My father smiled sitting there in the Starbucks at a small wooden table across from the regional manager who would promise to put in an emergency exit sign on the back door.
“And the store needs to close an hour earlier,” I said glaring at the corporate weapon in his black uniform.
He continued to nod his head, asserting his submission and concealing the doubt.
“She’s a fighter,” my dad said. “She’s not backing down.”
The manager laughed in relief. My armpits were sweating, my mouth full of cotton.
I used to drive past that Starbucks on 3rd and Market, seeing the red letters ‘EMERGENCY EXIT’ on the door.
Yes, I was a fighter, I think to myself. But I was a coward.
How can I be proud of myself for those red letters? I ran away like a scurrying rat, taking workers comp with me.
If I could relive that night again when the man robbed us, I would.
In that moment, I had two choices: do as he said or not. The thought even crossed my mind to grab the gun and aim it at him. But we weren’t trained to react. Baristas were trained to be brave by not reacting, giving away the money and going back to work the next day.
I wasn’t brave.
I just wanted to fight.
Those co-workers of mine who were there that night, they went back to work the next day. No tears or complaints. That’s brave – to clock in, put on an apron and smile like nothing happened the night before.
I don’t know if my fighting and resistance helped to make that Starbucks safer. I doubt it.
My mother, the teacher, hugs me warmly and says that I did the right thing.
“You learned so much from this,” she encourages.
I used to sit at a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, soak in the Riverside sun and watch businessmen and women stride around downtown.
A young musician with her guitar strummed in front of the antique shop. The homeless, belly exposed, wandered erratically. Elegant women strolled across the street in their heels toward the Mission Inn Hotel and Spa.
What have they fought for?
I want to say that I’m as brave and as passionate as that young musician playing her soul on the sidewalk with her open black guitar case. I’m as grounded as the trees methodically planted within the pedestrian mall, and as steady as the chiming bells echoing from the monument on Mission Inn Avenue.
Maybe I’ll forgive the corporate puppets one day for doing their job and reminding me the compliant employee I could have been. Unlikely.
My brother was the first person I told after the robbery happened. I was almost compliant. I was five seconds from closing my bedroom door and going to sleep, planning to wake up and going back to work the next day.
What if I hadn’t told my brother? What if I was persuaded back to work? How different my life would be.
I would have been owned by corporate. I guess a part of me still feels somewhat owned by corporate, by a system, out of fear and self-preservation. Especially now more than ever that I am in the military.
My guard is up more than ever after going through basic training and finishing AIT. But I reflect on that moment when my father called me a fighter. I keep that with me when I feel owned by my fear and regret.
From my mother, I remember that I have learned more about myself, and I owe it to myself to keep learning and changing.
This is also something I carry with me as I write my story.