It was 9 a.m. on a typical Friday. All six members of our skeleton crew knew someone from corporate was headed over.
Our company was under new ownership by the Wizard of Oz—a big head with no name—and big changes were constantly being made around the Emerald City, but we shrugged off the visit with uncertainty.
“Maybe it’s some health insurance thing.”
“Maybe it’s one of us.”
“Maybe it’s all of us.”
As I edited material for the coming week, my phone rang. It was 9:30.
“That was fast,” I said to myself, answering.
“Hey, can you come up to my office for a minute,” the boss asked.
I placed the receiver on the handset and turned to look at the only other full-time newsroom employee. We sort of grinned, stunned maybe, and stared at each other.
“Well,” I said.
“You…,” he questioned.
“We’ll see,” I said, but I could feel certainty wash over me.
It was a long walk up that hallway. Passing the water cooler, with its dusty blue faucets that leaked a little, I thought briefly as I did every morning about how I was the only one who really drank any water from there anymore. Through the worn Dutch door with ink stains on the knob and a sign exclaiming “Employees Only” I walked, knowing that sign would harbor a different meaning when I passed it again.
There was nothing I could do, and I wasn’t sure I wanted it to be.
A decade of mental sweat equity had put me in the editor’s chair six years ago.
The role had been a lengthy construction project that included a foundation in public relations, walls built of writing and graphic design, budget and payroll, and numerous hats worn from Historian to Preservationist for one of the state’s oldest newspapers.
Toward the end it also included daily doses of debasement with constant angst in my spirit. Nevertheless, that Friday wasn’t the way it was supposed to end, at least not now and not on someone else’s terms.
Ten years ago, as a staff writer I wondered if five years was too long to stay in one place, but I took an immense amount of pride in my position. It landed me a promotion to Features Editor.
As I climbed the corporate ladder to second-in-command, Managing Editor, I hung blue ribbons on each rung having won several honors for my work. I even earned props from the legislature, and it felt good. Not power trip good, but good to know I was making a difference and my peers appreciated it, even when my superiors didn’t.
It was my life’s station to pen feel-good, fluffy features about Mr. and Mrs. Joe and Jane Q. Public—many of whom were octogenarians, even centenarians, who had barely left our rural region—who held treasured stories of bygone days that would’ve otherwise been untold, save a solitary name in an obituary headline. It was my responsibility to make them feel good and preserve a small piece of their hometown legacy for everyone to remember.
The pay was always measly. I won’t lie and say it was ever good. It wasn’t even on par with the regional scale, but the sense of personal responsibility to the public was all mine. I earned it through attending many a late-night meeting, driving many a mile to get there, and learning many a lesson about every…single…terribly exciting, and tearfully boring, facet of the publishing industry.
Making my way down the hall that Friday morning, all that work—those years of mental preparation, looking forward to a future emblazoned with my own logo and letterhead—seemed very far away and out of reach.
The boss’ door, closed when I arrived, was difficult to maneuver. I first saw a long, cold conference table waiting at the other end of the room. The execution chamber was flanked by two henchmen. My boss sat quietly, head bowed, eyes staring into the table’s faux wood grain. HR shuffled a few papers in-hand and smiled blankly as if to follow some Stepford protocol.
“Get you a seat,” one said. I can’t remember who.
I sat and immediately exhaled, realizing I’d held my breath for the better part of a minute. Grinning in their general direction, I wondered what the breeze outside would feel like against my flushed face.
The conversation didn’t last long, standard and scripted.
“As you know [ABC Corporation] has been making some cuts, and as much as I hate to say it your position is one of those,” said one.
“We want you to know this is not a reflection on you or your abilities,” said the other. “It’s companywide….” The rest of their spiel blended with the swooshing in my head.
“When does this start,” I interjected.
“Unfortunately, it’s today,” HR replied, “Effective immediately.”
In the eggshell-colored blankness on the wall behind them, my brain projected a home movie of the corporate ladder I’d been climbing. I watched it catch fire as I prepared to free fall.
In reality, the scene was very anti-climactic though it was my professional Hindenburg.
I started building my helium dirigible 20 years ago, when my college philosophy professor told me I would never even amount to a mediocre writer. So, I became an award-winning editor, but that’s another story for another day.
“Pack up and go” is all I heard, despite the empathetic smiles, vacuous niceties and empty promises of a Going Away lunch the following week.
I’m still waiting for that pro bono pizza, or at least some published acknowledgement that the community’s feel-good guy was set out on the ice flow to save the tribe.
Yes, I’m a little bitter.
I’m bitter because I had no choice; because it was sudden and in the moment; because I had to leave without a goodbye; because I didn’t get the farewell column I had planned out in my head years ago, on days when I was so frustrated with the job I loved that I wanted to scream.
I’m sad because I had to leave behind the carefully planned history of those who came before me in the hands of a corporation instead of a community.
Yet, I’m grateful for being released, sans classical allusions of wild horses yearning to roam freely.
Being laid off isn’t easy. It’s jarring.
I might not have always been satisfied. Who is? But I was comfortable; overstuffed, brown leather, reading chair in the corner of a library filled with antique books, a sleeping cat, and a glass of red wine on your side table “comfy.”
I feel like somebody stole my wine and burned my library.
Keeping my head above water is an everyday challenge and there have been days when I’ve worked harder tying up post-employment loose ends than I actually worked when I had the job.
I’ve spent several weeks regrouping and decompressing. Now I’m rebranding, rediscovering, refreshing, and beginning to reapply.
Being laid off continues to be a push for rediscovery, and I’m still catching my breath.
It’s a little like Daddy throwing you in the ocean and saying, “Okay, son. Swim!” I’m still in a doggie paddle, but my head’s above water and my feet are kicking. We’ll see what happens when I spot some land.