In my working life, (now seemingly done, although I still apply and still get ignored) I’ve worked at many jobs: most moderately well, some crashing failures. But it seems that even at the best jobs, the ones I liked the most and performed very well at, it’s the failures – the near misses in conduct, performance, or execution that stand out in memory.
My most recent job was delivering prescriptions for the local Rite Aid stores until they contracted an outside company to sublet and administer the delivery program, company-wide. I really enjoyed this job, even though it was plagued by unusual dangers that made it a bit stressful: There was the extreme poverty of the neighborhoods I delivered to each day; the constant traffic snarls and suicidal drivers navigating narrow streets; the weekly (or more often) shootings and gang rivalries common to my areas of service; and, in some cases, the shaky nature of my customers – like the man who was so high he couldn’t figure out how to sign the receipt while holding a crack pipe in his writing hand. You get the picture.
But the thing that comes to mind most often when I think about the delivery job was a very old , very sick and broken lady whom I’ll call Abby for now, since she hasn’t given me permission to use her real name. I first delivered to Abby’s home about a year before my job was terminated, and thereafter at least once or twice each week.
On that first day it was Abby’s caregiver who answered the door. I entered, and at first didn’t see my client in the corner chair where she would prove to be every time I visited. As the young woman signed my receipt I heard a sound from the back corner: It sounded like “hah” – like “hat” without the “t”. I looked up and the sound was repeated, “Hah!” like some nonspecific vocalizations I had heard from several other non-communicating customers before. This one was al little quieter, and less like an eruption of energy than others, but basically still a vocalization of some sort. I looked up again and tried to nod an acknowledgement that I knew she was there, and I noticed the caregiver and a young boy on the floor by the TV were both looking at me rather tentatively. To see if I’d ask “the question”? To see if I was going to react negatively as others might have before me? I stiffened a little and tried my best not to offend people who obviously had more on their plates than I.
Then I thanked the young lady who’d signed the paper and turned to leave when I heard the other vocalization: ” Bah!” she said. “Bah!” And it finally clicked. Here I was trying to be professional and not overreact to the spasmodic vocalizations of a very old woman in a corner and she was just being civil to the stranger is her home: She was saying”Hi!” to the new fat guy (and later “‘Bye!”) And I had looked at her like a dunce and not understood. I quickly waved over my shoulder and said “‘Bye!” as I almost ran out the door. From that day on I always tried to look into her corner first thing in the door, and always I was met with a low, gravelly “Hah!”.
I saw in the paper that Abby passed away a couple of weeks ago. I had wanted to write about her before, but felt she deserved more respect that to be written about without her permission, and I’d been unable to find a way to explain to her why and what I wanted to write. Now that she’s gone, I think she might understand.