“A Letter of Resignation” – Stephen Mruzik

As of the end of May, I am resigning my position with the company. The resignation is voluntarily given on my part.

I am resigning for the following reasons:


A searching and fearless moral inventory. Step four. The scary one, according to AA.


I don’t actually follow AA. Dad did, and it saved his life. He recommended I attend a meeting the day I called him and Mom. The day I admitted maybe too much to them. The day I watched the Blues lose to the Avalanche on that old Vizio in the pit of the Boulder County jail. The only day I ever missed a shift.


The meetings weren’t for me. I quit going after a month.


I quit drinking over a year ago, and I realize I have yet to find an adequate substitute for dealing with the company.


Eight years. Eight Black Fridays. Eight summer vacations. Eight inventories. And if I’m going to take this particular inventory more seriously, perhaps I should begin with the Belleville store.


I was still an undergrad and needed money. I had plans to visit my girlfriend in Minnesota that following summer.


I liked Belleville for the most part. First job. First real money I didn’t have to steal from Dad’s coin jar. First work crush. First work party. I hadn’t yet seen behind the curtain. Pre-management. I still remember the naïveté. I asked questions. I wanted to know how many fish I could theoretically fit into a thirty-six gallon tank. I wanted to know the ideal brand of food to buy for Buster, our family’s Basset Hound. I persuaded Mom to stop feeding him grocery-brand kibble and instead switch over to something with an actual protein source. 


Belleville was where I met L. He replaced the manager who hired me and became something of a mentor and rival. He’s been with the company for centuries. To this day, he claims to be the manager who hired me. I don’t have the heart to tell him he wasn’t.


I began working 3:00 a.m. shifts. I didn’t mind at first. Gave me an opportunity to listen to my iPod.


The cleaning guy and I developed a bit of a friendship over time. Called me Little Man. I helped him compose a breakup message to his girlfriend the morning after he caught her cheating on him.


My second year at the company coincided with the year my friend group discovered drinking. I prided myself on my ability to balance both. I showed up to my 3:00 a.m. shifts still buzzed from the shitty plastic-bottle vodka we asked our twenty-one-year-old friends to buy. I developed a perfect rhythm around working carts of dog food and boxes of collars and leashes in-between the retching. 


I left my iPod in the break room during lunch. When I remembered, the iPod was gone. They blamed the cleaning guy. Maybe. If he did, he must have hated figuring out how to delete the obscene amount of Hans Zimmer and anime openings.


I accrued enough hours the following July to afford a week-long vacation to Minnesota, where I met my girlfriend for the first time. The day I came back, the management made me apologize for taking a vacation during such a busy time.


Nobody ever shopped down the aisle with the expensive cat food, so that was where I’d fight with my girlfriend over text.


Mom bought Josie, our new Basset Hound, some grocery-brand food. I guilt-tripped her. The family’s low on money, she said. Told her we could do better than Pedigree.


L got a transfer to the Brentwood store. Part of the process of advancing in the company, he said.


M replaced L. I liked M. We worked the early shifts together over a year and complained about management, about distribution centers, about the pointless shit they sent us on trucks.


When my girlfriend and I broke up, I went on a few dates with a co-worker. She was fine, but this isn’t that kind of story.


My first letter of resignation was written before grad school. M was sad to see me go, but wanted to take me out for a drink before my last day. I made an excuse. Not that I didn’t want to drink, and not that I didn’t like M, but I knew I needed to keep my real and company lives separate.


The store manager asked if I wanted to stay for a few hours a week. To help with trucks. I liked M, and figured the extra money would be good.


Not long after, M left the store. Handed me his keys halfway through his shift and told me to lock the door behind him. At the time, I thought it was funny, but also thought he was kind of an idiot for quitting on his people without notice. What happens if he ever needs this place in the future?


The eternal balance: if the company isn’t a problem, my real life is, but if my real life’s fine, the company isn’t.


