As a woman of protocols, rules, and regulations, I was shocked to find myself without a how-to-survive-losing-your-job guide tailored just for me; featuring a cover with the most flattering photo of my face on record (filtered in Valencia because who has time to look good in reality) and a fold out map with a “Skells, You Are Here” indicator and corresponding detailed turn-by-turn directions to blissful success dictated by the voice of a young Mel Gibson.
But even while employed, my life was anything but pulled together. Sure, I had a steady, dependable, 9am-5pm turned 8am-10pm turned Wait-People-LEAVE-Their-Jobs? job. But I also had a pile of laundry that had slowly become one giant patchwork area rug, a stack of ConEd bills so high it’s amazing I had running water, and the tendency to break out into hives at the thought of finding time to buy toilet paper en masse. A break from the rat race gave me a sense of calm and an opportunity to “figure it out” — a phrase that has since become some sort of sick mantra. I’ve mumbled it to myself while scouring new locations to live and new employment opportunities — like I’m Madonna reinventing myself for the next album. I’ve screamed it at my mother on the phone during her daily cross examinations of my “plan” — meant to be helpful, but really just stress-eating-inducing. I’ve confidently declared it to friends at dinner over pitying looks after which they offer to foot the bill. I’ve said it so many times that it’s taken on a life of its own. It’s become its own entity. Figuring It Out. It’s a mythological creature I’ve invented. It’s a weird theatrical play that I’m starring in with no memory of my lines. “Figuring it out” has come to mean anything and everything, except of course what I imagine it’s intended to mean.
My first reaction upon losing my job was to turn to Google. I Googled variations on: “WWJD…if he were a 25-year-old unemployed Brooklynite with a dog and an eating addiction to support?” and “If I run away to South Carolina, will Ryan Gosling build me a house and grow an obnoxiously long hipster beard and take me on canoe rides?” and “No but seriously, Google. I need answers.” After wiping my search history clean I threw myself into performing rigorous maintenance and upkeep of my apartment to take my mind off of it all. Yet since I’m anything but a homemaker – I would store my sweaters in the oven if my roommates didn’t have a weird habit of baking – this “maintenance” and “upkeep” consisted only of Swiffering a couple surfaces chosen at random, while wearing a sweatshirt as a dress and holding a glass of wine in one hand at 3pm on a Tuesday. The worst part of the outside world is the necessity for pants. And being consistently sober. So I capitalized on the fact that neither of these applied during my first day of unemployment. Catching myself in the reflection of my wine bottle, I wondered if this officially made me an alcoholic — only to realize that if it DID make me an alcoholic, that would at least count as a full-time job, which, as it happened, I currently lacked.
After surviving my first day with no purpose, I decided to take a look at the state of my finances. The harsh metaphor of my bank account as a rapidly depleting well with no source of replenishment and no rain clouds in sight sparked in me the inverse of a normal, responsible person’s reaction. I went on a spending spree, buying items so unrelated and out of character that I can only blame the 5 stages of grief: Denial, Desperation, Boredom, Day-Drinking, Soul Cycle. I bought a giant soy candle that makes my Brooklyn apartment smell like an expensive lumberjack in a Ralph Lauren commercial. I paid $45 to go into a dark room and mount a stationary bike in the middle of the freakin day just to pedal to Taylor Swift songs on beat alongside women with rocks on their fingers the size of my eyeball. I ate $12 granola outside at a cafe while I paged through my new coffee table book about panthers. Did I mention I don’t own a coffee table? Or a couch? And lastly, I started to fall in love.
They say love arrives at your doorstep when you least expect it. I say love arrives at your doorstep in complicated packaging after a strange man in an ugly brown uniform knocks on your door scaring the shit out of your SWF self in the middle of the day. You break a nail trying to open the damn thing only to find out it was supposed to go to your neighbors’ house.
But it was dropped off at my door nonetheless, and it was the greatest thing to happen to me in a very long time. Here was this beautiful man who served as a beautiful distraction from all the confusion I was weeding through. He gave me confidence and unbiased clarity. He believed in me when I was inwardly wary. I was so accustomed to knowing it all — to putting trust into my career and myself — yet here I was without a career and slowly investing trust into someone else. And it scared me. They’ll tell you that love will come when you’re not looking for it, but they won’t tell you what to do with it when it’s there. They won’t tell you the messy, complicated bits when there are more questions than answers and more fantasy than reality. There’s no way of knowing if the risk will be worth it. And even though this particular package wasn’t mine, and even though maybe it wasn’t Love with a capital “L”, or really love at all, I’m so lucky it was mine for awhile.
So I’m still figuring it out — in my own way. So far what I HAVE figured out is that you’re going to get derailed sometimes and it’s okay to have no idea what’s next — it’s actually damn liberating. And if you’re lucky enough, you’ll meet someone at the right time who believes in you when you don’t.
I’ve also figured out that if you keep registering for Netflix under different email addresses, you can get quite a few months of free trials; that peanut butter and jelly is a perfectly acceptable meal; and that everything is going to be just fine.