scoured Craigslist for other jobs… and applied where I thought I had a chance.
Then I stuffed my face with as much food as I could for dinner and prepared for bed. With a 3:45AM wake-up time, I needed to fall asleep as fast as I could.
Then began my new routine. The next morning, before dawn even showed a hint of cracking, my alarm blared me awake. I showered, meditated, and attempted to soak up and cherish every single moment I wasn’t at work.
I measured my long, dark commute… watching the clock… and noticed how I still had a half hour of peace, or fifteen minutes, or several blocks to go.
Then came the few minutes in the breakroom before the shift began.
But as much as I tried to grasp at emotional relief, it never came.
The break always ended. And my panicked thoughts kept reeling…
I screwed up. I screwed up. I screwed up.
And I was trapped.