M had the same name as my best friend, M. My best friend M and I were feuding over the affections of a girl. A love triangle gone wrong, fueled by addiction and death threats. I used to spend my 3:00 a.m. shifts texting the girl about M, fantasizing revenge schemes that would turn her against M, hating myself for letting them both get the best of me. I blamed the lack of sleep for my oversights.


My second letter of resignation was when I moved to Brentwood, to be closer to school. The management asked if I wanted to transfer to the Brentwood store.


I reunited with L. Demoted, he said. They keep screwing me over, he said.


Third shift at the new store, T caught me throwing up in a trash can. You can go home man, he said, truck’s almost done. He assumed I was actually sick. We just met, so obviously he wouldn’t know about the fishbowl the night before.


When Mom called to tell me Dad brought home Charlie, a new Basset Hound, she asked for food recommendations. All dog food’s the same, Mom.


I used to like people.


I used to like dogs, too.


I handed in my third letter of resignation when I had an opportunity to study in the Czech Republic with two friends from school. The store manager told me that if I wanted to come back, there’d be a job waiting for me. Just give us a call, he said.


The eternal balance. No pet stores to piss me off, but I spent all my money that summer on Czech alcohol.


I let myself call back.


Still tried to balance late nights with early mornings. Mixed results.


I found a new iPod, except it was an old iPod and the screen was broken and the wheel was broken and I could only play music in alphabetical order.


I came in four hours late one morning after returning home two hours before my shift started. My bad, I accidentally overslept, I said. Which, in a way, was true. School four nights a week. Work five. I had to squeeze my Friday nights somewhere.


After graduation came the slew of job rejections. But management offered me a promotion. Easy money to keep me occupied until I found a real job.


When Dad quit drinking, he worked retail for the next twenty years. There’s good money if you’re high up enough, he said. Our family saw it while he worked his way up the ladder, but I would go days without seeing him. He quit one afternoon without warning. I must have been no older than thirteen. I asked him why he’d turn down such an easy six-figure job, and I used to blame him for our financial problems growing up.


I was placed in charge of trucks. The guy they got for my old position was my old next-door neighbor and former bully. He was so cool when I was in second grade because he was a sixth grader. But years later he was a mediocre stocker who kept putting product in the wrong spot.  


My first closing shift as manager of the company began with a literal dumpster fire. I took one look at the flames and returned to my office. Texted my friend Doug to see if he wanted to grab a drink later that night.


Once enough families brought their five-year-old kids into the store ten minutes before we closed, I learned to hate the sound of a child’s laugh. 


L and I had a long conversation about the election.


When that dog knocked the elderly customer on the floor and broke her arm, my first thought was Motherfuck. More paperwork.


While I was on hold with the company’s critical incident line to report the fall, my assistant store manager helped me through the process. She said the on-hold music sounded like something out of a porno film. Asked me what kind of pornography I was into.


When Doug asked me if I wanted to go drinking with him and Sage, I refused. I gotta be up early, I told him. I didn’t fall asleep that night because I knew it’d just be me and the assistant store manager in the morning.


I began to see behind the curtain. To memorize the phone number for the store’s critical incident line. To watch sexual harassment be swept under the rug. To criticize L’s job performance. To take hour-long lunches at the Culver’s down the road. To see myself, with an assist from my store manager, force the assistant store manager out of the company with Machiavellian mind games.


Management. Part-timer. Whose side was I on?


I hated calling people to come in on Sundays because someone else called off. I began to hate people who called off. I began to hate the management for making me bother people on their days off.


A new promotion. More money. L’s old job. He said he was happy for me. We became co-workers.


I got the sense that L wasn’t all that happy for me.


Can you please not bring your pet raccoon into the fucking break room?


I had to have a long conversation with my old next-door neighbor and former bully—a coaching session, rather—about bag-handling standards. I had to explain to him that while speed and efficiency are definitely important for unloading a truck, he doesn’t need to lift three forty-pound bags of dog food at once. He quit to join the army the following week. 


