The spare vacation days at home provided time for us to regroup. I scheduled a Saturday morning appointment for Mike with our regular eye doctor, an ophthalmologist at Northgate. I also checked in with Staci, the young woman I’d left in charge at work. She told me the month-end books had been closed just fine, and the printouts of journals and schedules were due in the next day. She assured me that each of the office girls would be reconciling the schedules pertaining to her particular job, and that they planned to have any corrections ready to enter by the time I returned to work on Monday. I thanked her.
Mike and I busied ourselves catching up on home chores—family phone calls, mail pick up and sorting, paying a few bills, the last lawn mow of the season, and unpacking and cleaning our rig. Mike spent two long hours scrubbing bug remnants off the top front of the camper. After that, we delivered my nineteen rolls of film to the camera shop for developing, along with the two that Mike had used.
Saturday morning came quickly. At his request, I accompanied Mike into the exam room at the eye doctor’s. Though his eye-hemorrhage had somewhat cleared, the news was as expected—a burst blood vessel in the retina. The doctor prescribed some ointment to apply inside the lower lid every few hours for the next ten days. He then set a follow-up appointment for two months later and sent us home with a supply of white gauze eye patches and a roll of tape.
Monday came too soon, and with it the cold winds of November. I worried about Mike driving in commuter traffic with one eye covered. "I’ll be fine," he said, then backed out of the driveway, and drove off. I ran fresh water for the dog and hurried upstairs to dress for work while telling myself that if he did get into a fender-bender, at least it wouldn’t be with our truck.
As I drove up the long driveway to park within the fenced lot of the Porsche+Audi dealership, my heart thumped. Why get a panic attack now? After all, I knew what to expect here. I shouldn’t be fearful. Thankfully I was there, as usual, before any of the office staff or salesmen. When the rest of the crew came in, around nine o’clock, we busied ourselves with last-minute accounting adjustments.
Mr. Blanton, the dealership owner, showed up around ten-thirty. He stepped into the accounting office, picked up a stack of mail, then came to my desk. "Welcome home, traveler," he said. "We missed you."
I smiled. "Thank you. It’s good to be back."
"Did you have a nice trip?" He fingered the pieces of mail held in his hands, repositioning the stack by envelope size, smallest on top.
"Yes, we did. In fact …" I pulled a flat paper bag out from under my desk, and handed it to him. "I brought you a souvenir."
"Thank you," he said. "What is it?"
"A newspaper from Colorado." My face warmed with embarrassment when I realized I didn’t know this man well enough to be handing him a replica of an 1800’s newspaper we impulsively had ordered at a tourist-trap called The Smut Shoppe. The headline read, "J. BLANTON SHOT IN CAT HOUSE."
On second thought, I added, "It might be best if you opened it in your office. Alone."
He flashed me a questioning smile, slid the bag under his stack of mail, and walked out of my office.
Mike called shortly after that. "Everything’s okay," he said. "I had no problems driving so you don’t need to worry. I’m at the Cadman Pit today, just sitting here in the job shack, yakking with the guys." He sounded fine. I knew, with other inspectors there, they’d probably go out for lunch together. I wouldn’t worry about him not eating.
"Okay. Thanks for letting me know."
"No problem. Say, how did your boss like that souvenir?"
"I’m not sure." I chuckled. "When I realized it was a bit smutty, I suggested he take it up to his office and open it there. Alone."
"Did he say anything later?"
"I haven’t seen him since then."
"Oh, okay. I’ll catch you at home then. Have a good day."
"Thanks, you too. See you later."
We hung up, and I turned my attention back to drafting a preliminary financial statement.
Later that day, when I entered my boss’ upstairs office with a worksheet showing the projected figures for October’s business, he thanked me for the remembrance, adding that he’d, "keep it under cover."
Rumors of Blanton’s bad behavior increased as the weeks passed, causing me to wonder if that supposedly humorous headline of the souvenir newspaper I’d given to him, bore more relevance to his lifestyle than the joke it was meant to be. His long, liquid lunches became more frequent, his behavior less guarded. On occasion, he would escort his current female companion through the showroom and up the stairs. I’d remind the office staff, when they’d start to remark about it, "Don’t say a word. It’s none of our business."
