On Being Unemployed in Texas: Part I

April 2014 was the month when my mother was proved right. Her lifelong philosophy of bad luck is that bad things come in threes. April saw me divorced, $3,000 stolen from my bank account, and then I was suddenly and unexpectedly laid off from my pleasantly comfortable office job.

I say it was unexpected, but only if you’re naïve, never been through a lay-off before, and you’re oddly optimistic for a generally negative person.

It turns out I was the only person who was surprised.

The office had been slow for some time. Things looked bad, and everyone else there knew it. But still, despite all the evidence, I was confident. I had a role that fit in to every other role: as long as the office was open, I’d have a job. I’d be OK.

I saw one wave of lay-offs. Then a second. And I still thought I was safe. Even as the CEO came into my office and closed the door. Even when he said he hated laying people off. Right up to when he told me how awesome I am.

And then I got one week’s notice.

So, for one week I got to be busy, or to look busy, or keep myself busy by looking busy. The possibilities were almost endless. I knew I was one of the luckier ones. I still had an extra week’s pay compared to those who had been immediately let go. And those who were left in the office told me I was lucky because I knew my own fate. For me, the axe had fallen. For the handful of others left behind, it still hung over their heads. The drop feels inevitable; the hope that they’ll survive is the worst thing. It really is the hope that kills you.

I am a nest-builder; I had an absurd amount of personal stuff in my office. I came out at the weekend with my son and we packed it all up: the photos and prints; the books and papers; the toys, conversation pieces, and Flash the beta fish.

As Flash arrived in the office exactly one week before I was given the boot, there was a certain amount of suspicion toward him. He’s bad luck. He’s cursed. He’s a Jonah, albeit a very very small one. Mostly, Flash seemed not to care.

My future wife said that she could take him to her office if I needed him out of sight for a while. “But if I get laid off too, then we flush the bastard,” she said. I love her for her unique perspective. I decide to take him home. And hope the place doesn’t burn down.

Soon enough, after my efforts at removal, my office held only the furniture too large to fit in the back of a reasonably-sized car, the Mac they would inevitably miss so I can’t steal, and the ragged ends of the office supplies no one would want.

The only thing I have to wait for is for it to be the end of the week.

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