Sunday, June 14, 2009

Layoffs and Domestic Partners

They’ve murdered my life and I’m sitting bleeding. The weapon? A layoff letter that ended seven and a half years of working as a Web Master with a bus company. Everything is over. Financial stability is threatened at its root. My routine has become an empty shell, a discarded skin as my flesh is laid bare to the ravages of the sun without protection. No more regular checks rolling in on a biweekly basis. No more ease in paying bills. The question of what to do about two more years of college tuition for a daughter who will be taking finals soon and completing her sophomore year. My head hurts.

Now someone is talking to me but I can’t make any sense of it. Except for the buzzing of something that sounds like a swarm of mosquitoes, I understand three words: “No More Job.”

I heard about my layoff before my manager had been informed. For the past year the newly entrenched Information Services Department as they liked to be called instead of the more off-putting “Information Technology Group,” had gobbled up my job. (Ever hear of the “peace keepers” as part of the U.S. military arsenal? Same story here.) Instead of letting me know what was happening, the hyenas slowly fed on my carcass tying my hand to a mouse pad for about a year before pushing my bones out the door. It was a prolonged misery. But who said that communication was one of the hallmarks of geeks? Or for that matter an agency whose idea of communication was to inform employees about any upcoming memorial service for a deceased retiree?

One afternoon just before the close of the fiscal year I received a call from a union member to come downstairs to her office. As a member of the union board’s executive team, I surmised that the phone call had something to do with layoffs, an item which we had discussed for the last several meetings. I was right about the layoff part. Only this time, it was my own funeral. Actually, we were scheduled to have an exec board meeting the following day, and the team didn’t want me to sit down at the table to discover my name inscribed on the layoff list. I was both dead and alive and not wanted.

Back on my floor and not far from the cubicle, which up until that time I had called home, I approached my new manager. Recently, I had been transferred from one department into her Marketing domain, and asked if I still were to be a part of her team in the coming new fiscal year. She smiled and reassured me. “What’s the matter?” she said. “Did you think you were going to fall through the cracks?” I weakly smiled yes, how could she guess, I was concerned about that very outcome.

The union protested. Management countered. Back and forth around the meeting pole we went. On the third day of what seemed like my inevitable layoff, I went home and sat on the couch to watch the evening news and did everything I usually do to get myself ready for bed. Brushed my teeth. Threw my dirty clothes in the wash. Opened the refrigerator door and closed it again. Finally, I wound myself in my covers and found a place next to my partner.

Several hours later, I was still listening to the cars screech down the hill outside my condo. Saying I could not sleep would be an understatement. My head was an airplane terminal and everything flying above me was crashing into everything else. There were no air traffic controllers. They had all been laid off. I was feeling murdered all over again and resolved to leave the bedroom so as not to wake up my boyfriend who had to rise at 5:30am in the morning. I removed myself to what use to be my daughter’s bedroom and fell out on the futon. It was not a safe landing. Gripping the blankets I began to sob, to shake, to wail. My cat got up from the corner of the room where she was sleeping, blinked at me with iridescent green eyes, and then walked outside to the living room.

How could this happen to me? How was I going to get my daughter through college? How could I let my children down this way? How was I going to reinvent myself, particularly in this job market? How was I going to compete in middle age? How was I going to pay my bills? Followed by: Why didn’t the mothers of executive management teach them to say ‘thank you?’ How I would never come back to work even if they begged me, crying how they had made a terrible mistake. How the management of the IT or IS department or whatever else they wanted to call themselves were a bunch of self-important creeps. But mostly, I felt afraid.

I crept back into the bedroom. My boyfriend grabbed me. He held me. He talked to me. He did all the right things. He told me everything was going to be all right and I believed him. I really did.

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