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One shift at Bi-Mart I'll never forget

I never imagined when I started my job at Bi-Mart more than a year ago that I would see a ski mask anywhere but the shelf where we stock them. I love my job, but it's not exactly packed with excitement. Days pass and occasionally we get free pizza or fried chicken, and those days stand out slightly more than the others. Until last Tuesday, the most excitement I ever had at work was watching shoplifters get caught, and I always felt a little bad for them.

Then came last Tuesday. I got through almost the entire day and had begun to count down the minutes until we would close, when I could buy myself some shampoo and head home. Then, while contemplating hair care products, the attempted robbery began.

Think about how you would react when a man in a black ski mask comes to your drive-through window. People with a more suspicious nature would probably immediately suspect something unusual; it's not often cold enough on the valley floor to warrant a face mask, after all. I, on the other hand, was internally debating the merits of different conditioner brands and blandly asked if there was anything I could help him with. Apparently I could help him by providing him with drugs, no charge please.

For the next couple minutes, terror and anger filled my entire being. I like my job a lot, but I certainly did not want to give my life for it. I was also angry, thinking about how I just graduated college and was going to die with nothing to show for it but a legacy of federal loans. It's rather sad that as I contemplated my death I did not think of my family and friends, but instead angrily ruminated on my debt.

The robber's mistake was in thinking that I would act on my own, that I would make my own decision as to whether to cooperate or not. Pharmacies are a team. No prescription is collected, billed, filled and sold without passing through many different hands. In a pharmacy, everyone is used to helping one another and getting each other's opinions when a judgment call is required. Certainly this was a much bigger decision than whether or not to accept an out-of-state check, so I decided to leave this choice in the hands of my boss.

"Run!" was the conclusion. We hightailed it out of the pharmacy faster than I've ran in a long time. Apparently the motivation I need to take up jogging is the cold sweat of terror trickling down my back.

Someone said it took the cops four minutes to get to us. It felt like an instant or an eternity. It was four minutes in which time had lost all meaning. I cowered crying on the floor, ashamed at my lack of bravery or logical thinking, but not ashamed enough to get up. Police officers are my new favorite people, and I have completely forgiven them for the speeding ticket I got in 2006.

Now metal bars are installed across the window and I'm ready to be teased about my bad luck at that back window (the glass once fell out of its frame onto me). My hands still shake when I help someone at the drive-thru, and I can feel my heart racing as I write this. If I've seen you, anywhere, in the last couple days I've imagined how you would look with a ski mask on. I think about the man a lot, wondering who he is, where he's at and what kind of person he must be.

I explained to my son that the man had been someone desperate and crazed. Someone who probably felt like their life was out of options, and we're lucky that our life in no way resembles that. To the robber, I'd like to say that I have a life full of options and a bright future. I feel sorry for you, I forgive you and you don't scare me anymore.

Zoë Abel is happy to have a life full of excitement, adventure, options, and student loans. You can contact her at dailyzoe@gmail.com