Where I belong

Where I belong

img_2220The Co-op is quiet this morning; the town itself demure–wet and waiting–for spring.

The ice spitting from the sky before dawn was the first sign that the winter was willing to surrender, something, before April.

I step through the tiny glistening shards as I cross the parking lot, thinking the day dark and heavy, just as the first flock of geese flies overhead, announcing its return.

The regulars are waiting. Mostly men. Mostly older men. Like an Italian piazza. They talk politics, instead of bocce ball, because this is Brattleboro. One has a wild, silvery beard and could be in Russia, playing chess. Talking treason. Instead he is running for office. Asking for signatures. Interrupting his companions’ reading of the cafe copies of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

There are 8 men now, some a bit younger, one on a computer with headphones, smiling. A single, middle-aged woman unpacks her morning pills, her breakfast, her book.

“It’s like we are home,” says the cafe attendant, as I step up to the sink to wash my dishes. “We all know each other. It’s the way it should be.”

I don’t know any of them, really, but I know their faces, and their smiles, and their bad days. I join them in their morning ritual, a few times a month, when I’m needing an escape from working on the hill, where I live, encrusted in snow.

The mountain across the river is our steady companion, in every season. The Co-op itself sits beside a brook that runs into that river. The black, grated iron along its banks defines and holds the space we occupy: captures our silent gaze, keeps us safe, serves as a leaning place for children tossing pebbles.

As we crest 9:00 am, the cafe empties and fills, new faces, a few women; and the traffic across the bridge and up the main thoroughfare picks up to a hum to fill in everything in between.

A father and son cross the street at the light, beside the tall amber grasses at the corner, which some kind souls planted to remind us that there are other colors coming even when the world has been monochrome for so long.

It is this time each year, March, when I seriously consider moving; but this morning I’m right where I belong.

Advertisements
Just when I thought it was safe to shop at the Co-op again…

Just when I thought it was safe to shop at the Co-op again…

Brattleboro-Food-Coop-_color-logo-2011-white-e1339968441518For months now, I’ve been able to go into the new Co-op without Richard.

He’s always there, of course, but he’s no longer in the front of my mind like he was each time I strolled into the wine department. (It hasn’t been Richard’s department in my mind for some time, and that feels good. And right.)

I don’t know about you, but I was shocked to see a whole section of The Commons devoted to what happened 2 years ago. Did you know that this was brewing? I had no clue. And I wrote something like 22 posts on the Co-op tragedy.

At first I felt left out, but as I read deeper, I knew it wasn’t for me.  For starters, I didn’t know Richard intimately, and I didn’t know Michael at all. I didn’t even recognize his name–or his face; which was odd, given how the faces at the Co-op become friends, and given how long Michael had apparently worked there.

I remember how relieved I was to find out that it wasn’t Alex. I’ve always liked Alex. I don’t know him intimately either, but I have interacted with him over the years in a number of different capacities–as an employee, as a shopper, as a member, as a blogger–and my sense of him is stable and kind and thoughtful.

But what does that matter? No one deserves to be killed. And anyone can point fingers. And find fault. In any direction.

There seems to be a lot of finger pointing in the Special Focus section of the Commons, and in the end, it left me feeling yucky inside. And dirty.

But that doesn’t mean that I don’t value what they had to offer. I do. I think it was bold to share the voice of a killer, to keep him a part of the community, to humanize him and his friends and his family. I think every person deserves that. Or at least, I think it benefits the rest of us to tap that connection, whether or not it is deserved.

But overall, I think the section devoted too much time to “how” the Co-op played a part in Richard’s action. It’s not that this didn’t cross my mind as well. I was mad at the Co-op. Mad on behalf of Richard. Mad on behalf of all of us who had to endure such a devastating impact. (Not to mention what the family and friends and co-workers of Michael Martin have to endure–forever.)

Can’t the Co-op be better than this, I thought. Aren’t they supposed to be? Why didn’t they see this coming?

But as the events of August 2011 receded, those rants softened, and what was left was Richard’s culpability. (No matter what was happening at work.)

That’s my bias.

If his wife had no idea that he could act like this, if he had no idea, how was the Co-op supposed to know? Do we maybe expect too much from it? It is, after all, a grocery store.

I have friends who have stopped shopping there over the years. They don’t like its politics. “How do you like the politics of Price Chopper?” I ask.

Relationships are messy. Families are complicated. Organizations with relationships, like a family, are… Impossible? Worthy? Complex.

I worked at the Co-op, for a handful of years, part-time, and honestly didn’t love it in the end. I’d always been one of those employees with glowing reviews, typically in leadership positions, but that was before I became a parent; and this was one of my first times as an hourly employee.  In many ways, I didn’t like how I was treated, and I thought to myself, even though I’m not a professional, I deserve respect.

