Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Economy Hits Home

One day you're at your desk, making phone calls and checking emails. Someone gives you an updated phone extension list, because someone moved to a new office, and you put it up on the side of your filing cabinet with the blue crab magnet one of your clients made. You complete a few tasks and throw away the post-it notes reminding you to do them. You sit across the desk from a new client, desperate and nervous, who clutches her small bag of meager belongings on her lap while rapidly tapping her leg. You think about what resources might be helpful for her and set up a follow-up appointment for tomorrow, because it's almost four o'clock and you have to get to class.

And then the next day they tell you they had to make some layoffs and, unfortunately, you're one of them. From there it's a little bit like on TV, and it feels that way, too. Not quite real. You take down the pictures of your children, turn over your keys to your apologetic supervisor, glance over the desk at the sticky notes that you'll never get to. Your supervisor promises he'll be calling you because he's sure he'll have questions. You have mixed feelings about this--you want to help, but if they need you, they shouldn't let you go. You shakily write your hours down in the payroll logbook for the last time. The few people you see in the hallway seem shaken as well. One co-worker says, "I'll be next. I have to be next."

You have a 30 minute drive home, during which you have to keep reminding yourself that those clients, those people you were actually helping, are not your problem anymore. They can't be. You think about the ones you just started helping, the ones who've told you about everyone in their lives abandoning them. You realize you sound a little grandiose, thinking you're the only one who could help them. Or that your clients will remember you in a year. But you were proud of your work; as cynical as you usually are, that mattered.

You also miss the people you'd almost become friends with. The people you spent 30-40 hours a week with, joking around, rolling your eyes, rushing around and getting things done. You realize it's too late to get their phone numbers. You wonder how you could have thought you were friends without getting phone numbers. Of course, you thought you'd have time.

You never think it's going to happen to you, even when it happened to others across the hall last month and the month before that. You never think you're going to be walked down the hallway carrying your belongings, the slim personal trappings of your former office, your former persona. What next? What now?

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