While Nicole waited for doors to open and close, I was running out of money and was becoming increasingly anxious. They had blatantly lied to me about the kind of costumer I would be working with and didn’t provide me with the list of customers I was told was waiting for me. They put me in a different department I had applied for with a lower base pay, raised the base pay when the floors were merged, and then lowered it again when I dared to breathe a sigh of relief.

They didn’t even inform me that as an employee I would still have to pay for parking, and I didn’t think to ask. And then they, and by ‘they’ I mean Nicole because she was the one pulling the strings here, tried to frame it as my fault for not making it work anyways.

But I wanted to make it work. I had switched my entire life for that job, and tried everything I could think. Not having a solution or friends close by to confide in, I made this video:

I cried buckets. It was, and continues to be, a humbling experience. Someone so self-reliant, who had worked so hard to never ask for any favor, who had been a resource to others, here I was begging for help.

There were a couple of times I thought of going to the store manager to vent my frustrations. It was clear that there were some major dysfunctions in that store and I wondered if he knew.

Two people from my department quit in my first week. For weeks both St. John and the Dress departments operated without a manager. My old store had a waiting list of potential managers waiting to be promoted, and this store could barely keep them. But I hesitated on going to the store manager. I didn’t know him, and from some of the bad behavior I had already witnessed from some of the managers, my chances were that he was at best a powerless figurehead, and at worst, just as bad as them.

Paying for parking was a pain in the ass, and there was a particular manager who used me to get around it. I never learned her name. I only knew what she looked like. She was black, witch short cropped hair and wore glasses, and wore menswear all the time. I assumed she worked in Men’s or Shoes. One evening I was driving out of the parking garage and pulled up to the   to drive out. I noticed a white SUV pulled over to the side. I drove up to scan my parking pass, and the SUV moved up behind me. I didn’t think much of it. I recognized the driver as one of the managers from The Big Fancy. But as I drove through to leave the parking garage, the SUV drove close to me, and piggybacked out of the garage on my turn.

I was flabbergasted. I wasn’t sure if it was a mistake. I had seen other people piggyback out of the garage before, but I didn’t want to come to the wrong conclusion right away, and told myself it was probably a mistake or a one time thing. Except she did it to me again the next day. 

The second time she had an employee in the passenger side, and I could clearly see it was her. My immediate reaction was to memorize her license plate (which I did) and go straight to the parking management company and report her. Here I was borrowing money from everyone I could, struggling to make ends meet, and this woman, a manager who was driving a vehicle that cost more than what I made in a year was piggybacking off me to avoid paying for parking.

I fought my initial reaction and called Karolyn instead. She sounded like she empathized and told me she would go to human resources about it, but aside from a few dirty looks from the culprit a couple of times after that, as far as I know nothing came of it.

Meanwhile I was pinching pennies to survive. Ceasar had to send me money. Even though our lives are now separate, I have had to rely on him repeatedly for moral and emotional support. He was worried about me. He didn’t like the crap that people were putting me through. And when I needed the money, I didn’t even have to ask.

Because it’s good to be king. 

My mom, Jen, Charmaine also sent me money. I asked everyone I felt comfortable asking, and they helped however they could, but they were small little gifts when what I needed was a job that allowed me to survive.

But there was a strong culture of nepotism in that store. I suspected it, but as I waited to be switched departments, some people told me very clearly that Nicole had her favorites. Karolyn was one of them. Nicole was more interested in protecting Karolyn’s bottom line than mines.

I actually liked Karolyn. She may have drunk The Big Fancy Kool-Aid one too many times, but I believed that under different circumstances, working under her would’ve been a blast, which is more than I can say about other people. But they had set me up to fail, and turning a blind eye and placing the blame on the victim was much easier than addressing their own protocols which were punitive and inconsistent.

There was one day that I drove into work not knowing how I was going to drive back home. I had no cash, and my tank was on empty. I was so distraught that one of the personal stylists noticed, and kept asking what was wrong. I finally broke down into tears and told her I was broke. She lent me five bucks and held me, and told me not to worry, that it would remain between us.

The next day I called out sick because I didn’t have the gas to drive into work. It was the only time I ever called out, and while my reason for calling out was true, there was something else: I had an interview with The New York Times that same day and was afraid I wouldn’t be able to make it back into the city in time. It was clear that the folks at The Big Fancy were not looking out for me, and this was the job of a lifetime.

Karolyn had plenty of coverage on the sales floor. Aside from the associates, there were still two personals stylists that were always on the sales floor, made the bulk of the money, and didn’t count towards our schedule. Even when I came in the next day, another coworker who had been scheduled for the same as me told me she hadn’t even noticed that I was supposed to be there.

Still, rumor had it that Karolyn wanted to write me up for calling out sick. Instead she brought me to Nicole, who gave me shit for it. She had heard about the five dollars and was pissed beyond belief. She yelled at me for not coming to her. She yelled that she was my resource, not the sales floor, and then when she was done yelling she gave me the phone number for Mercer so I could cash out a portion of my 401K.

Later a friend confided in me that she had spoken to our district manager, Lauren about my situation. Lauren had been the same person who trained me when I was first hired by The Big Fancy two years prior. She trained me again when I worked for the off-price store a year before, with aspirations of becoming a department manager. She was also the same person who finally provided me with a list of customers to contact when Karolyn didn’t. So when she heard that I could barely drive into work, she stood up for me.

That, I think, is what pissed Nicole off the most. Here she was trying to make me follow her special type of protocol, and I had people a good two levels above her pay grade vouching for me.

I didn’t get the job with the Times. They had way too many applicants, and it would have been way too perfect if I had gotten that job just two months after arriving in New York. But I got to see the building, and I was told I had been picked out of two thousand people who had applied. When I told Ceasar he told me to be proud of that. I was in the 90th percentile.

I was finally able to interview with Gabby, however, and it went really well. I interviewed with her and the regional bra specialist, and I gave them my credentials. I told them I had worked retail since the age of 19, that I worked part-time for Victoria’s Secret for some time, and had worked in accessories, which included bras in the off-price store, pretty much the entire time I had worked for The Big Fancy up until then.

They were impressed, and on the second to last day before I was off the schedule in designer, Nicole descended from her tower clad in designer clothing to inform this humble little minion that I now had a job in Lingerie.

I am so grateful for all her help.