I went to the management because I cared about the Co-op and wanted it to be an exceptionally good place to work; and they listened. Alex listened. Another manager stepped in on my behalf, and I felt heard and supported. But ultimately, I chose to leave, because little changed in my department, and despite my writing to Human Resources, no one seemed to care. (Lots of people left before me, and lots would leave after.)

I think it’s a worthy cause to look at the work place issues that surrounded this tragedy. I really do. I think it’s okay to air the dirty laundry. But I think it’s misguided to give so much attention to explaining what led to Richard’s action–on the outside, when to me it has everything to do with what was going on inside–of him. (And I think it’s odd that a smiling photo of him highlights it all.)

As someone who wrote profusely about the tragedy, I was approached by many who wanted to confide their views (on and off the record.) I heard how terrible it was to work with Michael. I heard how terrible it was to work with Richard. I heard how terrible it was to work at the Co-op. I heard how wonderful the Co-op was.

The only thing in my mind that was definitive was: Richard’s act and Michael’s death.

The editor of the Commons asks, What can we learn?

What I learned is that we each need to be responsible for what eats us up inside.

Kelly Salasin, July 2013

A related post: Blame and Hindsight to the Rescue

Co-op Killing Anniversary

Co-op Killing Anniversary

Photo: i Brattleboro, C. Grotke

That’s a disturbing title, I know; and I hate to bring it up, but I know it’s there inside all of us, waiting to be expressed.

Anniversaries are like that. They come whether we want them to or not. Especially first anniversaries. Especially when a loved one is lost.

August 9 is the day that Richard brought a gun to work

How apropos that the old Co-op is being demolished as this anniversary approaches. What if we each threw something into the wreckage that we no longer wanted: guns, unresolved anger, bitterness?

I wonder how the Co-op will mark the anniversary? I know it will be a day full of anguish for the family of Michael Martin. I know that the days leading up to the anniversary will be particularly hard. I can already feel it in my own body.

What about Richard? What will his body relive of that day? What choices might he wish differently?

Would he do it all over again?

Would he get “help”?

What about the rest of us?

If you haven’t experienced the anniversary of a deep loss, then know that it takes its toll. Drink lots of water. Get a massage. Talk to a friend. Plant something beautiful–in the ground, in your life, in a relationship. Breath.

Breath.

Breath.

With love,

Kelly

Even the Potatoes Are Sad

Dissing the New Co-op

Dissing the New Co-op

“It feels just like a Whole Foods now,” some complain.

“I prefer Putney,” others say. “That’s a real Co-op.”

What is a real Co-op, I wonder? BFC is the only Co-op that I’ve ever intimately known, and in my 20 years in Vermont, I’ve seen it undergo some pretty radical changes.

Lucky for me, I love all things new. New people. New places. New spaces. But change on this large of a scale is challenging.

I miss the old-old-old kids room. By the front door. With the slide. But I could see how a kids room near an exit could be a misfit. I was especially glad when they moved it a third time–away from the added noise of the smoothie blenders. I come upon the kids room in the new Co-op yet, but I keep hearing about it. That’s how gigantic the new store is.

We all like to complain, don’t we? Especially when we’re anxious.

A bunch of us are complaining about the cheese department, but we’re also thrilled about the sliced cheese in the deli and the promise of pizza. Heck, I’m overjoyed that I don’t have to wait for someone to pour my chai anymore.

Some people say that they might as well shop at Price Chopper or Hannafords, that there’s no difference, especially since they have “natural food” selections too.

For me the greatest difference has always been the cereal aisle. I hardly ever have to fight with my kids in the Co-op.  Generally there’s not going to be candy masquerading as breakfast.

“We own the Co-op, right Mom?” they ask.

“Yep,” I say.

Now that’s a difference that makes ALL the difference.

Kelly Salasin, July 2012

Petty Thoughts

Petty Thoughts

petty |ˈpetē|
adjective
1 of little importance; trivial
• characterized by an undue concern for trivial matters, especially in a small-minded or spiteful way

I have to admit that I feel satisfied that Richard isn’t a part of the new Co-op.

I like strolling the new wine department–in all its expansion–knowing he doesn’t get to be there.

These are petty thoughts, of course, given the weight of what happened; but the feeling is my own personal vengeance for what was stolen.

Good riddance, Richard.

You don’t belong here no more.

Kelly Salasin, July 2012

ps. but what’s up with the cheese department?

an afternoon with… cheese

an afternoon with… cheese

Against my better judgement, I signed up to work the cheese “stroll” following the annual Heifer Parade, thereby prolonging the mayhem of Brattleboro–instead of making the mad dash out of town right after Bernie waves–which is when the crowd cheers and moves en masse toward the fair upon the “Retreat” Grounds–which I might have to check into after today.

When I descend the steep hill from the Town Green to the fields below, and find my way to the Co-op’s tent, I am surprised to discover that I won’t be standing right behind the platters of cheese like I’ve seen workers in aprons do in years past. Instead, the role that my husband and I are assigned to is: behind the lines to cut the cheese. (I never noticed those people before.)