On occasion, his vivacious wife or two teenage daughters, well known to all the employees, would visit the dealership, making the uncomfortable situation even more so.
He’d sometimes sit in my office and relate threatening activities connected to his other business purchases—like the disgruntled marina seller being after him with a gun. Additional reports from the parts and service departments alleged that some employees were buying street drugs off the big-box tool-supply truck, and supplying them to Blanton.
Before long the store’s absentee owner, holder of forty-six percent of the business, began to question me about the owner’s use of company funds for personal purchases. I did not want to snitch on my boss, but my personal integrity motivated me to direct his attention to a folder of invoices showing just such activity. My own conscience would then battle my sense of employer-loyalty, adding more stress to my job. My decision, as always, was to do the right thing.
As the tension between the two majority owners grew to involve my responsibilities at the dealership, I began to hate my job. The thought of gunfire, dealings in street drugs and possible fire-bombings hampered my concentration. Because my office shared a wall with the parts and service departments, where gallons of gas, oil, grease and other combustibles were plentiful, it wasn’t difficult to imagine myself being trapped in an inferno if someone hand-delivered a Molotov cocktail into the place.
Should I quit? It would be the third time in four years if I did. Right or wrong, I perceived the current situation as life-and-death serious. No big salary increase would stop me this time. I’d need to discuss it with Mike, although I knew what his response would be. Between the unrest at work and worrying about Mike’s eyesight, my brain once again turned to buzzard-fodder. God, help me to decide. Please.
"Just quit," Mike said without a second thought. "If it bothers you that much, then quit!" Easy for him to say. Unlike me, Mike could walk off any job in an instant and not return. He’d done it in the past, but something, I think it was the autonomy of road construction inspectors, compelled him to keep going to work every day.
I couldn’t quit that way. Never had. My compulsion, I suspect brought about by a need to maintain my excellent reputation in the car business, was to leave any job shipshape for my successor. I wanted to see it through the holidays and year-end accounting, and prepare the office crew for a new leader. If, in fact, I decided to quit.
That decision simmered in my psyche throughout the snows of January and into the promise of spring that comes with Valentine’s Day and the emergence of pussy willows.
February also brought Mike’s follow-up appointment with the ophthalmologist. By now his vision was back to normal, but the doctor recommended he contact the University of Washington Medical Center to determine if he’d be a candidate for laser surgery—a procedure that photocoagulates leaking blood vessels in the retina and shrinks newly forming ones—which would hopefully save his central sight and color vision. I made the call for him, and got an appointment for the middle of June with the doctor who specializes in laser surgery for diabetic retinopathy.
In the meantime, to break the monotony of our days, we signed up for a class in screen printing at the junior high school. It turned out to be enjoyable and educational for both of us, and served as something to look forward to during the wait for spring. We finished the course and brought home our buckets of screens, squeegees, gloves and a couple cans of ink. Mike did not pursue it further. I began drawing designs and studying more about the creative possibilities of it, and it served to release some of the tension I was bringing home from work.
In March, the CPA showed up to do his yearly audit of the dealership. I respectfully answered all his questions, and provided specified records as he asked for them. A week later, Blanton came into my office to show me a letter from the CPA in which he noted the "outstanding job of record-keeping," done by his office manager, me. Blanton smiled and thanked me.
"You’re welcome." I smiled back and remembered how he’d told me, three-and-a-half years ago on the very day he hired me, that his current office manager was totally incompetent. Now, with my spirits riding high from one simple, verifiable compliment, I dared to think that Blanton’s attitude would improve. That maybe I shouldn’t quit. I couldn’t wait to burst in the door at home and share my news with Mike.
His county truck was parked in the driveway when I hit the button for the garage door to open and drove inside.
Mike was in his favorite living room chair, TV blaring, when I reached the top of the stairs.
"I’m home!" I put down my purse and hung my coat in the closet.
