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The first few months were a struggle for them. I would come home from work and M would be in the cul-de-sac tossing a football around with the neighborhood kids, waiting for B to get home from work. I heard from the neighbors that he was hanging around during the day while E was at work. Every once in a while, he’d let me know he’d come in to hang out with our dog or take him for a walk. I’m not sure how much job hunting he was doing but I’m fairly certain it was nonexistent.

E would periodically text me asking to go to Target or on a bank run. On the way home, we’d stop for a soda and she would share her successes and vent her frustrations. One day, she suggested that M might not be looking for a job because he was a bit depressed, that his whole life was hitting him now that they weren’t struggling quite as much as they had. However, she was concerned that he refused to go to a doctor about it. A few days later she tlet me know that because a pet helps when someone has depression, they adopted a kitten with a feisty personality and named him Django.

E with Django

E with Django

My first instinct was to berate them. I wanted to say, ‘What the heck are you thinking? You can’t even take care of yourselves! How are you going to take care of a kitten?!?!’ But I didn’t do that. My second instinct was to run over there with cat food and litter. But I didn’t do that either. Instead, I asked her to send me a picture.

One day, I stopped to pick up bread and milk on my way home from work. I was focused on unloading my cart, oblivious to everything else. I dug my phone out of my purse intending to find out if B needed a ride home from work when the bagger asked me – for the third time – if I wanted paper or plastic. For the third time, I said ‘paper.’ Again, he asked, ‘Paper or plastic?’ I looked up ready to say something biting and sarcastic. Instead, I found myself standing there with my mouth open while a beaming M picked on me for being unobservant. He packed up my groceries and insisted on carrying them to my car for me. “I’ll be back in a minute,” he explained to the cashier he was working with. “She’s the one I was telling you about – my friend’s mom who helped me when I was homeless.”

At the car, he bragged about how the store couldn’t do without him. He told me that they simply called him up and insisted he come back to work, not in the produce department, but as a bagger. “And, I love it!” he proclaimed. “I am not stuck lugging boxes, hiding in a back room every day. I get to help people, talk with people. Being a bagger is awesome!”

I was confused by this turn of events. Just two days earlier, M hadn’t even been looking for work! As it turns out, sweet and innocent E manipulated M into a job.

Apparently, the grocery store was desperate for day-time baggers. The high school students were back in school and store was having trouble finding someone willing to do that type of work during those hours for the pay they were offering. E suggested M apply for the job but his pride got in the way. There was no way he would ever want to work for those arrogant… (I’m pretty sure you can fill in the blanks.) So, she talked with the grocery store manager. She suggested he call M and ask him to come back to fill the position. When he laughed at her, she decided to work the system.

She went for days casually mentioning to co-workers (assuming management paid attention to the rumor mill) how terrible M felt about the circumstances leading to his departure. She re-visioned the timeline of events, making his concussion happen before any of his absences or headaches. Before long M was martyr, a victim of an unfeeling bureaucracy with no accommodations for medical conditions. She let the rumors stew while encouraging M to make a formal apology for his attitude.

During a heated discussion at home, E riled him up before covertly hitting the record button on her cell phone. In the recording, M shouted, “What am I supposed to do E? Just waltz in there and say, ‘golly. I’m so sorry I disappointed you. I’m so sorry I fell and got a concussion? I’m so sorry I couldn’t think straight and keep directions together when you forced me to come in even though my doctor said I shouldn’t work? Even though I had a clear note saying I did not have medical clearance to work? I had a concussion E. I am truly sorry it didn’t work out there, E. But I can’t change what happened. … You know I could sue over that, right?”

She then went into her manager’s office. She told him again how terrible M felt about the loss of his job and the circumstances leading up to it. She reminded him of the (re-invented) history of M’s performance issues and then played back the recording. While she was still standing in the office, the store manager called M. “We need you to come back to work as a bagger. But you’re on probation for 6 months. One sick day and you’re out, M. Be here tomorrow at 9am.”

M’s couldn’t resist being needed, wanted by someone. So, he showed up at the prescribed time. And, at the end of his first day, he carried my groceries out to my car.