Well, you knew this was coming, right? I did pretty well on Thursday and Friday, bolstered by the unexpected compliment. I managed not to focus on the negative, angry as I was. At some point tonight, though, it started to fall apart. It doesn’t really matter what triggered it; it could have been anything. Maybe it was thanking my in-laws, again, for a meal we could not afford to contribute to. Maybe this was just coming no matter what. Regardless, on the car ride home, the dark started seeping back in. I am trying to stay focused on the positive, I really am, but I’m struggling. I am working so damned hard to hold it together. For my kids, for Chris, and yes, for myself. I’ve come apart in the distant past, you see, and I have no desire to go back to that place. It’s not pretty, looking at pieces of yourself that have shattered and splattered all over, and trying to figure out how the hell you’re supposed to put them back together. So it’s pretty crucial that they stay that way to begin with. In my experience, it’s easier to keep it together than it is to return to being whole if you lose your way. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like it, though. Sometimes I’m sitting here with my arms figuratively (or occasionally literally) wrapped around myself, and depending on the moment I feel like I’m trying to prevent myself from oozing out through my fingers or trying to contain a massive explosion. I have so much stress and fear and anxiety about the future, and the pressure of all of it just threatens to undo me.
Tomorrow is another day, and another bill is due that I can’t pay. There simply isn’t anything I can do about it. I hate it. I hate the phone calls, which start at 8:00 AM exactly and continue, several times an hour, until 8:30 at night. We’ve tried facing them head on, but they really don’t appreciate hearing that you aren’t willfully neglecting your debts, but that you just don’t have any money to give them. So in the end, we watch caller ID, hit mute on the ringer, and let it go to voicemail. Over and over and over, day in and day out. The sound of the phone ringing makes me clench my teeth and gives me an instant headache. The feelings of shame are enormous… I hate being this powerless. All I want to do is fix things, and I can’t. I don’t know how. Even with steady income, the way out would be incredibly slow. Without it… I don’t know what happens without it. I can’t stand thinking about it.
Judgment. The first year of unemployment, you have everyone’s sympathy. Also, everyone assumes that the situation will rectify itself, that the next job is right around the corner. The next year, you lose a few sympathizers. Certain people start looking at you sideways, assuming you aren’t trying hard enough. You recognize the look when you see it, and do your best to ignore it. It still gets to you. You start to relate to the NPR stories about long-term unemployment, and to feel a mixture of relief – it really ISN’T just your family – and hopelessness as you realize how many other people are stuck in this perpetual cycle. Employers don’t want the long-term unemployed… something must be wrong with them, right? You don’t want to lie on your resume, but you have to find a way around it, somehow.
There have been good things in the midst of all this… supportive friends who never give you that look, strangers who surprise you with their generosity. You appreciate it all, but underneath you’re just exhausted. You want to make things better. You want to pay your bills. You don’t want to have to tell your child that you can’t afford to get frozen yogurt after school. You definitely don’t want to remind your child that there’s a chance he won’t be able to go to his school next year – his last year – because there’s a very real possibility you could lose your home. You don’t want any of this.
So you sit and you try to hold it all together, again. And you try to be positive about the coming week, because supposedly he’s going back to work on Monday. Internally you worry about whether that will actually occur or if they’ll call and tell him they don’t need him at all. Or if he does get to go in Monday, will they want him on Tuesday? How many days will he work and which of your bills will you be able to pay? You smile at your kids and you keep the laundry going and you try not to cringe when you realize you’re running low on Tide, which is $17 a bottle. You try not to lose it when your daughter is crying over something you can’t even seem to figure out, even though you’re doing your best to focus on her. You desperately wish you were a normal, middle class family again. You don’t dream of winning the lottery, you just want one decent, truly full-time reasonably well-paying job. You want to be able to offer your debtors something. You want the fucking phone to stop ringing. You want to not feel like you’re on an island, stranded. The sense of isolation is smothering and threatens to make you feel crazier still, but you fight it off. So you write, because there isn’t anything else you can do. You feel grateful that someone you care about enormously reminded you that you are a good writer, and you try to channel all of this stress and insanity into some form of release, something that might make you feel better. You hope that everyone who reads it doesn’t go running in horror. You wonder how you can even begin to edit it, and realize you probably can’t, not really. But maybe since you spit some of it out of your head and onto a screen, you’ll be able to sleep tonight without crying, which would be helpful, since you co-sleep and your daughter is an incredibly light sleeper.
Then you get up tomorrow and you do it all over again, because there simply are no alternatives.