I was driving home today, and I'm not sure what the train of thought was, but I got to thinking about influential people from my teenage years. Who came to mind? Ms. Berry.
Ms. Berry was an assistant manager at the department store (remember Ames?) I worked at in my first job. She was probably about 23, divorced, fair-skinned, freckles, tall and skinny.
And I thought she was smoking hot.
I think Ms. Berry was my only crush on a "grown up" when I was a teenager. For reasons I'll never be able to explain, I found it easy to flirt with her despite finding it difficult to even talk to girls I liked at school. Maybe it was because I obviously had no shot with someone older than me. She had the greatest squinty smile, and there was just something about her movement that I was drawn to. In fact, even though I haven't thought about her in years, I think maybe my attraction to "athletic" women probably started with her. It certainly explains a couple of random college encounters.
But my strong like for her wasn't entirely from being a horny teenager. She was one of a handful of adults that treated me as one, who trusted me and gave me responsibilities. No, I never got to have any of the fantasies I had of her, she wasn't like that. In fact, my most memorable experience with her I'm pretty sure solidified the boundaries of our relationship.
Late that summer, after saving a bit of money (I made minimum wage, $3.85 at the time), I bought a new bike for a little under a hundred bucks. That was an awful lot of money, but I just wanted a new bike to replace the series of hand-me-downs I had. The store had a fenced-in area, so I asked the store GM if I could put it in there. He denied the request. Sure enough, when my shift was over, the bike was gone, the chain was cut.
While I waited for the police officer to show up to take the report, all I could do was think that someone just moved the bike, that it was somewhere near by. The cop of course acted like I was wasting his time. When I got out of the police car, Ms. Berry was standing in the doorway of the store, and offered to take me home.
She drove this completely huge old pickup that she inherited from her father. Given her skinny build, it was pretty hilarious to see her on the giant bench seat behind a huge steering wheel and shifter coming from the floor. The absurdity of it all was something I really needed at the time. I was angry, quiet and holding back tears.
Ms. Berry told me a story about something she had stolen from her, how angry it made her. I don't even remember what it was, and it didn't matter. She told me it was OK to be angry. When we pulled into my driveway, she asked if I would be OK, gave me a hug, and I went inside. That's when I let it all go, yelling, angry, crying, basically flipping out. I was more angry at the store manager than I was the thief, because I felt it was within his power to have prevented the theft. (As an aside, I suspect that the theft wold've been covered under my parents' homeowner policy, but that never occurred to anyone.)
The next day, she called to ask how I was, and I thanked her for asking. I saw her at work a few days later, but we never spoke about it again.
I hate that I can't remember her first name... I think it was Kathy, Kate or Colleen maybe. The thing that she did to stick in my memory wasn't to be attractive to my hormone-infested mind, it was just to treat me like a grown-up. She didn't try to fix the stolen bike problem, she only demonstrated empathy. She didn't treat me, or any of my co-workers, like dumb kids, she treated us like responsible humans.
I don't know if I can really say that anything in my life in the long-term could be credited to my cute boss, but she was the right person at the right time to have an incredibly positive impact on my life. I think it's critically important to keep in mind that we all have the potential to be that person for someone else, even if it's not intentional.