“Bring us into your world. What is something about your work (past or present) that outsiders typically don’t understand? It can be something required by the job, something that happens on the job, something you feel about the job—but whatever it is, do not exceed 800 words.”
In the cold dark before dawn I pull on a sweatshirt and reach into the small dish by the door for my car keys. There’s a heart-shaped stone in the dish that my wife found at the beach, a delicate strand of beads, and several coins inscribed with Roman numerals. I pick up one with a “V” and rub it. On one side of the coin is inscribed, “To thine own self be true.” On the other, the Serenity Prayer.
Being unemployed is the most difficult job I’ve ever had. I’m never off the clock. My projects are hundreds of resumes and cover letters. My reward in the past year has been polite rejection or worse no response at all. I have a college degree. I have directed the fund-raising operations of two non-profit organizations and edited a newspaper. Like so many other people I never saw this coming and in dark moments I wonder if it will ever end. At 3 a.m.I stare at the ceiling but I don’t see it. Untethered by fear, my mind travels in time. Could I have prepared more for the failed job interview? Was I really “overqualified” for the grocery store job? At 45 with high school coaching experience, I’m too “mature” to work at a summer basketball camp.
My beautiful wife works overtime to support us. Though she does so without resentment, I can pile up guilt with her hours. I look forward to weekends to see her rest, and dread Mondays when I helplessly watch her begin another 60-hour week.
I notice that the receptionist at the doctor’s office is bilingual, how adept the baristas are where my wife buys coffee. I’m aware of the skill needed to repair my car. I have a new-found respect, and envy, for every vocation in life, as I become acutely aware of my own shortcomings. I never imagined the relief I would find in a temporary job: painting an apartment, or mowing a yard, or selling hot dogs.
It’s late afternoon, and I’m resisting the overwhelming urge to fall asleep. Am I ready to start another year of this? I touch the coin, exhale, and remember that I only have to do it today. That’s how I got a coin with a “V” on it.
I hear a racket out by the street. The garbage collectors are finishing up a good day’s work.
My wife will be home soon.