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When Life Gives You Lemons

“Lululemon is hiring for the holidays,” my friend Julie said through a mouthful of greasy chicken wings. It had been ages since we last saw each other. After backpacking Europe, I was finally home, only to have her tell me she was moving to B.C. at the end of the month. “You should apply,” she told me, but I was too distracted by the thought of her leaving…and should I get the smokey barbecue or the honey garlic?

A few weeks later I was starting my first day at the very store she just left. She packed her life into a car and drove across the country to live amongst mountains. While I drove approximately 17 minutes from my parent’s house back to Square One…literally.

I wore flip flops with cropped leggings that came down to my ankles. I barley looked up from them as I flip flopped around the store, smiling hard to hide the nerves and mispronouncing everyone’s name. I was the new girl, the little one with all the questions. “How can pants feel naked? What’s the difference between Luon and Nulu? Aren’t I a Newlu? Do you have to work out in groups? Have I joined a cult? When is my break?”

 I asked all the questions, so I didn’t have to give any answers. Genius, I know – “Why don’t you go talk to that guest?” Asked the voice that belonged to the girl with the bangs. Tina? Nina? What’s her name again? “Nowww?” I replied. “Yup, now,” she said without any hesitation. Shit.

I walked up to the guest the same way I approach hot guys in public – I don’t. I just stared at her, hoping she would talk to me first. “You got this,” Nina/Tina said. I gulped then baby stepped towards the guest. “Hey…what brings you in today?” My voice cracked. “Just browsing,” she replied, eyes fixated on a rack of shirts. “Okay,” I mumbled then Usain Bolted out of there, immediately regretting the “effective communicator” part I wrote on my resumé. Me talk not good sometimes.

With each training shift I got a little better at stringing words together to make full sentences. I studied the company handbook, I memorized the fabric guide, I continued to mispronounce names. I was ready, ready to be on the floor all by myself – “You’re restock today!” Sorry, what? Once again, my effective communication skills kicked in and I told the tall, tanned Floor Leader, Ed? Ted? that I had not been trained on restock. Jks, I nodded my head and went downstairs to the backroom. “You got this,” Nina’s words rang in my mind.

The little that I understood about restock consisted of pulling product from the backroom and tapping that product to the floor with the computer scanner thingy. Easy peasy, lemon squee – the restock number was over 100…it’s supposed to be at zero. Lemon down. I repeat, lemon down. I stared at the screen, pressing my lips into my mouth until they disappeared, and hoped the same would happen to the restock number each time I pressed the refresh button. It did not. It got bigger, and Bigger, and BIGGER. *Panic*

One long minute of effective blinking later, I did what any resourceful, composed person would do. I restarted the computer. When that increased the number and I could no longer feel the lower half of my face, I reached for the RFID gun handheld – that I’m not supposed to call a gun even though it looks like one – and remembered, “the more product you tap from the backroom to the floor, the lower the number gets.” The RFID handheld was my slingshot, I was David and this Goliath of a restock number was going down.

I ran around the backroom digging through stacks of Luxtreme and Lycra like a mad woman. A hurricane of Luon and anxiety next to the neat, white tags lined up like obedient soldiers. When I got warmer to finding an item, the handheld made low pulsing beeps, when I was scorching hot close, the handheld beeped so uncontrollably I thought it would explode in my hand. I lived for those fast beeps the way metal detector people live for cargo shorts…and hidden treasure buried in the sand.

Sadly, I was no match for the all mighty restock. No matter how many items I found, the number got bigger and so I sat defeated on the floor where I got smaller. There was no sound coming from my handheld, not one beep, I was freezing cold far away. The towering shelves piled high with yoga pants looked so different from where I had been or where I thought I would be. It was there, on the floor in the quiet backroom where I came face to face with the very question I had been avoiding for quite some time – “what am I doing here?”