"Hi, Honey. How was your day?" he asked.
"Pretty good." I grinned in anticipation of sharing my news. "How was yours?"
"Okay, until I got home."
"What’s the matter?"
"I went out to feed Duchess when I got here, and she hadn’t eaten last night’s dinner. She looks sad, and I think she might be sick. Maybe the trip to Colorado was too much for her."
"Well, we know she’s going on fifteen years old. She might be on the way out. Did you give her fresh food tonight?"
No? Sick or not, the dog deserved fresh water and new food. "Let me change clothes and I’ll go down and have a look." I loved that dog too, but always held some resentment that Mike never gave her the care and attention he had promised when we got her.
Twenty minutes later I was back upstairs. "I gave her fresh food and water, and a scratch behind the ears. You’re right … something’s wrong with her. She’s lethargic … doesn’t seem interested in anything around her … won’t even wag her tail."
"That’s what I saw."
"You really need to clean her pen, Mike … smells pretty bad. Looks like you haven’t done it for a few days now."
"Nope. Got busy with my job books."
"Why don’t you go do that for her now? If she’s not better in the morning, we’ll call the vet."
While Mike cleaned the kennel, I fixed dinner. Then we ate, watched some television, and went to bed.
My alarm clock rang at 5:45 a.m. as usual. I popped out of bed, threw on my robe, and rushed downstairs to check on the dog—another dinner not touched. She wouldn’t even get up. I knelt down and scratched her head, then hurried upstairs and into the bedroom, where Mike was just getting dressed.
"How is she?" he asked.
"Bad. Her neck looks swollen. We’d better get her to the vet."
"Okay. You call him. I’ll go put her into the truck and meet you out front."
As the vet directed on the phone, we rushed our Duchess to his office in Lake City. He met us at the door, took one look at her, and considering her age, recommended that she be euthanized to end the suffering. Mike and Duchess followed him to the back of the clinic, where she was temporarily put to sleep. Euthanasia would come later, and the vet would take care of her interment. We bid farewell to our faithful friend and companion that morning. With sadness and tears, we left her behind while we went on with the workday ahead.
Losing Duchess hit Mike hard. He hurt for weeks. I suspected it was because he felt guilty for not caring for her as he should have. I tried to stay positive, having forgiven him years ago to begin caring for her myself.
It pained me that his anguish ran so deep. "We’re never getting another dog." He sobbed. "Never!"
I winced. "Fine!" I’m the one who’d end up caring for it anyway. It seemed to me that no matter where I turned, I faced another job to do, and I certainly didn’t need more work added to what I already had. I was indeed "Saturday’s Child," the one that "has to work for its living."
We both shut up, and relaxed into the familiar rut of dinner, television, and sleep. There was no dog to feed that night.
Morning brought its own usual ritual of showers, dress, breakfast, lunch-packing, and work. Mike’s day would be spent at the construction pit, mine, filled with paperwork, a peevish boss and the problem of whether or not I should continue working in potentially dangerous circumstances. With that situation and Mike’s eyesight on my mind, I became less patient and noticeably more irritable, and unable to decide.
The U of W eye doctor examined Mike’s eyes in June, and explained the laser surgery process. He sent us home with a stack of reading material, authorizations to study and sign, and an appointment for the first treatment in September. After reading about the risks of this surgery and the hold-harmless agreement within the authorization, I understood why they gave us three months to contemplate the procedure.
We pondered it daily—while getting ready for work in the mornings, in an occasional but brief phone call during the day, and during dinner. Even in the midst of yard-mowing, we’d stop to discuss it. We needed a break!
One Saturday morning we drove to the Alderwood Mall for a change of scene. We walked the corridors from one end to the other, window shopping. At the far end, we stopped to look in the pet shop, and noticed a pup that we’d read about in dog books at a bookstore—a Cairn Terrier. The assistant placed the frisky little guy into an open pen, where it audibly hassled an imitation pepperoni around the floor. Mike laughed and called the small, dark, almost hairless critter, "Shotgun." I laughed too. We pulled out our credit card and purchased the pup on the spot.
