November 22, 2008 at 3:33 PM
The mass layoff announcement, we knew, would come on Tuesday morning. Mid-morning, sick with anxiety, I dialed my husband Peter’s work phone number. He answered in his customary professional manner and for a moment a surge of irrational hope welled up in me. “Well?” I asked, my voice cracking.
“Oh.” My hopes, like my spirits, plummeted. “Oh.”
A brief expletive on my part ensued, coupled with a reference to his boss’s privates that is best left unrepeated.
“Yeah. Well. I’ll see you at home.”
I hung up the phone and stared numbly out the window. It was a warm, sunny, Santa Cruz Mountains day, birds chirping, squirrels scampering over fallen golden-brown leaves. I couldn’t move. A minute later, the phone rang again. No, it wasn’t Peter calling to say there was some confusion and he was still in after all. Instead it was the administration at my son’s elementary school. Jonathan had slipped and fallen during a sports game at recess, landing on his back hard. Could I come in to check him out? They’d brought him up from the playground in a wheelchair as a precaution. He was still in it when I arrived twenty minutes later. Brown hair tousled, head bent, shoulders bowed, a look of abject misery on his face, he looked positively Dickensian.
His injury was mild but he was tearful, shaken. Frankly, so was I. I agreed to let him come home. Minutes upon our arrival, Peter pulled up in the driveway. We all congregated in the living room, the three of us, four if you include the cat, who meandered over, curious about this unorthodox weekday disruption. As we sat and chattered, a sort of giddiness came over the room, like an endorphin rush.
Grief is a capricious, ever-changing feeling, not without its comic element. One minute you are holding back tears, trying to keep your voice from wobbling as you speak, a chill gripping your insides, bony fingers of dread brushing against your throat. Then, ten minutes later, the trajectory reverses on you. There we were, the three of us chuckling (the cat, bored, had returned to his napping spot in the sun), Jonathan propped up by pillows on the couch, thrilled to be home on a school day, Peter, good-natured and wryly philosophical about the bomb just dropped on him. Over Jonathan’s head we murmured to each other about how we’d be fine, we could cancel this frivolity, cut that luxury by three-quarters. Our fingers touched. We would be fine, we repeated.
He and I milled around in a confused fashion over the next hour, trying to set ourselves back on track, in spite of the party atmosphere that prevailed. Peter lugged in his work boxes from the car and after setting himself up in the home office, began to make phone calls. I made sure Jonathan was comfortable, a pile of his favorite books set alongside his homework, then I went upstairs to practice my violin. I had a lesson that afternoon, a tactile reminder that, in spite of upheaval, the world and its obligations had no intention of slowing down.
How comforting, this routine, the steady droning scales, two short bow strokes and one long, before moving to the next note. Then the arpeggios and études I could do in my sleep. How sweet and pure the sound my bow was drawing today. How clean the intonation, how satisfying this simple practice. I thought of my family downstairs, Peter in the office, murmuring on the phone, Jonathan in the living room reading quietly. I looked out my window into the front yard, the lawn framed by redwoods and oaks, the distant hills appearing smoky-blue in the afternoon’s hazy light. A sense of well-being flowed through me, staying with me as I completed my scales and moved on to my assigned music. That sweet, sweet music.
This, then, is why I persevere on the violin, in spite of the many constraints of being an adult beginner. This is why I slog through the doldrums that arise from time to time. Because when life is good, you pick up your fiddle and play. When your world stumbles, you still pick up your fiddle and play. No excuses, no brush-offs. And in return, no bullet will ever penetrate this world.
© 2008 Terez Rose
Terez, I'm so sorry that your husband lost his job. You and your family should be OK financially in the short term. Your husband will probably get unemployment comp, and he can get COBRA (health insurance) for 18 months. (I thought of that immediately when I read that your son might have injured his back.) I'm so glad that your family hung together just after the "Fall," and I hope that you can continue to do so. I'm especially glad that you have your violin as a way to escape to a better place.
You wrote about music as a way to escape from the crazy pre-Christmas madness last year. I responded with a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay saying something about music that fit what you described. Today, when I read your blog, I had another literary thought. "Watson, I will now leave this world and go to a better place where all is sweetness and harmony," said Sherlock Holmes as he picked up his violin. We know that playing violin is not always sweetness and harmony, but his statement about the violin is relevant to your feelings now.
Hang in there. You may have a few rough spots, but I'm sure that you and your family can weather the storm and find a lasting solution to your problems. Now I'm sending warm, sympathetic thoughts to you.
Beautifully written. Truly sorry to hear of the hardship. My heart goes out to all of you, and I hope things get better soon.
I agree with Mr. Musafia. Beautifully wirtten.
Such sad news. So sorry to hear about it.
Practicing is good. Practicing is hard when times are tough. And, practicing is free...
Aw Terez, I'm sorry to hear that . . . I hope you guys find a way to work through all these challenges. Its comforting to have music as a constant in your life, isn't it?
I can tell from your writing that you're a very good mother. It must be nice to have a kind spirit like yours around the house when thinks aren't going well. You always have a positive outlook on things.
Thanks for sharing,
Aww, thanks everyone, for these wonderful replies. It felt good to write and post the blog this morning; a release of sorts, and then I left for a yoga class. What a treat to come back home, to the computer (which I must now share time with my husband), to these great replies. Your respective good wishes and heartfelt comments mean a lot to me. Really.