After him came the next protégé. A quiet kid who moved from Indiana with his girlfriend. He didn’t last. Stopped coming to work after a fight with her.


More proteges, more future versions of me. None stayed long. All unable to rise to the occasion. Or perhaps more capable than I ever was.


Games of cat and mouse with L.


D became more of a mentor than L. I reminded her of a kid who used to work with her at Walgreens.


I kept forgetting to upload new music to my old iPod, so I was more than tired of Panic! At the Disco by mid-2017.


Mom and Dad sent me pics of Lily, their new Basset Hound. What’s a good food for weight management?


D and I became the only people we could trust.


I spent a long time pacing back and forth before I handed D my fourth letter of resignation. I was moving to Colorado. Graduate school, part two. She asked if I wanted to transfer. A new store was opening in Broomfield. I wondered if that might make the transition easier.


Before I moved, the store manager in Broomfield said I’d have to step down if I didn’t have open availability. I worried how that would affect my pay, but D called him personally and put in a good word for me.


It seemed too good to be true. Same pay, but no longer management? I was thankful for D. The eternal balance seemed off: the company hooking me up the same time as real-life?


D and L and the team threw me a surprise going-away party that reminded me, however briefly, that it’s not the people who are the problem.


It’s not the people who are the problem.


First week at Broomfield. I stepped down from management. R became the new me. I became the cleaning guy.


Something about no longer seeing behind the curtain after being able to for so long.


I shouldn’t have even complained. I was a cleaning guy making management money.


R got mad if I was ever too thorough with my cleaning because that meant I wouldn’t be able to do his morning stocking for him.


I had a hard time deciding if I liked my new store manager or not. Broomfield isn’t the same as Brentwood and it’s foolish to compare the two, despite the company’s insistence that all stores are interchangeable.


Soon, my title as cleaning guy became my title in name only once the management realized I’m better than R at his job.


I didn’t know anyone here. I drank to get to know people.


There’s a bar in Boulder that sells blue drinks. I wouldn’t recommend drinking them when you have to re-do the entire cat toy section the following morning.


I have permanent scars on my fingertips from box cuts and pallet splinters.


Remember that elderly lady who got knocked over by the dog? Her son-in-law tried to sue the company. Pretty cool, huh? The corporate legal team wanted me to testify on behalf of the company. Why me? I asked. The company’s corporate liaison sighed over the phone. Told me I was the only person from the date of the incident still with the company.




R left the store at 5:00 a.m. because that was when the Starbucks down the street opened. I need coffee, he said, if I’m going to be able to finish this truck. I wanted to tell him that we were on a time crunch, to tell him to just invest in a coffee machine at home in order to save time and money.


I liked to embellish my role as a witness in the case of elderly lady’s son-in-law versus the company. I joked that I held the fate of the company between my permanently-scarred fingertips.


Dude, the paperwork shouldn’t be taking you more than thirty minutes. What are you doing in the office from 3:00 to 7:00? Stop going to fucking Starbucks when you’ve got shit to do.


When R admitted to me he was written up by the store manager and was desperate for advice, I couldn’t even get mad at him directly. He had my old job and I understood. I’ve felt his frustration before.


Don’t take out the trash four times per truck. Just wait until the truck’s done and we can take out the trash together.


I vented in the store’s backroom in ways that made me thankful the company has always been too cheap to invest in cameras. 


I had a fifth plan in place to resign with the company. It was the day before I called Mom and Dad. Even had a couple interviews lined up, and a good friend from school who put in a good word for me at the new place. But then I remembered the eternal balance. 


I didn’t have to spend the entire day in jail. All I had to do was call someone to pick me up. I could have even made it to work that day. I didn’t want to call anyone. I waited until I was sober.


