On the news the other night, they did a live location report from a town that was on the way to the place M was working this time last year. He doesn’t drive out that way much anymore, and so neither of us had seen that particular street in a long time. As I looked at the telly, I felt a real tightening in my belly, noticed my jaw had clenched. I looked quickly over at M and could see from the tension in his face that he felt the same.
This time last year was incredibly stressful for us and, though I knew that, we were so busy just powering through all the difficulties that I don’t think I ever consciously registered just how scary it was — not at the time, and not after. We just kept going and never looked back. It wasn’t until we saw that news report, and that road that used to carry M to his job, to all that stress and uncertainty, and we both had the same physical reaction that I realised quite how deeply we’d been affected.
This week is the anniversary of his layoff — that awful morning when he unexpectedly walked through the door at 8.30am and told me that, just three months after arriving in the country, there was no longer a job, no longer an income, no longer a health insurance policy. This week hasn’t snuck up on me — I have been watching it on the calender, watching it get closer and closer, and just willing it to pass by quietly, uneventfully. I wanted it behind us. I wanted that awful time as far away from us as I can make it.
So I was actually quite pleased — chuffed, in fact — when M told me he was on call this past weekend and they had six jobs lined up for him on Saturday. Yeah, he’d be away all day, and, yeah, he’d be exhausted at the end of it, but the extra hours would be a serious boost to the paycheque and, more than that, would be just the thing to turn this week into a symbolic victory to crush our memories of the same week last year.
He clocked up eleven hours and… came home exhausted. But we wrote the number on the calendar with glee, and looked forward to a bumpercrop week that our wallets — and psyches — have been aching for.
E1 woke me yesterday at 8am — too early for me — and asked for a glass of water. Sensing that I could subdue her enough to go back to bed for an hour, I obliged and headed downstairs. But as I crossed the living room, I stopped in my tracks, confused… then frightened. M’s truck was parked outside. It was 8am… on this week… and M’s truck was parked outside. I quickly gave E1 her drink and dashed back downstairs to phone M.
“Where are you? Why is your truck outside?”
His answer stopped my heart — stopped it– because he inadvertently echoed his words from last year, “They’ve sent me home.”
“There weren’t many jobs on today, and I have more hours than anyone else, so they’ve sent me home.” Ah. They’ve done that to him before. It stinks — it means his Saturday hours no longer count as overtime; it means instead of getting the weekend off, he gets a disjointed Sunday-and-Tuesday off; it means that he completely loses all the headway he’d thought he’d gained, and the paycheque will be just ordinary instead of the windfall we’d been hoping for.
He got out of the truck and came into the house with a smile on his face and a spring in his step. It was fake and — though I appreciated the attempt — it didn’t last long. He soon deflated onto the couch and we spent the next two hours talking through the things that had been weighing unspoken on both our minds all week — fears, memories, disappointments… We both know — and noted — that a being sent home for a day is fine, compared to being sent home for good. Losing a day is a lot better than losing a job –and something to be thankful for, especially in this economy. But the way his hours keep fluctuating… all the uncertainty from one week to the next… from one day to the next… It’s frightening, deeply unsettling.
M made the most of the day, of course: he went to the park with the girls, made a trip to the shop, and tidied up the basement. But his spirit wasn’t in it and I could see that. When we got the girls down to bed at last and sat down with our end-of-the-day cuppa tea, he sighed heavily.
“That really gave me knock today, you know… That really did something to me, when they sent me home today…”
“I know.” It had done something to me too.
M breathed out slowly. “I want to go home.”