> It must be nice to have a kind spirit like yours around the house when things aren't going well. You always have a positive outlook on things.
Craig, what a kind thing to say. I'm going to print this out and read it to my family the next time they (or I) get crabby and contentious (like, at some point in the next 24 hours). Because, yup, that's there too. We are a loving - and lively - family. But I do love this image of me that you brought up!
Oh, and everyone will be happy to know that my son's back is fine now. : )
>"Watson, I will now leave this world and go to a better place where all is sweetness and harmony."
This, I've decided, is going to be my new battle cry. : )
Terez, I'm so sorry to read this.
My husband was laid off in 2001 when the dot.com bubble burst back then. Actually, it was more like his company imploded. They laid off everyone except for a couple of people to turn out the lights a week later. He was able to collect unemployment, and then got a new job about 3 weeks after that.
It's harder now, more uncertain maybe, but I still think people like your husband are going to be able to weather the storm better than most. Hang in there, the economy will come back, things will get better.
It sounds like you all have a really great attitude, Terez. Sometimes a shake-up like this can help everyone find a new and better path; something better is just around the bend!
>He was able to collect unemployment, and then got a new job about 3 weeks after that.
Hey, this sounds nice. I'm going to tell my husband this is what he should do. : ) Heck, we'll just call this all a little vacation. (Wouldn't that be great if the laid off person could genuinely see it as that? But they're too stressed and worried to enjoy the time off. Too bad.)
Laurie, your words were wise and true. The truth is, he was pretty burnt out with the boss (I'm using gentle, neutral terms here - this is the Internet, after all), so that is the silver lining. I really believe the next job is going to be a better fit in many ways. Just that we have to get through the uneasy "now" in order to get there.
I am truly sorry to hear about your husband's job. It's times like the one described that draw your family closer and the things that seemed big, are now falling by the wayside. I believe, that things happen for a reason and you will get through this.
When my family would go through crisis that seemed like doom, I would tell myself daily "Things are going to be ok" and believe it in my heart of hearts. I know that seems like something off of Oprah, but it has really worked.
Best wishes always,
Sorry to hear about your really "bad day" Terez - hope a great job materialises for your husband very soon. I do agree about the calming effects of taking out the violin at such times...
Sorry to learn of your situation and that you are coping well. A sense of humor always helps. You guys can always move in with me in LA. I may live in a refigerator box under a freeway overpass, but my box is your box. Then again, coming from a place as nice as Boulder Creek, the above probably has no appeal.
I predict that once things get better, this ordeal will simply have brought you closer together as a family.
Thanks, Jodi, Rosalind and Anthony. Your thoughts and comments are well appreciated. This one is especially apt:
>the things that seemed big, are now falling by the wayside
So very true. It's the big silver lining in the cloud.
>I may live in a refigerator box under a freeway overpass, but my box is your box.
Anthony, this cracked me up. Good use of humor. Little do you know that we're going to take you up on it, and there we will be, overfilling your box. Hope you're not allergic to cats! : )
Cats are always welcome - mine needs something to eat.
>mine needs something to eat.
Ah. Your pet Siberian tiger? : ) Visitors never stay long at your place, I'm guessing.
Correct - visitors tend to run out of blood and I never seem to stock the right replacement type in the fridge. Occupational hazard of loving wild cats.
Um, maybe we won't take you up on your offer to, er, box us in, shall we say?
>Heck, we'll just call this all a little vacation. (Wouldn't that be great if the laid off person could genuinely see it as that? But they're too stressed and worried to enjoy the time off. Too bad.)
It wasn't until after it was over that we could sort of look back and see it that way . . . It was when I still had my stressful biotech industry job. And, well-aware of how fortunate I was to still be employed, I actually sort of, guiltily, enjoyed having him there when I got home from work. He did some cleaning, he did some cooking. Our house has never been so clean before or since.
Karen, I love that story! My husband is quite the handyman in his free time, and during the last layoff he did a huge number of things around the house. Very much "the house hasn't looked so good before or since," like your experience. So... something to look forward to.
Know the feeling. That is how I ended up in Oregon. Take advantage of any of the EAP programs that may still be effective. They may be able to help you all re-set your budget, and can be a source of help on other "soft" issues as well. Try to keep you evening & weekend routines as much the same as possible. This will go a long way in keeping some of the stress under control.
That being said, I can offer some real help. If he (& you) wish to search the job market up here, you all have a place to stay. I have plenty of room. And besides, I'd LOVE to see you again!
PS - Keep practicing!
Aww, Mendy, what great comments and advice. Thank you. Bet you're not sorry to have moved; you are in a very good spot (in more ways than one) to weather out this recession-but-it's-not-really-a-recession-yet-folks. Silicon Valley is hurting. We'll keep your offer in mind should circumstances drive us north. But, dang, I'm just still so in love with the Santa Cruz Mountains. Except for the power outages. Remember those? : )
Oh, how can I forget going 5 days without electricity and my neighbors coming by for hot showers (I had a propane hot water heater). House camping!!!
>I had a propane hot water heater.
Oh, no FAIR! Oh, wait. It wouldn't have mattered for us anyway. We live at the top of the hill and the water tank is below us. Yup. Electrically powered. We are very much "house campers" when the power goes. Which it does, lots. As you know. : )
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