I thought about a lot of things that day. I thought about Mom and Dad, but mostly Dad. I thought about his stories growing up—the ones about him, his mother, the ones he told me well before I learned that alcoholism is hereditary. I thought about my best friend who was no longer my best friend and about the girl we fought over, but mostly my best friend, and how much pleasure he’d have gotten if he could have seen me. I thought about how much I hated the police officer, how I could overhear him laughing at how badly I failed the field sobriety test as he filled out his third arrest report of the night. I thought about killing myself. I tried focusing on the Blues game to stifle the thought. It didn’t work, and I flirted with plans all day. But I didn’t think about any of that as much as I thought about how I’d have to explain to the management why I was going to no-call, no-show my shift that afternoon.


I had to tell the assistant store manager about the arrest. She had a right to know why I missed my shift. She understood and was thankful for my honesty, but all that did was make me feel guilty. I told her I’d step it up from here.


The interview my friend helped me get went well, but I didn’t show up for the second interview. Broomfield offered me the position I had in Brentwood. It’d keep me comfortable in a time of so much uncertainty, I reasoned. More money, too.


The job is fine when the people are fine.


One of the distribution center’s delivery drivers threatened to kick my ass while I tried unloading freight from the truck. When I asked him to leave the store, he refused. He said he can do whatever he wants as his Jesus necklace bounced against his chest. We have no idea what he’s been through, he said, and we’re just as bad as all the other pet stores.


It’s not the people who are the problem. It’s not the people who are the problem.


Every time Reddit or Twitter or any other social media platform has a post about drunk drivers, I check it out, primarily out of some sick, deep-seated perversion. I want to know how much the hivemind hates people like us and how much they demonize us without realizing it’s probably a symptom of something far deeper. But me, I’ve always empathized with assholes, with fuck-ups, with douchebags, with people who avoid hard truths about themselves.


Once I hit a year of sobriety, Dad asked if I planned on starting again. I dodged the question. He told me the story of the elevator—something he probably learned during his program. How alcoholics can get off the elevator at any level, but if they try to get back on, it only continues going in one direction.


They don’t tell you that sobriety kind of sucks. Not the not-drinking, necessarily, but everything else that surfaces.


The nearest Culver’s is in fucking Thornton.


I’ve let myself become the pet store guy at school.


I don’t mind being the pet store guy. The drinking, the family history, the best friend, the girl, the arrest, the police officer, the therapy, the money, the sobriety—they’re all working together to create a very real fear that this is the one thing I’m good at, a very real paranoia that there is something fundamentally wrong with me. I should mind being the pet store guy.


The sixth plan for a letter of resignation began when Dad called me asking for help with his resume. Looking for a higher-paying job, he said.


I recognize the patterns now. To the point where I hate everyone else in the company because they don’t.


I haven’t had alcohol in over a year and I still want to vomit.




When I do sleep, I dream I’m stocking shelves.


Jobless, the possibility of crippling debt, fear of the unknown, turning into Dad. None of them seem that bad—given the alternative.


You’re going to ask me to stay, aren’t you?


I keep imagining the conversation we’ll have when the store manager finds out I’m leaving, and I keep imagining the ways in which I’ll sugar-coat the truth.


Dad says his job search is going slow. He’s rationalizing that he only has a few more years at his current job until he can retire.


My dad, too, quits in fits and starts.


I don’t have anything against AA. I’ve seen what it’s done for Dad. But during my last meeting, I sat next to someone who told me I’d have to give up all of my friends and start from scratch if I really wanted to move forward. It came from pure intentions, I’m sure, but I still have a hard time deciding how I feel about that statement.


We can’t keep having this conversation. I’m just not a good fit anymore. It’s not you, it’s me, but it’s also you, but it’s mostly me.


I’m not that important to the company.


I quit drinking for over a year. Without even a second thought. I just knew I had to stop. For the time being, at least.

I understand that I must return all company property in my possession on or before my last day of employment.

Resigning associate signature: _______________________ Date: ____________