A Day in the Life

A Day in the Life

This hasn’t been an easy year. After nearly 20 years of loyal service, your employer announced a corporate redesign “to retool for a stronger future”, and your job was phased out. They gave you first dibs on any internal opening that fit your professional profile, but all the open positions were several levels below your current pay grade. You were more qualified than any of the hiring managers who interviewed you. Plus, you were at least 15 years their senior. After weeks of scouring the H.R. intranet and meeting with hiring managers, you decided to take the package they were offering.

It wasn’t a bad deal. Six months’ salary, plus free health coverage for a year. Granted, you didn’t get your annual bonus, but at least you got a six-month buffer that let you figure out your next steps.

Unfortunately, opportunities don’t always abound for someone in late career who’s been let go. Your recent layoff hangs over your head like a little dark cloud with a neon “kick me” sign pointing down at you, and the recruiters and hiring managers at companies where you interview are no more helpful than the ones at the company you just left. Your condo in the city isn’t cheap. And your partner, who’s a freelance illustrator, has trouble getting reliable gigs. It would seem that the market is flooded with innovative young creatives who are living in their parents’ basements, so they can afford to charge rock-bottom prices for comparable work.

Well, you have options. You can sit tight and keep hoping for the best. Or you can sell your pricey condo during the end-of-year home-buying rush and move somewhere less expensive. That shouldn’t be too difficult. At the very end of the commuter rail lines are towns with quiet neighborhoods and lower taxes, where you can live for a fraction of what you’re paying now. Plus, you can finally have a yard. A garden. A patio with a full-sized grill. And an attached garage.

So, maybe it’s not so bad, after all.

You and your partner sell the condo quickly in late autumn, and at the same time, you find what looks like the perfect little home – a modest two-story wood frame house at the end of a quiet street in an established, woodsy subdivision. You have a yard. With a fence. And behind the house, beneath a blanket of fallen leaves there’s a garden where an in-ground pool used to be. The former owners filled it years ago, and the soil is rich with many growing seasons’ worth of compost and care. You can smell the fecund loam during the first walk-through.

The purchase goes surprisingly well, and the closing wraps up in a matter of weeks. The most dramatic event of the whole moving process is when you nearly drive into a parked tractor trailer cab at a truck stop. You seldom drive a truck, and you rarely visit truck stops. So, you don’t realize the cab without a trailer isn’t moving, until you’re almost on top of it. You slam on the brakes and stop short, just inches from the rear wheels. In the back of your truck, you hear some boxes topple with a crash. Other than that, the move goes smoothly.

It’s exciting to have your own home “in the country”, even though the house needs some work. The weathered clapboards need a coat of paint, rotting trim needs replacing, the motion-sensor outdoor light has an electrical short and starts flashing like a disco if you turn it on. Mature plantings that border the property could use a good pruning, except that they conceal the ramshackle fence between your yard and the woods.

Your new neighbors seem nice enough… you think. A few couples stop by when you’re unloading the truck, but you don’t have a lot of time to stop and chat. You’re looking for the box(es) that toppled during the move, to check for damage. Out of the corner of your eye, you see dark clouds gathering overhead… as first one couple, then another, then another, stops by to introduce themselves. As your anxious partner brushes past you, carrying boxes up and down the ramp, you do your best to make small talk.

Yes, you just moved from the city.

No, you don’t have any kids.

Nope, no pets, either – especially no dogs.

You’re both job-hunting. Know anyone who needs an illustrator? Or a marketing manager?

All your neighbors seem intent on telling you what churches they attend, but you’re distracted. Pressed for time. And when you don’t tell then where you worship, they seem to cool to you. They talk a lot about their kids’ sports teams and their dogs. But with no kids or pets of your own, you have nothing to contribute to that conversation, either. Without much ado, the introductions trail off into mumbled excuses about everybody needing to be somewhere… else.

Later, as light flurries float through the darkness, you sense the neighbors watching from their curtained windows as you unpack the truck. Some of them wave when you look their way, while others pull back into darkened rooms. Well, you can’t worry about it. You’re there to live in your house, not theirs. Everybody will have plenty of time to warm up to each other over the coming weeks and months.

Your new home keeps you busy with settling in, and it’s a good thing. It’s not easy being let go from a job you grew from the ground up. What was the point of working all those years, if they were just going to get rid of you anyway? The holidays help to dispel your gloom with family time and connections.

Several months pass, as you and your partner both look for jobs. January comes and goes with no good leads. But you can’t worry about it. These things take time. Then February rolls by. And March. Your partner picks up some illustrating gigs, but your own job search has stalled. April arrives with no permanent prospects. Is it time to start worrying?

You interview with a new group of recruiters and land a six-month contract-to-hire opportunity at a company just a few miles down the road. It’s so close, you can come home for lunch, and you do that sometimes, relishing the quiet of your house and the familiar company of your partner. It’s a welcome break from the incessant chatter of your office-mates about the latest episode of the reality t.v. shows they love. Their tastes are considerably different from yours, and when you rhapsodize about spending a wonderful rainy weekend curled up with a book in front of the fireplace, they nod politely. Then they go back to placing bets on who’s going to “kill it” on the next installment of American Ninja Warrior, or who Heidi’s going to send home on the next episode of Project Runway.

You love coming home for lunch in the early spring – and not only to escape the discomfort at work. The vernal sun is getting warmer in the back yard, and you can almost hear the sap rising in the trees around your property. The surface of the garden is starting to ripple with shoots pushing up from the earth. As you sit on your back patio with your after-lunch cup of coffee, listening to your partner consult with a client and surveying your yard in the lengthening midday sun, you can smell spring on the way.

Before the month is over, the company where you’re contracting offers you a full-time position. It’s a few pay grades lower than where you were before, but your cost of living is considerably less than it once was, and there are other perks. Like being able to come home for lunch. Like being able to tell people where you work and what you do for a living. Health insurance. Life insurance. A 401(k) with a company match. You accept the position and settle into getting to know everyone and becoming a full-fledged member of the team. You even watch a few episodes of their favorite t.v. shows so you’re able to follow the conversations.

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