This week marks seven years since I was laid off from my 15 year tenure in high-pressure sales. This was my first job out of college and it ended when I was 37 years old. My new boss, who was younger and had once been my peer, asked if we could meet. I asked him if there was anything serious that I should know about, and he answered “Nope, just checking in!” as giddy as a KGB officer knocking on your door with a silencer, who says, “It’s okay, Madam, I just want to talk.”
I was laid off within five minutes. I had been given the old bait and switch.
I finished college wanting to go to grad school and write, but I owed Tulane 14 grand and they would not release my transcripts until I paid this. Plus, I owed Sallie Mae and a few credit card companies who so graciously gifted my unemployed self, thousands of dollars in credit. I was twenty-two years old and buried in debt. I had to dig myself out of that hole, and so I begrudgingly moved back to Chicago and started this job. By the time I received my transcripts (and my diploma!) at age thirty, I had to pay for my wedding and there was a baby on the way. The dream of being a writer felt done for. Caput. I would never get those years back. At work, I felt like the impetus for others to buy their dream cars, their dream homes, summer homes, homes abroad, and diamond bracelets for their wives, but who was helping make my dreams come true? I wanted to be a writer. I didn’t need much. I grew up with few financial resources and I could get by with very little.
My life in those fifteen years had gone 0-100 MPH every single day, and the days – 40, 60, 80 hours a week went by way too fast. I could never enjoy my children, much less a vacation or a day off without being planted in front of a computer or at an Internet café (bear with me Millennial) every day writing proposals. My post-partum, short lived four day work week always ended up being five. My grandmother died while I was on the computer in the business center at my hotel visiting her. I was at a funeral and one of the partners in my office insisted on a con call and sent me an obtuse email, refusing to spend five minutes to answer a client’s question. I repeated, “I’m at a FUNERAL.” No response.
After being laid off, I wondered – what’s next? I felt old. Who was I? I was so numb. All the time.
I wondered, was it possible to slow time and reignite the playfulness of my youth? To feel, alive?
Shortly after joining the ranks of the unemployed, thieves stole thousands of dollars of work clothes, nearly my entire wardrobe, from the back seat of my luxury SUV(I get misty eyed just remembering both the clothes and the car). Divine intervention? My friend, who is an independent filmmaker and knew of my life-long passion for writing, did not comfort me after the loss of my exquisite Piazza Sempione trench coat (like I had hoped he would) and instead said this, “Thank God you were robbed! You need to make it hard to go back to the way things were…”
The way things were…like fearing that I was accidentally going to crash my car into the viaduct on the highway…every single day…so I could stop racing…no one was going to tell me to get off this track…how many laptop keyboards could I destroy with my fists or cellular phones accidentally get thrown out my second floor window? I needed Divine intervention…
A few months later, I beat out 12 candidates for another high-pressure/paying job where I would make even more money than before. The recruiter said “I must have you!” but I just had to meet his boss, who was flying in especially to meet me. I was going through these motions because I thought this was what I had to do, rather than what I wanted. A girl without a familial golden parachute. A girl who had to feed and clothe herself. A girl who to this day still thinks she might end up in a woman’s shelter and has made numerous friends promise that she can live in their garages or guest rooms if it came to it. A girl who feared risk with every fiber of her body.
The day of the interview I had a terrible bout of what I assume was again – Divine intervention. I was throwing up and experiencing diarrhea that only Judd Apatow could possibly understand. I was so nervous and dehydrated that I could barely talk, my face looked slimy and green, my teeth were chattering and my limbs were shaking. I drank a cup of coffee, thinking it would wake me up, but instead I had gut wrenching stomach pains and was sweating worse than Mark Wahlberg after the seventh take of a sex scene in “Boogie Nights.” Even my normally cheery mother was rendered speechless when asked, “How do I look?” When she dropped me off at the interview, I told her to circle the block. My spasm filled guts told me this wouldn’t take long…
I sat in the conference room as my limbs jerked involuntarily and as sweat dripped from my forehead and onto the table, and then my dress, even though the room was a crisp, cool 60 degrees. The group of people assessing me were still wearing their coats and even sweaters and I was burning up so badly that all I yearned for was stripping off my constricting clothes and emptying the water cooler bottle above my head and over my naked body, in the hallway, followed by an old fashioned, satisfying, mouth open and drooling, nap, on the drenched, industrial grey carpet, like a happy hippo in a mud pit.
There was a girl sitting directly across the table from me with long dark brown hair, in glasses and a pant suit. She was me, fifteen years prior. I saw the blank expression on her face, the pale skin, the lack of vitality, one might say, misery. Like, the last girl Prince would write a song about. I thought this nightmare might be a Sartre, No Exit situation where I would be stuck with these disappointed corporate honchos, including my bitter, younger doppelganger, talking only in buzz words, for eternity.
I won over the boss, right off the bat, with my damp palms when we shook hands and then by laughing inappropriately and surprisingly somewhat fiendishly. Like when Tom Hanks hears his adult voice for the first time in the movie Big. I was possessed by a demon. I thought I might faint. I squinted as the fluorescent lights blinded my eyes. Sounds vibrated from soft to excruciatingly loud as if I had accidentally ingested magic mushrooms during Mardi Gras. My throat itched and my voice was hoarse like in a nightmare where no words can come out of your mouth. As if I could even remember a single word in the English language?
Everyone at that table wanted this Bataan Death March of interviews to end. The meeting only continued, I believe, in order to avoid a potential lawsuit for discriminating against a woman who lost control of all bodily fluids. You know how HR likes to cover its bases!
