So here I am. I’m wondering what I could have done to prevent any of it, to take it back, to prepare myself.
Three months later, I’m still drawing a blank.
The high-end audio-visual systems industry didn’t feel the sting of the recession right away. We survived the first two or three years on projects that had received funding prior to the burst. And so, I ignored the possibility that I wasn’t safe, and I settled into comfort.
Besides, I’d been working at the same company for almost five years. I was a (mostly) model employee. I stayed late, I worked quickly, and compared to the rest of the people in my department, I came cheap, since I lived in Tennessee as opposed to San Diego.
Still, I spent the last four months at my job with no new projects, nothing specific to work on, and way more Facebook updates than any self-respecting woman closing in on 30 should have. I spent my days writing a manual for the company, fixing standardization problems, and researching anything and everything I thought might be remotely helpful… all the while fighting the feeling that I needed to make a change.
I had even poked around on job sites just to see what was out there. But never once did I entertain the notion that I would need to find a new job.
One extraordinarily cold and icy Friday in January, I was sitting in my office, twiddling my thumbs and trying to find something to do, when the phone rang. The voice on the other end of the line was one I’d talked to nearly every day for almost five years, and yet my stomach twisted and curled when I heard the tone in his voice. I knew that bad news was coming, and it felt like Iwas tied to the tracks, waiting for the train to run me over.
All of a sudden, I was sweating, I was crying, and I felt like I was going to throw up.
There it was. I was being laid off.
I spent the rest of the day packing my things. Books, music, taking personal files from my computer, and trying like hell not to let all the shop boys see me cry. I had turned into a cliche. I had turned into an emotional woman who couldn’t stop crying. But I hid it.
I have never been comfortable letting my vulnerabilities out into the open, and this was no exception. My shame made me want to hide from the world. Even letting my boyfriend know was an act of strength the likes of which I had never achieved. I was scared that he wouldn’t love me anymore because I would seem stupid, even worthless.
I was sitting on the porch, having a beer and a smoke, pondering what to do, when his truck pulled up. Instantly, I realized that this wasn’t something I could hide. I wanted to tell him. I wanted him to know, and I needed the support. The conversation ran through my head 27 times before he even reached the porch.
He asked all the required questions with an appropriate level of shock and anger on his face. He cursed my boss in all the right places, he gave me hugs when the tears welled up between the expletives. I don’t know why I ever thought he wouldn’t understand, or wouldn’t be there for me.
After letting the most important person in my life a little closer in, I had to go out. I had a billiards tournament to play, and I was the captain. I couldn’t be seen as someone who let emotions get in the way. I couldn’t let them know that I was ashamed. I tried with everything I had to hide what was going on from my friends, but to no avail.
My trust was repaid with Jack Daniels, an ear to bend, and a sympathetic ride home.
The next day, I was left with a choice to make. I could go back to the bottle, the recliner, and the anchoring lack of self-worth that threatened to consume everything I stood for. Or I could pick my ass up, stop wasting time, and continue to believe in everything my persevering ancestors had taught me.
The easy choice stood before me like a warm, soft, mind-numbing blanket. It wouldn’t be that hard to fall in. Due to my 23 years of contact sports, I had a standing prescription for opiates, and at that point, even $5 whiskey sounded sweeter than ambrosia. It was easy, it was there, and it was one of the most tempting thoughts that I had ever entertained.
But I chose the latter. I had been down the low road, and I knew that clawing myself back out would be harder than just keeping my head up from the start. I was raised to be strong. I had spent my life hardening myself against the inevitable, and here was the inevitable, jeopardizing who I was.
The future held nothing but vast insecurity and unknown possibilities, and I was standing on a path that was a complete mystery. I’d had a job since I was 14. I didn’t know how to proceed. I was lost, I was depressed. I didn’t know what to do, but I knew I had to do something. Apathy and disdain were too easy.
I had made my choice, and I was ready to act. I set the bottle down, literally and figuratively.
Maybe the fact that I truly didn’t believe in any other option made my choice for me. Maybe it was the fact that my insecurities only find relief when I’m being useful and intelligent. Part of me wanted nothing more than to find someone to blame, to have someone fix it. But I couldn’t rely on anyone or anything else. I had to take charge of my own life.
I never thought I would lose my job. But I wasn’t about to let it break me.