This story was extracted from a short story called Picker Pack completed in April 2016.
For a brief period, I worked for a company called Harper Collins Publishers in Dunmore Pennsylvania, as a Picker Packer employed by a staffing agency. I was a temporary worker, working for 90 business days, hired by Manpower filling this mundane position. After I started working at the Harper Collins warehouse; dozens of other temporary workers came and went. They all seem to carry a repetition of similar characteristics holding the same values, with little responsibility for anything which even included their own lives. We were all in our late teens to mid-20s with the occasional person around the age of 34 to 50. It was an exciting mix of people in term of ethnicity, race, and personality blend. The warehouse presented a giddy atmosphere, where people killed time and got paid for it. Everyone treated the job like a social gathering, and I even thought of it in the same way. It was a relaxed environment that didn’t demand much thinking once you mastered the hand-held scanners used for taking inventory and packing boxes.
In the third wave of temps, I met a few people I would never forget. The first was a girl by the name of Lisa. Lisa was in her 20s, but she looked much older and spoke with an accent that was similar to the folks from Kentucky or Alabama. She didn’t seem very bright at times but was a hard worker. A few times during our break, Cheryl, Marissa, Lisa, and I would drive to McDonald’s and spend the hour talking. Lisa didn’t have a car, so she often drove with Marissa and was surprisingly very impressed that all three of us had our own vehicles, which to her was a significant accomplishment. Lisa was a slim figured girl who looked like she was on drugs at one point in her life. I remember that she always kept her blond hair pulled back in a ponytail which placed her sharp cheekbones on full display. She had a scar on her forehead, one chipped front tooth, and a face that looked slightly malnourished. When Lisa first came around within two weeks of her working at Harper Collins rumors about her started entering our conversations. The first rumor was about her drug use and the second came from the male temp workers who claimed she gave a guy a blowjob in the back of the Manpower minivan. I heard this story from Marissa who argued that it was true. Regardless, of the rumors, Lisa was accepted into the group, and many people just used the rumors as a way to exemplify the box they placed her in. They called her ghetto, white trash, coke head or junky depending on their mood. While it has become a cliché to say that people who said these things were only trying to make themselves feel better, these adage was very true in Lisa’s case. I grew up being bullied as well, but mostly for my general lack of social graces, so I knew what it was like for people to speak poorly of me, but not in the way that Lisa was talked about. While there was a significant gap in the reasons we were bullied, I often felt sorry for her. Especially, on the days when she couldn’t go to McDonald’s and decided to sit in the cafeteria instead. Everyone would buy dinner from the cafeteria or pull out their homemade meals, but Lisa would have nothing, but a cigarette. I thought that I had to feel sorry for her, for it hurt me to see someone like her existing in a world where no one cared. She was just ignored like the plastic forks that were left on the cafeteria table, only to be considered when someone needed to use them or throw them away. In spite of all of this, I could see that she had a determination in her that wasn’t present in my other co-workers. For unlike the others she worked very hard at any task that was presented to her.
One night when it was very slow on the lines, a few of us sat in the back of the warehouse out of sight from the supervisor talking. Cheryl and Marissa were present along with Lisa and one other new female temp worker. Cheryl bought up the gossip about Lisa’s inappropriate behavior in the van as if she was the mother ready to scold. She wasn’t too hard on Lisa, but made sure to tell her to be careful around the guys because they were the ones spreading rumors. Lisa then busted into an over the top rant about it being a lie. It was hard to judge if any of these people were truthful, but I didn’t believe her protests because her face said otherwise. Standing there I felt very out of place in all of this; I knew I was the only one who seldom had these experiences and was desperately fighting the urge to judge. The naturalness at which Cheryl, Marissa, Lisa, and even the new temp dealt with this issues eluded me, leaving me with the feeling that I had to act as if I was okay with all of this. As the conversation moved passed that moment, Lisa started talking about various issues in her life. Her story started when she said that she had to see her lawyer earlier that day. She explained that a few hours before work, she was arguing with her lawyer over her son. Her lawyer wanted her to take her son to prison to see his father. Lisa opposed this request and didn’t show up for the prison visit with her son. As she carried on with this story, I was shocked that she was divulging such sensitive information to us so carefree. She told us that her child’s father was arrested for possession of drugs and some other criminal activities. She claimed that she told her lawyer that when she found out she was pregnant, her child’s biological father wanted her to have an abortion. She decided to keep her son then eventually continued having a relationship with his father, but one night while she was five months pregnant he got upset over a trivial matter and began beating her. At this point of the story, she made sure to remind us that she was only five months pregnant. Lisa was very descriptive and went into great details about the abuse she suffered at the hand of her former lover. For me, this was such an unbelievable story but what was most incredible was how easy she spoke of her pain. She then broke an uncomfortable smile during all of this to point to her front tooth, forcing us to see her chipped front tooth as if to say “look what he did!” The night of this argument he son’s father grabbed a hammer and started beating her with it, which chipped her tooth and causing the scar she had on her forehead. When she made it to the hospital, she was told that if he had hit her in the head anymore, he would have killed her. From there she was placed in a battered women’s shelter to escape him, and that was the last time she ever had to deal with him. While I got the idea that her child’s father was violent, I was sure that Lisa had a seedy past as well. I couldn’t assume she was a saint, but she didn’t deserve the abuse she suffered. Somehow Lisa seemed to accept all of this, as her tolerance for drama and pain seemed higher than usual. After her story, it was easy to see why she was so passionate about not having her son visit his father in prison. I had to agree that forcing her to take her son to prison to see this man was unfair.
The night Lisa shared her story with us was also the last night we saw one of the new female temp worker. She was present the night that Lisa told us about her son’s father, but I never knew her name. After five days of not seeing her at work, we asked Lisa and Marissa if they heard from her. Lisa then said that she lived in her neighborhood, and was told that the night after we last saw her, she fell from her bedroom window and broke her leg. Her fall was no accident, as we came to discover that an altercation between her boyfriend prompted her to try to jump from her bedroom window to escape him. I wasn’t sure if Lisa was accurately describing this incident, but I told myself that if she did jump to avoid her boyfriend’s violence against her, then I had no real comprehension of the complicated lives many of these women lived. It was at this point; I realized that all the people who worked as temps had a story to tell.