Working at a grocery store during Thanksgiving week is like working in retail on Black Friday, except that it lasts from Sunday to Wednesday. No matter how many stockers and cashiers are there, it’s never enough to satisfy customer demands. As a “Quality Assurance Assistant” (QA for short), it’s my job to both be the janitor and stock milk, eggs, and water simultaneously. I’m mostly able to balance both roles, but some days, when no one’s working in dairy and the milk section is bare, I spend the entire time stocking and restocking milk, frequently interrupted by customers asking for items we don’t have and managers informing me of another spill to clean up. By the time my shift ends, the outside trash cans overflow, and all the milk I’ve stocked throughout the day is gone.
Monday was one of those days. Stress-induced dissociation made it one big blackout with only the tiniest fragments of memory intact, like I’d been drinking all day. Customers outraged over us being out of eggs and not getting a new delivery until tomorrow. A clogged-up urinal overflowing with piss. Squeezing a floor cleaner the size of a John Deere tractor down a tiny aisle packed with customers while trying to clean up the third spill of the day. Dried-up specks of shit on the floor trailing out of the men’s room. The endless cacophony of cashiers asking each other for help on our walkie talkies and bad pop music blaring at full volume on the PA blending to create a non-stop screech in my ears. The only clear memory I have is rage.
It starts in the arms; muscles slowly stiffen while energy starts to flow through the veins. Objects slip from my grip as the energy tries to escape. Chest muscles tighten around my lungs, pushing out more air than I can breathe in. Legs begin to wobble. The energy builds up inside and moves from my arms to the rest of my body, ready to be unleashed. It slowly leaks out at first—pushing a float full of milk crates a little too fast, throwing a box of paper towels on the ground because I keep pulling too many towels out of it—but finally the levee breaks and rage gushes out, destroying everything in its way.
The day before, an entire pallet of milk crates fell to the floor. The damaged gallons were thrown away while the ones still intact stayed. Yet even the surviving gallons weren’t completely unscathed; some leaked from the tops, while others were only a quarter full. The protocol for disposing damaged goods is to pour out everything in the leaky container into the mop sink—which is on the floor of the QA room and kind of looks like this but much bigger—and then put the empty container into the reclaim pile. I threw the gallons into the mop sink and stomped on them. Milk splattered all over the walls and onto my pants.
After the rage explosion comes the zone out. I stood in a catatonic state staring at the crushed milk gallons lying in the mop sink. My body had no energy to make even a single muscle twitch. I wasn’t sure if I had a body anymore; all physical matter faded into a haze. Finally, I realized I was breathing, and slowly floated back into my body again to clean up the mess.