I was at work this week, selling clothes, talking to people. I was in the section for the pregnant mothers to buy their new borns clothing. I don’t usually work this section, so I’m not at all comfortable with the idea. But clothing and hangers, how hard can it be? All of a sudden a woman comes in with her husband. This woman was less than put together. She was wearing sweat pants and a hoodie. She had her disheveled hair put up in a pony tail. She was missing a considerable amount of teeth. She came up to me with her husband in tow. She looked on the verge of tears, admittedly. She says to me, “excuse me. I’m sorry, it’s very hard for me to be in here right now…” At this point her eyes seemed to convey to me even more so that she was on the verge of tears. “I was pregnant and my mother gave me a fifty dollar gift card to this store. I recently miscarried and, um…I just wanted to return the gift card and get the money back, if I could.” Stop right there. At this point, I have to be honest, it did not cross my mind that this woman may not be telling the truth. I very apologetically said, “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that. Yes, let me get my manager for you. If you’d like to come with me…”
We left the children’s section, my hope being that it would ease her pain momentarily. Her husband interjects, very conversationally as if he were explaining himself returning a sweater he had received as a gift, “Yeah, this happened recently and we’ve just been praying and…” He trailed off. I don’t remember what exactly he said. I lead them to my manager. I briefly, and to the best of my ability as these people are behind me, explain their situation and desire to redeem the gift card for cash. “Oh….um, okay” my manager said. After this I leave, as everyone around me is looking at this woman and trying to hear her sob story and what she’s “trying to get out of it.” It is then that I had a realization: “this woman and her husband probably just lied to me because they need drug money.” I instantly felt judgmental. I felt jaded. I felt as though I was in the wrong, even if these people did concoct some sort of scheme. I quickly counter my thought with, “Either way, it’s none of my business.”
You see, as I told my co-workers later, “either that woman had a miscarriage and we should feel bad for her. Or she lied to us and is going to use that money to buy drugs…and we should feel bad for her.” All I can do is help when I am asked. Whether it be a homeless person asking for change or a friend of mine asking me to spot them and they’ll “pay me back.” It is my place to help when asked, it is not my place to infer what will be done with my generosity. This woman with the gift card, her personal life was none of my concern. All I know is what she told me. All I can EVER know is what people tell me. Do I give my change to every homeless person who asks? No. But if I’m feeling generous, I don’t need to talk myself out of it.
After the woman had left the store, my manager came over to me and let me know that the situation was very sketchy and that she gave them the money but she wouldn’t be doing that again. I said “…okay.” So she obviously didn’t believe the woman’s story to be true either. I seemed to be the only one who didn’t automatically write it off as a total lie. I wondered, and still do: had this woman been wearing a cardigan with some jeans, had her hair been perfectly curled, had she had all of her teeth, THEN would she be believed? Was her lack of dental hygiene and fashion sense enough to write her off as an immoral person?
I now realize that my manager had expected me to not bother her with this and simply tell them “oh, I’m sorry. There’s no way we can redeem a gift card for money. But you can use it to buy yourself some clothes!” I also now realize that we have the capability to refund gift cards to whomever wishes to refund a gift card. It is my call as to whether the person asking for a refund is “worthwhile” to give it to. If it were up to me I would still give this woman a refund. I would hate to deny her a refund and her story turn out to be true. Better safe than sorry, right?
As I was leaving that afternoon, my manager was in the office along with a crowd of five or six. She was reviewing the camera footage from earlier. She was going through it, making sure that the woman and her husband had not stolen anything on their way out. They had not. She was going to write an email, to whom I’m unsure, about this woman and her interaction with her. She was obviously very frustrated with the woman who may or may not have miscarried, and who may or may not have needed drug money. Apparently they had checked legal records online and the husband had been to jail.
Another manager, who was there at the time, told her, “I wouldn’t worry about writing the email. Cause you don’t know for sure what she needed that money for. She may have miscarried, she may not have. Everyone has a story…their’s just happens to be a good one.” Thank you. That’s all I was looking for. An admittance that we don’t know. We don’t know everyone’s background. We can’t know why people do things. We can’t judge a book by it’s cover. Do drug addicts typically have missing teeth? Sure they do. I hear meth will do that to you. But plenty of people also can’t afford dental insurance. And if you’d had a miscarriage, how nice would you dress yourself?