Silence from the handheld, even it didn’t know where to start looking. But what did it matter anyway? This job was only temporary. A quick pitstop – sell stretchy pants, collect cash, pass GO – before moving on to whatever I was supposed to be doing. I lifted the handheld along with my head and gave them both a shake, at least one of them was working. The question remained on the ground with abandoned dust bunnies. I wasn’t a lemon, I was of the more perishable kind. My contract came with an expiration date, a seasonal employee is all I was. Until one day I wasn’t.

After two months of hustling on the floor, sweating in the backroom, and gasping for air from fits of laughter – and weighted sled pushes at 7 a.m. *dry heaves* – they picked me to be on their full time team…and told me it was okay if I puked. And so began the start of my first, official, loving relationship.

I had spent long enough bouncing from interview to internship, chasing jobs that neither developed nor paid me and, even worse, staying in places that didn’t make me happy. I stayed in that production office bathroom holding back tears. I stayed in that talent agency’s chair, staring at the ceiling instead of reading scripts. I stayed because I thought I had to. I stayed with lulu because I wanted to.

And for some reason they wanted me too. They saw something in me that I missed. When my key leader asked to speak with me one night after close, I thought for sure I was in trouble and started going through a list of possible screw ups in my head. I’m fired, I’m fired, I’m fired. She laughed and told me to stop acting weird, then told me how great I was doing and that the leadership team was proud of me. lol wut? Turns out I had it all wrong; I wasn’t perishable, I was potential.

There is one thing I remember reading in that talent agency’s office. It’s a word very close to my heart…actually though, it’s tattooed on my side, just a little left of the heart she broke when she went away four years ago. Exalted. Google tells me it has two definitions, but the one I go by is “in a state of extreme happiness.” It’s the meaning of her name…Google told me that too.

I was sitting at my desk, drowning under a sea of white paper and hating every second – which is both dramatic and correct – when I saw it. In the line at the bottom of the page was my little word in the same typewriter font permanently inked on my skin. It was the last word I read in that cold office. I closed the script, gathered my things and walked out the door. My plot had a twist, one where I chose stretchy pants over scripts, and happiness over reasonability.

It’s been almost two years since I ghosted my internship and started going steady with lulu and although I haven’t looked back on my decision, the question I thought I left behind on my first day never went away. What am I doing here? Only, I’m not the one who’s asking, but I am the one who pretends it doesn’t bother me.

This question comes up once in a while from people who see me in the store, like my former middle school vice principal who stopped as she was leaving to say hello. We chatted about her current job as the superintendent of the school board, what I studied at University, how I didn’t know schools had superintendents…or boards. Then, in perfect vice principal tone, she asked, “what are you doing here?” and before I could reply she told me, “the board is looking for a communications specialist, email me if you want a real job.” Then she superinten-dipped out the store.

Communications specialist? I guess she forgot it was my big, special mouth that landed me in her office on several different occasions and perhaps she didn’t realize that my definition of a real job doesn’t match hers, because lulu is the realest job I’ve ever had.

I get to be in a place where I know I am valued and supported. My shifts are full of  laughter, connection and people who constantly push me to be better in and out of the store. And sometimes those shifts are filled with complaints and tired feet from dragging my ego around. I’m not perfect and, like any good relationship, this one takes work. That’s why it’s called, you know, work. But I keep showing up, because this place and its people continue to show up for me – on my porch with cupcakes when my mom was sick, in the middle of the mall, chasing after me, burritos in hand after I got dumped via text, in the comedy club’s front row the first time I stood on stage and held that mic. These people are my family, their names I could never forget.

And now I am walking the same path Julie did, I am leaving – not the company, chill. I am leaving the store that shaped me. The store that accepted all of me. The mountains aren’t calling, but the heartbeat of the city I love is. I’m moving away and I’m scared and full of questions.

What if they don’t like me? Is it too soon to eat a banana in front of them? Did I pronounce her name right? Did I pronounce my name right? Can they hear my thoughts? I wondered as I sat on the floor of my new store, surrounded by unfamiliar faces at my first staff meeting. And then I remembered; I have been here before, I am the new girl, the little one with all the questions, except this time I’m okay with not having all the answers.




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