Second Chances

By Teresa Ryan, student, Center for Distance Learning

February 28, 2011

Tina Jacobs put her key in the lock and turned the knob. As she entered the Second Chances thrift store, her nose was immediately filled with the old familiar smell of mildew and air freshener. She couldn’t understand why the scent still shocked her. After two years, it should come as no surprise.She punched in the alarm code and re-locked the door. Business wasn’t open for another half-hour.

As she headed for the back office, she surveyed the large warehouse- space filled with just about anything you could think of. Shoes, clothes, books, music, furniture – you name it, Second Chances had it. The clothing was arranged on long clothing racks back-to-back that traveled the length of the 4000 square foot area. The four walls were covered in shelves that held the little bits and pieces: silverware and glassware, books, music, shoes, sewing and craft accessories. The children’s toy section and the furniture section were stationed in the far left corner and the appliances occupied the far right corner. There were ceiling and exhaust fans to help shoo away the “used” aroma. They created a constant, calming hum. The place was as clean and orderly as you could get it. Dusting and sweeping were part of the daily schedule. Since most of the rejected articles had been sentenced to time hidden in people’s attics or garages, she usually spent a lot of time trying to bring things back to life by attempting to remove the dusty, moldy smell – the kind that lingers in your nose and on your fingers, making you feel like you desperately need to blow your nose and wash your hands but can’t decide which to do first. She prided herself on making sure that the clothes were washed and items were freed of their cobweb shackles and grime. They needed to be reinvented and look their best in the hopes of a new life. She could relate to the orphaned merchandise – everything needed a second chance. Well, almost everything.

She walked towards the communal storage and office area down the last aisle. As she made her way, sandwiched between racks of women’s clothing and a wall full of shoes that had collectively walked a million miles, she remembered how this placehad come to be like home for her two years ago to the day. With this anniversary, she could not keep the past from flooding her brain. She was powerless against its force and decided it would be easier to surrender instead of resisting the surging memories.

Two years ago she had been little more than a 25-year-old cliché. Her mother had her head stuck in a vodka bottle her whole life and her father had disappeared soon after her birth. In her attempts to escape and find companionship, she had become a wild-child that bounced from one bad relationship to the next. The last one was the worst. Tommy. He was ten years her senior and seemed to have it all. Good looks, money, a home. He took care of her financially and said he loved her; however, he had a different idea about the meaning of love. Being jealous and abusive was his way of showing it. He was violent and involved in drugs. She suspected that there was something else he dabbled in that was perhaps worse. He never let her into that part of his life (although the parts she was involved in were bad enough). It was not because he cared, it was because he was afraid if she ever found out, she would rat him out.

After three years of his secret dealings and drug-induced attacks on her, she decided she had to go. Somewhere deep inside her she knew she deserved better and began to muster the courage to leave. With not much to her name, she decided to start tapping money out little by little. After some time, there was enough to get her out. While he was gone one night, she crammed as much as she could carry into a duffle bag and made her way out of the house.

He always said he would kill her if she left him. Find her and kill her. That was a gamble she was willing to take. A couple of bus tickets later, she ended up in a small town just outside New York City, figuring it would be easy to get lost in the melting pot. With the money she stole from Tommy, she had enough to rent a cheap room in a rental house for a couple of months until she hopefully got on her feet. She had nothing but the contents of the duffle bag and needed a few things but didn’t want to deplete the nest egg she’d hijacked.

She came to this place, attracted by the name, Second Chances, to look for a few odds and ends. On the door hung a handwritten sign in big red letters: Store Clerk Needed, No Experience Necessary. She started talking to the manager and somehow got the job. Maybe “please give me a chance” was written on her face, and he took pity on her. Maybe he was impressed by her blonde hair and alluring smile, who knew? Whatever the case, the rest was history, at least the part about getting a job.

Now at her small, paperwork-ridden desk she shook off the daydream residue. It had been a long time since she thought about Tommy and had stopped looking over her shoulder some time ago. She was now ready to get to the task at hand. They had gotten a number of contributions yesterday, and she had not had an opportunity to go through everything. She enjoyed being the first one to examine the contents of the unwrapped boxes. It was like Christmas every day. She would often try and imagine the person who had owned the donated goods. She held up a pair of woman’s jeans to inspect them for pricing purposes. They were a pair of Levi’s, good condition, size 16. Maybe the young lady who owned them had just shed 20 pounds. Perhaps she was out on a shopping spree to accentuate her new-found figure. Maybe they were jeans that a woman was wearing when she received unbearable news, and she was ridding herself of all reminders. Silly maybe, but it helped pass the time and made her day more interesting. Not that she didn’t love her job; she got to meet all types of people: well-off just looking for some bargains, some struggling and unable to pay department store prices, people simply out browsing. There were a couple of regular customers that she would keep an eye out for, and she tucked away certain goodies that came in that she thought they would enjoy. She had made friends in this store and even been promoted to assistant manager. She felt needed here, like she mattered.

The day went on, business as usual. After putting in her standard twelve-hour shift, it was closing time. She went out back to check the drop-off point once more before closing up shop. Sure enough, there was another bin waiting for rescue. It was an oversized, navy blue storage bin that actually looked brand new. It was a bit odd since most of the time they considered themselves lucky when they got stuff in a cardboard box.

Cursing its weight and bulk, she lugged the thing in to one of the three sorting tables. Tomorrow was her day off, so she figured she would quickly unload this one so John, her boss, wouldn’t have to. She pulled off the top to begin checking out the items. An action performed so many times, it was part of her DNA at this point.

The first item on top was a black inside-out shirt, curled up in the fetal position. Unfazed by people’s lack of courtesy, she turned the shirt right-side out and gave it a shake. The realization of what was in her hands made her recoil in panic and fear as if the article of clothing had turned into a deadly python.
The shirt was hers.

It was her favorite old Rolling Stones tee-shirt that she had worn just last night. She had thrown it on her bed this morning while getting ready for work. Chills began to ripple down her spine. Her stomach followed her biological reactions and began to give her the sensation of free falling.

With shaking hands, she began to rifle through the rest of the container. A pair of her slacks, sweats, bras, underwear, her sneakers, her camera, CDs, the book from her nightstand – everything in the box was hers. Right from the little apartment she began renting months ago. Catching a breath was like torture, like trying to suck air out of a coffee stirrer. At the bottom of the box was a slip of paper, carefully folded in half.

The tug of war between wanting to know and not wanting to know what the note said didn’t last long. She clumsily opened the intimidating note as if her hands had been taken over by a two-year-old. She was not surprised by its message: “Peek-a-boo. I see you.”

Tommy had found her.

Her body toyed with the idea of fainting. She took a few minutes and tried to steady herself the best she could. She needed to get to the phone and make the call that should have been made years ago. With trembling, unreliable legs, she made her way to the cordless phone that was resting on the counter. Her now toddler-like motor skills were just enough to dial the three numbers that are committed to memory at about that age. She finally captured a breath.

Before she was able to exhale, the voice on the other end of the phone posed the old familiar question, “9-1-1, what is your emergency?”

Tommy was all out of chances.