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