It was my third day there and god, was it a drag. I organized, I stocked, I even stood near a leaking roof to prevent customers from becoming a soaked mop. I sighed as I perched myself against the shelves. I watched the water droplets fall one at a time as they landed into the bucket, fun, right? This was my work experience.
After sending out countless emails searching for work, my school managed to get me a job within the retail sector. This was my first time working in retail and I was scared. For some reason, as soon as I stepped through the door, I felt a sense of tension. It was supposed to be an experience that would set me on my feet for future job roles, yet it felt like I didn’t belong. I wasn’t expecting hugs at the door or chocolates awaiting me, but I did expect common respect. The manager showed no interest in my presence and was checked out of his own role entirely. I thought my anxiety was playing with me. However, I couldn’t shake the uncomfortable feeling I had resting on my shoulders. It just wouldn’t let up.
The first day wasn’t bad. They let me get used to the store environment and how things worked on a normal basis. The manager was barely there, so he decided to put an assistant manager in charge to show us what awaits us every day in the stock room. Later on, during the day, I soon found out that another girl (we’ll name her Tee) from my class would be working with me. Most people would say I was “lucky” I didn’t have to work alone. I got along with the girl great, and we even got to go on lunch breaks together. For me, this was a win as the feeling of being alone in an area I wasn’t familiar with was quite a scary thought.
About two days passed, and it was now a Wednesday. I was about three days into my work experience, and I dreaded going in. I found myself drifting off into space, as all I did was stack shelves and came across rude customers here and there. The first few days the assistant manager was nice to me and Tee but on this day in particular I realised he was treating me differently. When it came to doing certain tasks, I would either be given more to do or harder things to do. I didn’t make a fuss as it was work experience and I was told from a young age that I must listen to my elders.
It started with an accusation.
“No, I haven’t” Being in shock was an understatement. I felt targeted.
He continued by asking me again and stating that he smelt it on me when I came back in store. I thought my innocence was made clear. It rattled a nerve, and that nerve was a very emotional one considering the family history I have.
He accused me of smoking weed when I came back in from my lunch break. This time he didn’t allow me and Tee to go together as he felt we distracted each other.
My throat became twisted and irritant I couldn’t speak. Before I could say stop, my confidence was being stripped away from me.
All I could feel was water, and all I could see was darkness. I started crying. At the time it honestly felt like someone was tearing me apart limb from limb. Knowing that I did nothing wrong and was still being looked at sideways made me want to submerge in a dark room by myself. He made me feel embarrassed. Embarrassed for something I didn’t do. I overthink quite a lot and at this moment I was trying to come up with ideas as to why he would say something like this.
I don’t know If anyone has ever felt this before but sometimes when people say something that’s not true, the more they hound it out of you don’t you start to believe it yourself? Well, that was me.
Through my tear-stained cheeks and sniffles, I sniffed myself to find what he was sensing. Thinking back to this time makes me emotional. I was overwhelmed by pleasing someone in a high position because that’s what I thought was the right thing to do. I questioned my character even though I knew it was untrue. That’s what hurts most. It was like I was trying to help him instead of helping myself.
I blamed myself.
After he saw that I started crying, he started to “comfort me” as his defence team put it. When this started, I was frozen. I didn’t know what to do. Without discussing all the details, he would ask me inappropriate questions not related to the situation at hand. He also told me personal things that would commonly stay within your household. If I’m honest, at the time, I didn’t entirely gage what was going on. I was still holding onto what he accused me of previously, and that’s where I put all my anger, hurt, and frustration.
When I went home that day and came face to face with my mum, that’s the only thing I told her. It was not until two weeks later that I told her the other details. The look on my mum’s face should have been enough to indicate how serious it was. For me, I didn’t understand. Now I know I just couldn’t come to terms with what happened to me. In my head I was a ghost watching everything happen to someone else I didn’t know. It made me uncomfortable and fragile.
Going through the court process at the tender age of fifteen-sixteen is something that old me was strong enough to do. Being who I am today, this situation has scarred me more than I thought it would. Winning a case to some people is a weight lifted off the victim’s shoulders. I had to deal with the huge loss of who I was. It made me scared to apply for jobs of any nature and stick to freelance writing from home. I have become more conservative than I was before, and my anxiety is at an all-time high.
Nevertheless, without the supportive people around me, I wouldn’t have been as strong to overcome something like that and be here today to tell you my story. Even though I can’t remember that carefree, happy teenage girl, I used to know she is someone I’m proud of to this day. After I pressed charges, it took me a long time to forgive myself. All I kept thinking about was potentially breaking up a family I did not know, but that was who I was. I put other people’s feelings first. I left myself alone, overshadowed by fear and judgement, and when I tried to come back, it was unmendable. Now I’m not saying I love myself again, but I have begun to take the necessary steps to not feel hatred towards every little thing I do.
I shared my story to gain some closure for myself and possibly help others along the way. What I want to get across is the need for talks like this in schools and workplaces. My school decided to push everything under the rug because they had a name to uphold. Victims shouldn’t have to feel silenced just because of their position. Most of all, I want victims to know how strong they are and to never give up, no matter what. It’s okay to have emotions and express them. Don’t rush the healing process, and more importantly, don’t rush you.