Memories were the fear.
How would I handle wearing reminders
of the trauma I just escaped?
How much I loved the job.
How no human being should ever
be cast to the roadside
bleeding out like I was.
How just one person
might have made a difference.

But they gave out shirts
for every building event
until half my wardrobe was them.
Then warehouses get dirty and those shirts become
the last clean clothes in the drawer.

My coworker rolls up to me
at the new job, claiming
we won’t be getting off until 5:00pm.
He’s joking, of course–
never bought into his straight face,
but it still tickles the back of my mind.

The forklifts start at 1:00am.
The selectors who build the orders
start at 7:00.

There have been times when I go in
and the selectors are still working,
dragging their feet trying
to complete every order
under half-closed eyelids. 

That’s eighteen hours at least,
fuck sleep, do it again tomorrow;
reality’s hard crash.

If they can ask such extremes from them,
they can ask them of me.
Have I really found a better work environment?

There was a guy hired the same day as me
and we were embracing the job together.
We confided in each other
about what we were getting ourselves into;
this brutal atmosphere.
I can make it work
because it’s still better than being personally targeted,
but I’m watchful. Never complacent.

My buddy left after two weeks.

As a people,
we still aren’t learning. 

Somehow amongst monster orders
and the system’s fatal error crashes 
and missing or out of place product
and the clog of half-asleep/dead selectors
fighting to make rate,
the selectors
are also supposed to clean.

Here, they can take some ownership.
It’s not hard to not make a mess
but some of them don’t care.
They force their share of the burden
onto exhausted teammates
who give up trying to keep up.
The mess grows worse,
until a vice president sees it
and calls a meeting.

As a forklift, I don’t have to go,
but I hear the fall-out.
It’s because you won’t fucking clean
that we have to work Saturday!
You’re fault!
It’s all your fucking fault!

They come out dejected, dragging their feet,
angry, pissed off, hating.
A couple guys gravitate to me
because they see the shirt.
They worked the last job too.

Marks me safe
to complain to
about leaders who don’t give
a solitary shit about you.

In the last week before vacation,
three people confided in me
that they were about to walk out,
two did,
and another is quitting at the end of the week,
people who maybe just started and realize their mistake;
others who have given years to the company.
One lady after thirty-five years of working there.
I wasn’t even alive when she started
and her loyalty was broken.

There’s one girl who lives forty-five minutes away,
tacking an hour and a half of driving
onto time meant for eating, sleeping.

One guy never sees his kids anymore,
giving up coaching the little league team.

Another girl lives out of state and wants to move
here, for the overtime.
I fear for her. The uprooting of life
for people who don’t care about it.

Another guy has nothing but complaints,
his love for the job dead long ago
but still he puts in the effort.

Then there’s the guy who scares me most,
his innate politeness, his
always-looking-for-the-bright-side smile,
but I know because I’m the same way
that he’s a man
one fatal error away from shattering.

that this abandon all hope, ye who enter here job
might also be where others are landing
who are just trying to find a better working situation
and they guessed wrong;
caught in the loop of unsustainable effort.

They keep coming in every day
afraid to fight against the system,
to stand up for themselves.

Any of these people
could be broken
like I was

could be dying
like I was

could want to lash out
like I did

could be everything
like me.

Except that person owns a gun.

I was pushed to the brink of tragedy
and I survived.
I am no longer dead-souled.
I am not bound to new beginnings.
I can leave this place whenever I like.

And that’s where these t-shirts
become a reminder
of my self-care power,
my badge of honor.

It is not my duty to save this world
but I’ll do everything I can
until I decide I can’t.