He was bathed and dried and ready to leave the shop an hour later. We put him into the cab of the truck and headed for home, stopping by my folks’ house to show him off. He escaped Mike’s grasp and quickly peed on my Mom’s hand-hooked, one-hundred-percent virgin wool living room rug. I grabbed paper towels and cleaned it up before it could soak in. I knew we’d leave with her having one more thing to hold against Mike.
As the day turned to evening, the tension over Mike’s impending eye surgery and my situation at work resurfaced. I knew that making a decision, at least about my job, would lessen my current stress level. Convincing myself that "life was too short" to endure more mistreatment, I wrote a resignation letter and submitted to Blanton. I offered to stay-on for two more months, knowing that automotive office managers were hard to find. I would leave in September.
His first reaction was to be sweet and cunning, offering me more pay. When I stood my ground and refused his offer, he turned vindictive. If we met accidentally, he’d throw a nasty look my way but say nothing. For the most part, he completely avoided me, using the back stairs to reach his office on the second floor. When he did speak to me, it was to judge me as incompetent, just like he’d said about the man I replaced almost four years ago. His insults became so abusive I cried all the way home one evening.
Mike’s response was, "Just walk out. Quit! Tomorrow."
But I couldn’t do that. It wasn’t who I was as a person. I called my sister, seeking comfort, and perhaps, insight on how I could survive my final two months while he found a replacement.
Her dander rose. "Two months? Nobody gives two months’ notice! You tell him, tomorrow, that you’ve reconsidered—you’ll be gone in two weeks!"
I knew she was right, and the following morning I carried a revised resignation letter to Blanton’s office. "I’m changing my resignation notice from two months to two weeks," I said, and put the letter on his desk. "I won’t subject myself to the way you’re treating me any longer than that."
He glared at me. "Fine. Leave me in the lurch, you incompetent bitch." How could he call me that, after the resounding praise of my work in the CPA’s annual audit report? The Ogre!
My disgust turned to anger. "Okay, if that’s how you see it." I might as well tell him a thing or two. "You may be able to treat your wife and daughters and a few employees here with unwarranted rudeness, but I will not accept it. I do not deserve it, and you well know that. I do thank you for the times you treated me with respect." I turned and walked out.
As disillusioned with my job as I was, I knew I could not depart without the financial records in good order. Likewise, in no way would I abandon the office crew without final preparations, nor would I leave Blanton "in the lurch," as he claimed, although I felt like walking out that moment. I also prepared three pages of detailed information about his multiple businesses and bank accounts, because I was aware the man knew little about his own holdings.
Over the next two weeks, I worked closely with the office gals and began taking home what few personal items I had in my office.
Blanton had agreed, some months previously, that when my demo was scheduled to be removed from service, he would let me buy it. At this time, however, I did not want the car at all. My history of driving it included numerous breakdowns, to the point of the service department teasing me each time it was towed in with, "Helen’s on the hook again!"
Not one to default on agreements, I placed a memo in his message-box that read, "If you'll quote me a final amount for my demo, I'd be amenable to purchasing it as we agreed several months ago."
Later that afternoon, five minutes after he returned from lunch and I was deep into preparing how-to notes for my successor, I was surprised to see him walk into my office.
"No!" he said. "Absolutely not!"
"No what?" My mind had moved on to other goals since I wrote the memo.
"No, you are not going to buy your demo. That's final!" He turned and left my office once again.
"Okay ..." I shrugged my shoulders and rolled my eyes to the ceiling as he left. What he missed, just after that, was my enormous heart-felt grin, my fist pushing a "thumbs-up" signal to the fore, and my not so silent whisper of "Yes!"
Word spread around the dealership that I was leaving. To my surprise, a number of employees stopped by the office to wish me well, to say they’d appreciated my work as office manager. But not so for Blanton, he avoided me to the very end.
The office crew brought sweets and a few gifts on my last day. When I saw Mike’s county truck pull into the parking lot out front, I grabbed my purse and coat, hugged each of the gals good-bye, and walked out the door.
God would take care of me.