This day, 28 years ago, was one of the worst days of my then 25 year-old self. I wrote about it in my memoir-in-progress, Under the Birch Tree.
The bus ride home from work at lunchtime north on Lake Shore drive was like something out of a Stephen King novel. I was having an out-of-body experience on that ominous gray October day where my body was stiffly planted on a city bus seat while my mind was firing thoughts at the speed of light. I suddenly became tired, unable to breath. I shivered. I strained to look out the window to meet the familiar corner where my apartment building stood. But I couldn’t see anything. Dirt, smudges and oily residue on the window distorted my scenery but I could sense the motion of Lake Michigan’s waves crashing upon the boulders, giving me my sense of place. I was the reflection of the outside; my skin was freckled with goose bumps in the cold and the loneliness of that day.
I stood in the center of my studio apartment, looking for the familiar to comfort me in my day of unfamiliarity. Sitting on the well-worn piece of couch, the heaviness from the day weighed me down onto a flop, fully compressing the springs and hitting the bottom. I had touched the ground. I stared out the window that afternoon – what must have been for hours – stunned. I couldn’t get that conversation with that rude woman out of my head with her kinky fly-away hair as she waived her tightened fist with one finger pointing at me, face reddening, her deep smoker-voice growing louder as if I couldn’t hear her the first time she told me to leave. I wanted to yell and tell them that I am not that person. I worked long, hard hours and I cared about my work and the people I worked with. They made me out to be a failure, not good enough to be working at Leo Burnett Advertising agency, not a shining success. I couldn’t rationalize the two opposing views – one from my college professors who told me I had what it took to make it and I would be a success and the second from this unprofessional manager.
I was buzzed with anxiousness that I should have done something about what happened but there wasn’t anything to do. I had been programmed at my job and even at home with my mother to fix things, to jump in, to manage a situation. This was one I couldn’t fix.
I stared out the windows directly across from me and spotted the commuters who usually disembarked the “L” with me. I saw their lives walking in front of me, down below, and I was above, three flights, watching it pass. I still yearned to be a part of something. It was a surreal existence where the outside hadn’t changed but I had. But where do I fit in? I bowed my head, pulled my feet to my chest and rolled up in the center of the couch. I held myself together. I was going through withdrawal where my addiction, my job, had to run out of my veins in order for renewed life blood to course freely where I could become me again. I would gain me back after growing thick skin.
I got up and collapsed on my bed, stared at the ceiling as if the answer, my guidance, was written all over it. I squinted to try to find writing on the ceiling but the only thing I found were cracks, some bigger than others, two cobwebs and mismatched colors of paint. I saw my reflection in the ceiling.
I rolled over to look at the clock. Five-thirty. I got up to flip on the television. Local news. They were calling it Black Monday, a stock market crash today. I laughed at the irony. Could it have gotten any worse?
My anger had nowhere to go. I had no one to talk with, only reiterating the constant conversation in my head. And then I started to laugh. I laughed at how ridiculous the termination had happened. My laughter turned to relief. I was fired from this job for a reason. I had been stuck in Traffic for three years, wishing, praying to discover a way out, a way out and up to a better place. And now I was freed.
I got fired from the best advertising agency in the world, from a place where I started working after college, for an agency my school peers could only dream of. I knew I was good enough to work there; people liked me. I began to feel better because I did my best. My conscience was clear.
Getting fired enabled me to move forward in search of my place to be.