Champlain Valley Creamery’s beautiful soft ripened triple crème cheese with a bloomy white rind

I’ve never cut the cheese either, and as I attempt to learn the varieties in front of me, I wonder why the coordinator doesn’t just rely on member workers from her own department. It would make her job simpler; but she says that she likes to spread the wealth. And spread, we do; because Casey and I are assigned to the spreading table.

Olive and herb goat cheese.

Camembrie.

Triple Cream.

Bijou.

Ash.

After an hour, I find myself in a rhythm of cutting and spreading, discreetly placing the broken rice things dipped in cheese aside for my own covert snacking; and carefully wiping the leftover cheese crumbles from the cutting board onto my salad for the lunch I will eat when  this two hour shift is done.

I’ve never realized how sensual a cheese can be; and despite the heat and the crowds, I am happy.  I don’t care how much cheese people eat, and whether they appreciate it, or whether they consider visiting the Co-op to buy it, because I am one with the cheese, and its virtue transcends consumerism.

I am so happy (and a bit delirious) that when it is finally time for me and cheese to part, that I decide to stick around at the fair, and listen to music, and dance, and eat my salad with the assorted cheese crumbles.

Somehow cutting the cheese made the difference between fleeing from–and floating through–this afternoon in Brattleboro.

I am still on the grounds when the day closes, licking brie from my fingers.

It’s not that cheese is new to me. I’ve visited France. And I’ve always appreciated the cheese department of the Brattleboro Co-op–back to the days when Henry cut the cheese.

But now I have a greater intimacy with this craft. It’s become personal–and local–made right here in the Green Mountain State– by small farms with names I know~

Jasper Hill Creamery.

Champlain Valley Creamery.

Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery.

Blythedale Farm…

Now when I’m shopping, I pause even longer at the cheese counter… My husband and I pick up one familiar soft friend after another, and gently caress it like a lover. We consider signing up for the same shift next year, and in the meantime, we decide to make a date with a baguette, a bottle of wine, and some artisanal cheeses from around our state.

Kelly Salasin, June 2011

ps. Casey & I did sign up to work the cheese stroll in 2012–and cheerfully reported to duty–even in the pouring rain.

for more on the Brattleboro Co-op:

Farewell Brattleboro Co-op

Blogging for Food, a tribute to my Co-op, Blog Action Day

Open for Business in Brattleboro!

Richard at The River Garden

Richard at The River Garden

Note: This post was written in the year following the murder at the Co-op. In the comments that ensued below, readers suggest the naivete of–Richard at the River Garden–saying that I do not understand the magnitude of his act.  What about the Rwandans? 

Finally, there is news of Richard Gagnon, and the trial that we have been dreading–and waiting for–so that we might put this nightmare behind us.

But alas, the news is that the trial is tentatively set for: fall–more than a year after Richard shot and killed a fellow co-worker in our community co-op.

The new store will be open by then, and perhaps the old one will be demolished; but of course, there is no demolishing the loss we have suffered.

It’s true that we can now walk into the Co-op, and just for a moment, forget that it ever happened. We can almost step foot into the wine department without thinking of Richard. We might be able to complete an entire round in the store without a thought of the back office where blood was shed. (Who can imagine having to work back there?  Wouldn’t we be the first to volunteer to begin the demolition? With a vengeance.)

My heart aches when I think of this trial and all it represents; and all it avoids.

Of course, Richard was mentally ill when he shot his boss. Anyone who shoots another human being must be mentally impaired. The level of guilt assigned by the courts is irrelevant to Michael Martin who is dead. Forever. Michael’s sentence can never be shortened, and neither can his family’s. There is no compensation for a life that makes any sense. Not years or a lifetime or even another death.

My idea is this: place Richard in the center of the River Garden each day where the rest of us, one by one, can come to meet him. Each will share his loss. Some may cry, some may scream, some may sit in the silence of unspeakable pain.

Richard’s “sentence” will be to receive–as long as people keep coming.

When he is not scheduled at the River Garden, Richard will report to the family from whom he has stolen a loved one. He will stack the wood, and clean the car and fix the fences like Michael would have done. Afterwards, he will make rounds at the homes of fellow staff members-to offset the time they lost to grief and outrage and despair. He’ll help with the laundry. He’ll take out the trash. He’ll do the dishes. He’ll clean up after the dog.

The next day, Richard will return to the River Garden for his scheduled appointments. Children will send pictures they drew after the murder. Mothers will share how they held their children through the nights afterward. Lovers will tell of sweetness lost. Colleagues will share the heartbreak of loosing both Michael and Richard.

Richard will continue to show up each day until no one comes. And then he will sit with his own pain. He will teach others how to listen. How to be conscious. How to take responsibility for anger or resentment or even depression.

He will bless our community in humble service until we have healed.

Kelly Salasin, April 19, 2011

Previous posts: BFC Tragedy.