The longest most awful day

The first time I was laid off, I was called into my boss’s office, out of the blue, and told my job had been cut. Just mine. That was an awful day.

The second time I was laid off, everyone in the newsroom was called into a ‘town hall’ meeting in the middle of the room and we were told that most of us were losing our jobs. That was a really awful day.

But it looks like I’m going to have to refine my definition of ‘awful.’

My workplace has been undergoing a self-assessment process for three years and some of my co-workers started asking three years ago about layoffs. The answer was always layoffs if necessary, but not necessarily layoffs. But a board decision in August made layoffs in some way inevitable, and we were told then that, Board decision notwithstanding, there would in fact be layoffs. Later, we found out that the board would decide on this first round at their Nov. 24 meeting. And then the executive said that anyone affected would find out on Dec. 6.

Three years. Three months. A month. Two weeks.

We knew this day was coming. Dec. 6 comes every year. Wednesday comes every week. But this was … Imagine the tension building since August, but starting to peak around Nov. 24. Everyone in the office has been looking at each other thinking ‘Is it you?’ ‘Is it me?’ No one had information so the rumour mill — and the speculation mill — went rampant, as it does when people are afraid and have no facts. I’m astonished we didn’t invent a god and a religion in that time, the superstition had reached such a level in some quarters. The tension was beyond thick, especially with the people who were pretty sure they were on the list. It became a poison that leached out into the atmosphere, soaking into our skin. Think I’m indulging in hyperbole? One of my colleagues has strep in her eye — doctor says it’s probably stress-related. Who gets strep in their EYE? Poison, I tell you.

All day long today we read the entrails. The HR director had booked a boardroom for the afternoon, was seen entering it with boxes of tissues. Coats had been removed from the communal closet. Someone was seen looking vaguely sad. I think I can safely say very little work got done today. Even in my department where, with one thing or another, most of us felt reasonably certain we were ‘safe’ – at least for now, we spent a lot of time talking about what was happening, what might happen, weighing the probabilities. I think we all made it through the day with our jobs intact. We’ll find out for sure tomorrow who did not.

I didn’t realize how tense I’d been until I was driving home, and the usual start and stop and idiocy of other drivers was making me irrationally angry. I went to my usual drugstore to drop off a couple of prescriptions and when they told me that it would be 40 minutes before they were ready, I nearly cried. The thought of waiting 15 minutes more than usual completely defeated me. I’m not a drinker but I have a real urge to pour myself a stiff shot of something and then maybe another.  If I wasn’t sure I’d make myself sick — because my stomach is already grinding — I would. This was a fucking awful day.