My insatiable thirst could not be quenched for water, which I kept pouring into my glass and spilling all over the table like Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas being asked about that Coke can during the Anita Hill hearings. The liquid just made me have to run out of the conference room and into the bathroom and I seriously considered making my home there in the stall permanent. My children could come and visit me on weekends, couldn’t they? The artificial scent of ocean breeze forced through the vents every five minutes wasn’t so bad. I never wanted to leave the security of that bathroom stall. I never wanted to go back into that conference room again. I never wanted to go back to that kind of life, again.
This layoff was my one chance to be…me again.
The interviewers got suspicious. Was I a dope fiend going through withdrawal? That’s certainly what it felt like. Shedding those clothes and that old life was incredibly painful. 15 years at the same job is a long time. Longer than my marriage or college - it was significant. Love it or hate it, I grew up at that job. To this day, I still dream about it.
I was pretty sure my mother was going to have to take me to the Emergency Room once I collapsed into her waiting car outside the office. I was too weak to even pull the seatbelt over my chest as my heartbeat was irregular and I was breathing heavily like those annoying marathon runners on the treadmill at the gym. The phone rang. The recruiter said (as nicely as my new boss had when asking me for that meeting) that he didn’t recognize the person in the interview and that his boss was going to take a pass.
Didn’t recognize me? I had never been so happy to hear that I was someone different.
I immediately remembered my friend from college, the tough talking New Yorker who had asked me seriously, a few years before being laid off, "Where have you gone?"
I hung up the phone and the speedy carousel spins started to subside. “Thank god, they took a pass!” I told my mother with the enthusiasm of someone about to receive a life-saving organ, “Thank God! Those people were trying to KILL ME!”
This layoff was my one chance…to go for it! To create the life that I had always dreamed of. To actually, live a life, you know, that I could defend, like in an Albert Brooks movie?
Seven years ago, I would not have been able to defend my life. Today I can. Thank you, universe, for that layoff.
I am different than that girl in the conference room seven years ago. I sold my luxury SUV and went to NYU to learn my craft. Older than my teachers and classmates, I savored eating 99 cent pizza slices every day and sleeping on the love seat with my best friend’s one eyed cat in her small, air conditioner-less studio. I’ve ridden on a night bus to NYC streaming Asian beauty pageants filled with exotic food eating immigrants (that I’m convinced doubled as an opium/knock off purse smuggling operation) fearful of falling asleep lest I wake up without a kidney. I won a free week writing in France and slept in a twelfth century house to the sound of waterfalls! Saw the American West for the first time on a week-long train ride and marveled at our enormous, magnificent and beautiful country. I know my late father and grandfather smiled at me from heaven when I passed though Glacier National Park in Montana. I perform at open mikes(and I'm over forty!)
I’m a writer! A writer. I live a writer’s life. Many many sacrifices have been made, but it has all been worth it. My father told me I have to believe there is no other alternative. My first novel is being published next month, and at a snail’s pace I have made it to the finish line of my transformation, of being different.
Let me be clear, many people came out of nowhere to help me realize this dream. I’m the result of people buying me a meal, coffee, letting me spend the night at their homes while traveling, introducing me to programs that I could apply to and encouraging me every single day. People who I’ve barely had a conversation with will pull me aside or email me and tell me how much my journey means to them, how my story may have moved them, how they live vicariously through my bare bones travels and adventures. So many friends have provided me with a golden parachute of sorts that’s made up of their belief in me.
I cry every time I think about that. My people are divine.
My higher self(you know, that person you always thought you could be?) has been realized. I’m comfortable in my own skin(well, more comfortable than ever before!) This is huge! Sometimes its like people are meeting me(i.e. the girl I always dreamed of becoming) for the very first time.
Risk, I found out, is good for you. It's how we all grow.
Since being laid off, I often hear, “You’re so passionate! When you talk about your writing, you get so excited! You emit JOY!”
Isn’t joy and bliss an ingredient of youth?
That’s right, my life is an adventure now. Every day offers the possibility for another great story to be born.
My kids tell me that I inspire them and they often tell me about their plans for life after college.
I've had the opportunity to go back in time, and to return to the path that I was on when I was twenty-two, that I had left open, and untraveled, but now I'm travelling that road with the wisdom, gratitude and life experience of maturity - to know how good I have it. Second chances are possible and sometimes Divine Intervention is necessary.
I hope some of you get laid off - at least those of you that need it – like I did - if only for the chance to look in the mirror, smile at someone you've missed - your true self, your higher self - and say “Yes! I knew you were still there!”
It's never too late!
A Pool Hustler's Daughter grows up in subterranean America. She dreams big, hustles daily and loves her Daddy. With empathy, fascination and grace she navigates and inhabits every tier of society; sees beauty and hope and magic in all things; respects and lives by the "mitzvah."
A Pool Hustler's Daughter calculates the trifecta payout at the racetrack, hides money on three parts of her body, has an arsenal of "Uncles," and keeps a baseball bat by the front door. She values friendship, loyalty and experiences over "things." Like her father, she seeks to learn "The secrets of the universe" and believes "Life ain't on the square." She applauds the self-made and those who learn to "overcome" their circumstances. Her door is always open for a sofa to sleep on, a hot meal, or an eager listener for a life story.
"Tell me, the dream , again..." "Well, it's night, and New York is particularly quiet. It's not necessarily late at...