On the surface, it's a straightforward situation. I owe it to my business and my family and my other employees to let the guy go. I've fired guys before who were more competent than Gary. I have every right to feel the disappointment, anger and frustration that's eating me up inside. It's been one thing after another for months. Last week alone, he cost me $3,200 in broken equipment repairs and downtime. Not helping matters any: The guy I passed over to hire Gary last fall just got a promotion over at McKinney's Well & Pump.
I also have every right to be torn. I owe him - greatly.
He's really a terrific kid; he's so friendly to everyone. He's always here, sober and on time. I know that he honestly cares and that he tries hard. Maybe he tries too hard. Maybe the drilling game just isn't his calling.
Long term: He's a project that might work out. Maybe. Big-time maybe. Short term: He's an accident waiting to happen - and I usually don't have to wait very long.
But it's far from being that easy. How can I fire the guy who saved my daughter, Annie?
I just couldn't wait to tell my daddy the great news: my best friend Carolyn and I made the varsity softball team as sophomores. Brand new uniforms this year! (The older girls say the last ones made their butts look big.) I decided to go straight to the warehouse where I knew he'd be. He'd be so proud of me and I wanted to cheer him up as soon as I could. I knew about all the problems he was having with Gary and how sad he was about it.
Gary's a good guy, really. He's Carolyn's older brother, so I've known him a long time. He doesn't mean any harm, but he's the kind of guy things just seem to happen to, even though he only tries to be nice. He doesn't have any real enemies, but he doesn't have any real friends, either - and that makes him an easy target. On the school bus, the other older kids used to pick on him a lot and it was sad. But when those older kids were too cool to take the bus anymore, Gary still did. He told really corny jokes and would lead us in singing camp songs. He'd pay a quarter to any kid who could beat him in a staring contest.
I was walking along as fast as I could - I really wanted to run, but you gotta be cool, right? As soon as I got around the corner at the tire store, my throat tightened at the recollection of my daddy's exact words: “Don't you come here by yourself.”
Between the tire store and daddy's warehouse is the old Logan building. There's nothing inside anymore; it's all boarded up. It's where the older kids who don't go to school or have jobs hang out. They sit around at the broken-down loading dock, mostly just drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. I remember my aunt Lorraine telling me, “You stay away from those no-goodniks, they're nothing but trouble.”
There were four of them as far as I could tell; I didn't want to look directly at them. I began walking even faster than I thought I could; I wanted to get past the fence's opening at the driveway - that would keep me on the other side of the fence and put me closer to the warehouse than the loading dock. As I got nearer, I recognized one of them. It was that jerk Brad Simmons. When I was in fifth grade, he was in eighth, and he was the biggest bully in school. The next year, he was still the biggest bully in school.
One of the other ones was smoking a long, clear pipe. That meant only one thing around here - crystal meth. I got all panicky and started to run. Then I heard them laughing, and they were running toward me. My backpack felt like it weighed 100 pounds; my legs went numb.
The grip on my arm was so strong. In an instant, I was down on the driveway, my shoulder being ground into the gravel. I tucked my knees to my chest and wrapped my arms around them as tight as I could. Hands were grabbing at me everywhere and someone was pulling my hair back. I think I was screaming; I'm not sure. Everything was spinning and all I could hear was a muffled roar. I felt like I was going to throw up, but I couldn't breathe. Then, through all the confusing noise, there was a jarring “clank.” I could feel the breath that came out of the boy who was on top of me. A second later, he collapsed - all his weight over my back, pinning me to the ground. Thick, dark blood dripped onto my cheek and chin. I know I screamed then.
The boss is going to be so mad; I couldn't even get a stupid wrench size right. Now it's going to take me over an hour to get to the warehouse and then back to the job.
Maybe it would be best if I just quit. I swore after my last screw-up that I would concentrate harder and not make any more mistakes. That lasted all of what - two days? The guys said not to worry about it, but I could tell they were just saying that. They're really mad. The boss is going to be upset and they'll be getting off late again because of me.
I decided that when I got to the warehouse, I'd tell the boss that I'd work for no pay this week - if he didn't fire me first, that is. About a mile away, I was practicing my speech to the boss. If I did OK, maybe I could stay on and somehow make it up to him in the long run. At least that's what I hoped.
Taking the turn at the tire store, I could see a ruckus up ahead. It's not unusual to see a fistfight at the old Logan building, but this was different. When I saw a girl on the ground, I couldn't believe it. I sped up closer, and when I saw that it was little Annie, I was never so angry. I was mad at myself and I was mad at the wrench, crushed inside of my fist. But I was even madder at those boys.
One of them saw me coming and tried to stop me. I didn't even pay any attention to him. All I could see was the boy tearing at Annie's sweater. I swung that stupid wrench as hard as I could. When it hit his neck, the sound was sickening. For half a second, I wondered if maybe I killed him. In a tenth of a second, I decided I didn't care.
I held her tight. She was shaking but didn't make a sound. I put my jacket around her and carried her to the truck. It was only 150 yards to the warehouse but the ride seemed like forever. I just wished that when we did get to the warehouse, the boss would only have to yell at me about the wrench, but that would have to wait.
It never did happen.
The well work itself was rather nondescript, but with Jeff's enthusiasm and thirst for knowledge, and knowing the cause we were helping, the project reinforced the pride we have in our profession and in ourselves, making it much more rewarding than any monetary benefit we would have seen from some other job (my crew volunteered to work at half-pay, and I had to “adjust” my inventory logs because some of the necessary parts, quite mysteriously, would “just happen to be found laying around” at the site).
While discussing the facility's water system, Jeff mentioned his desire to someday have a koi pond and garden at the home - as a recreational and educational tool for the kids. He said that would be something we could discuss down the line because at the time, he was short on staff and spread rather thin already - not to mention the upfront expenses.
I told him, “I think I can help.”
Gary's been a counselor's assistant at New Directions for almost three months now.
I ran into Jeff at a coffee shop the other day. He told me the kids just finished building a sign next to their new koi pond that we installed. It reads, “Gary's Garden.”
“Those kids absolutely love him,” he gushed.
Me and Annie, we love him, too.