Here's what it's like to be laid off. Oh wait, did I forget to tell you? On Monday I was informed that my job will be eliminated on Jan. 29. Anyway... your coworkers all walk by your desk with long faces, sighing or wincing at the sight of you. Some tell you how sorry they are; others studiously ignore you (cowards). In private, they think about things you might have done that caused the bosses to pick you, and then they try to convince themselves that you brought it on yourself, that it's not going to happen to them. What they don't grasp is that I am elated. I'm the one who has been sprung from this prison. They are the ones who have to continue working here, covering night and weekend shifts with fewer people, laboring under increased pressure and the fear of more cuts, with no hope of advancement. They're the ones who have to continue convincing themselves that it's going to be OK, that this is still better than the alternative, that they must do whatever it takes to hang on because unemployment=death/failure/poverty. They are all so convinced of my tragedy that I'm starting to think I'm delusional, because I am truly giddy with happiness. Last night I actually cried a tear of joy.
Yes, on Monday, I was teary and terrified. I was scheduled to go in late (working the night shift!), and my coworkers started calling and emailing, asking if I was safe. Apparently, they were tapping people on the shoulder in the office, and everyone wondered why I wasn't there. Oh no, I assured them. No one has called me. I'm just working the night shift. I'm safe. But I decided to call my boss just to reassure myself. So I asked him, "I'm not laid off, am I?" And he said, "Um, are you coming in?" And I knew. So they told me I was talented and had done great work and they were sorry, and they handed me a big brown envelope containing the details of my severance. The fear that afternoon and evening was intense. I thought we would lose our house. I thought I would never find another job. I thought we would be desperately poor. I thought I was a failure. I thought the worst had happened. I went to bed and woke at 6, my chest thumping with fear.
But on Tuesday I spent some time figuring out what my unemployment benefits would be. Did you know that shit lasts almost two years now? And that the feds will subsidize your COBRA health coverage for 15 months? Between that and the severance I got for my long years of service, we can be fine for at least a year. A year! Even if I don't make a penny! And that is really a conservative estimate. We can easily make it to the end of the 15-month COBRA period. I keep thinking that I must be miscalculating. There must be something screwed up about my math. But I have thought about this, and whipped out the calculator multiple times, and I think it's true. Now, I won't be putting much into my retirement accounts. And we won't be adding to our savings, so if we have a large unexpected expense things could get a bit hairy. But we have worked hard and saved a lot of money, and we will be OK. The moral of this story is that I spent years fearing that we would be penniless and thinking that losing my job would be the Worst Thing Ever, and it turns out they're paying me not to go to this miserable place anymore. I get a year to figure things out, and I have never needed it more.
I'm starting to feel that this was the most incredible stroke of luck. I'm going to look at this as my year of exploration. I'm not going to think about reasons why I can't do things. I'm going to brainstorm ways that I can do the things I want to do. I'm going to see if I can make things work as a freelance writer, work on a couple personal projects, think about going back to school for early childhood education, and who knows what else. I'm going to call every contact I have and ask them for advice and help. I'm going to strip the ugly wallpaper out of the bathroom, scan old photos, cook delicious meals. I'm going to go to meditation classes and meet friends for coffee. I'm going to cut Mia's daycare to half time, and spend every afternoon with her until she starts kindergarten in the fall. We're going to go swimming and do art projects and go to the park and go to play groups. And with any luck, I'm going to figure out a way to earn a living and still be home when she gets out of school--for at least the first year or two.
I have always said that I would love to work part-time, but that I just can't afford it. I went through two years of hell because I believed that getting this paycheck was more important than just about everything else. But I'm starting to see that you cannot put a price on being happy. That maybe that paycheck wasn't worth my sanity and my sleep. Now, at least for a while, I get to have what I thought was impossible--thanks in part to the generosity of the federal government. Maybe this won't turn out at all as I'm imagining. I'm sure I'm overestimating the amount of free time I'll have and idealizing how blissful it will be. Maybe I'll be miserable, or maybe things will be tougher financially than I thought. Maybe we will both need new cars and the house will need a new foundation and we'll be screwed. But for now, I feel like this is the seismic shift I have been waiting for. The years of being stuck in one place, desperate for a fresh start, are over. Things are about to change, and I've got to believe they're going to get better.