Thursday, January 15, 2009
Saw it coming, but couldn't duck
On the morning I was laid off I found myself in the unfamiliar position of not knowing what to do. I sat for a moment after getting the news and thought, What do I do now?
I wasn’t sure what to feel, either. For a moment I stopped and listened to my body, waiting to see what would happen. I read somewhere that depression is really anger with no energy. I guess I felt angry on the day I got laid off, but I had no energy to do anything about it. There was nothing to do about it really, except clear out my office. I put vases and calendars and the pretty dish I kept paper clips in into a plastic bag. I’d just been laid off!
I knew it would happen when I woke abruptly at three o’clock that morning…even before that - I knew weeks ago that it was only a matter of time. My supervisor came into my office and shut the door. He had a crease in his forehead and big, sort of freaked out eyes. “Due to the economic circumstances…hate to do this…nothing personal…maybe when things get better…no way to tell, blah, blah.”
I knew with certainty he would come in even before he appeared in the doorway. When I looked at his face I knew what he would say, but still it had the effect of shock on me. I cut him off, telling him I was expecting it and I would be gone in a jiffy. I could tell by his deep sigh that this was hard for him. Hell, it was not his fault - he was just doing what he had to do. Here was a major down-side of being management. It would not be right to take anything out on him.
I will still get a bonus he tells me; 500 bucks. “Good,” I say. “I will need that if I want to eat next month.” That’s the bonus, here’s the minus…no health insurance for my husband or myself, unless I want COBRA coverage for over a thousand dollars a month, and unemployment insurance will give me half my normal income before taxes if I’m lucky. Added minus; in this economy other companies are not hiring. They are all laying workers off.
Immediately after the initial shock wore off, I noticed there was a gremlin screaming in my gut. Do something! he taunted. Say something! Get mad! Cry for cryin’ out loud! Though it would certainly be satisfying initially, I knew I would pay dearly in the long run. You will always pay dearly in the long run for childish, emotional indulgences…not worth it. There was no one to get mad at. Who should I rail against, Alan Greenspan? George Bush? Bill Clinton? Barney Frank? All the other politicians who had been fiddling while Rome caught fire? The greedy mortgage companies that told people teetering one paycheck away from food stamps that they could afford to own their own homes?
I took a couple of deep breaths instead, dispelling the thoughts and focused on the task at hand: removing all evidence of me from the building. There is no work for me to do, because consumers are terrified of losing their jobs and so they are not spending any money, which will make it more likely that they will lose their jobs, because companies cannot make payroll, because no one is spending any money.
I hung the plastic bag over my wrist and hoisted the enormous potted plant that has occupied my sunny office window ledge for seven years into my left arm. With my right hand I tapped the keyboard on my desk, shutting down the computer.
Last year at this time they gave me an award. Amid accolades and pats on the back, I got a plaque engraved with my name. “For excellence in service”, it says, in blue Lucite and gold lettering.
Today I got a piece of paper with the phone number for the state unemployment office and the company tax I.D. number on it.
Although on a rational level I understand that there is no work for me to do, and it is purely a business decision, I still can’t help feeling betrayed somehow. I decide to leave the plaque and another award from a few years earlier right there on the shelf behind my desk, in full display and stark contrast to the otherwise empty office. A mute, but fitting testament, I think.
I shuffled down the snow covered walkway to my car.
Once, not too long ago when stocks were up and everyone was riding high on the wave of consumer excess, the company president said he wished he had ten of me working for him. He never missed an opportunity to introduce me to visitors as his “favorite person.” Just yesterday, he smiled at me as though nothing had changed. Today he didn’t even come in to say goodbye to me. He owes me nothing. My difficulties are not his problem. There is no loyalty in the dog-eat-dog world of business and I have always known that. The bottom line takes precedence over everything. Same as it ever was.
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