Special to The Dagger
The best thing about losing your job is having a girlfriend for support at this difficult time and the worse thing about losing your job is having a girlfriend for support, making everything more difficult.
The first day of joblessness I was drowning and my girlfriend was throwing me the most buoyant life preserver ever. “Don’t worry Baby, we will get through this together”, she whispered soothingly as my breath broke in short gasps.
What I didn’t realize is that now I was on her clock, and her clock was a much less forgiving taskmaster than the one at my office. My girlfriend became my personal micromanager and unrelenting supervisor and my desk was being moved to the basement.
She took my stapler and nailed my manhood to the wall. Unemployment gave me an extremely short shelf life and my expiration date, that had previously been too murky to read, became as clear and permanent as magic marker on dry erase.
I lost my job on a Friday and by Monday I was already losing air.
Immediately I had to be the man with the plan, the great plan, the best plan, the Man of Action. My girlfriend knew I was a mediocre employee, at best, but in unemployment I had to be hungry, indefatigable and “really want it.”
Since I have never, ever in my entire existence exhibited those traits how could they suddenly become part of my being? Did she even know who I was? Forget about relaxing, reassessing, and wallowing in self-pity and letting that marinade for a bit. My usual plan of inaction was not cutting it for her, which meant I had to change, pronto.
Every time that wallet of hers opened to pay for something I had usually paid for, her mouth drew tighter, her eyes got harder and her sighs of contempt become thunderous. She went from partner to formidable adversary with admirable alacrity.
Her inclination to entertain me with her playful conversation or playful anything was history. The albatross that was slung around her neck weighed down her countenance like an anchor being dragged through wet mud.
The negative thoughts that swirled inside her head at three AM culminated in her waking me up to expound again on how much she did and how I basically did nothing and how she had to get up early in the morning and go to work, and I had the privilege to sleep in.
Actually there was very little sleeping during this period, and absolutely no privileges, as I tried to accomplish her ever expanding laundry list of tasks and attempted to fast track a job search, simultaneously.
No matter how domesticated I became, no matter how many errands I ran, no matter how exquisite the dinners were waiting for her, no matter how many resumes were sent, when she returned from work, nothing made up for this extended period of unemployment.
It had been two weeks.
My girlfriend started talking about me to her inner circle which consisted of a handful of coworkers, her family and nail tech. At first it was to garner sympathy for “poor, sweet Spencer”, but quickly she became both the victim and the hero.
Nobody felt sorry for me, they felt sorry for her, and were in awe of her strength of character in the eye of the storm that I had laid on her threshold.
Every evening after work, she would regale me with their shared insight on my unfruitful job search until my confidence had crumpled to dust that I then had to sweep up, since housekeeping was entirely my job.
Her father became her staunchest supporter in her quest to make me pay for the audacity to be unemployed.
Her Dad who tolerated me, but seldom spoke to me, suddenly volunteered to share his work ethic whenever we came into contact. He uttered unbelievable inanities like, “I would dig a ditch if I had to, just to feed my family.”
Admirable sentiment, but no he wouldn’t, he can barely bend down. He would absolutely not dig a ditch.
Then he would add “You need to pound the pavement that’s what you need to do”. What century does this man inhabit? Seriously, he is not that old.
When he was feeling particularly charitable, he would declare, “Knock on some doors. Let them see who you are. Show them you have some gumption.” Oh, I get it. I need to take hold of my heretofore unheard of and never before seen gumption, and knock on a door and hopefully be buzzed in.
And who will this lucky business see? Me! Up pops a redundancy interrupting their workday with my overpowering stench of desperation.
When I reluctantly agreed to accept her Dad’s advice and show up at a HR office, unannounced, so people could ‘ see me”, they took me to the tiniest cubicle ever, far away from any real workers, an actual mini pagoda in the darkest corner of the office and made me fill out an on line application.
Employees walked by and rolled their eyes and wondered “why didn’t he fill that out at home?’
Did they give me points for showing up; did they find my newly minted gumption appealing? No, they figured I was too dense to understand the term “online application.”
During this bleak season of discontent as a couple, we began to dread weekends. There was the “should we go out?” discussion, with the inevitable dark ending. If I went out with her, she had to pay for me which she hated and I was the unwelcomed ghost at the banquet of employed persons.
I had to be extremely careful too, all eyes were looking for sins of extravagance, sloth or greediness; examples of which would be interjected in their future discussions of my worthlessness.
If my girlfriend went out with her friends without me , she felt guilty, not just because she left me home alone but because that now (and never in a million years would she agree with this) she found every guy who had a job, more appealing than me. Busboys were beginning to look good to her with all their steady employment, smiling servitude and youthful optimism.
The only other option, staying at home together, became the setting for the replay of resentment that withstood many rewrites but still told the same old story. We tried to avoid that at all costs.
For three weeks, I bobbed, tethered to her speedboat in the life preserver she had tossed me, but now the gathering darkness was predicting the mother of all storms.
I could feel her boat straining to break free of my dead weight before the storm encroached; I had nothing left to give that was meaningful to her. Eventually propelled into action by the superior state one inhabits when they are actually contributing to society, she said to me with surprising understatement, “I’m not really comfortable with you not having a job”.
That was it.
She had severed the line and sped off. Time had run out, I had lost my bearings, I was going down.