I will never forget the cool, calm tone of her voice.
“Your position has been eliminated.”
I sat there on the phone in shock. Absolute shock. What started as a productive day in my new work-from-home life had become the last day I was employed. I foolishly never saw it coming. Now, I was listening to a colleague become my former colleague as she spoke, as words I never imagined flowed in her sentences.
Much of the conversation is a blur. Asking for my personal email address. Saying an email with the details was coming. Giving a reminder that I’m still bound by a non-compete I signed two and half years ago. I can’t for the life of me remember what is in it. My hasty question on if they will provide references, because it was literally the only thing I could think of while they were still on the line. Assurances that they will cooperate with the unemployment office.
And then. “Do you have any questions?”
A reason provided that I couldn’t really trust because my trust in them was so irrevocably shattered. Assurances that they thought I would be okay, that the government programs now in place would help me. An ask if there are any more questions, followed by my shocked silence.
I don’t remember the goodbye.
Messages afterward that they were sorry and understood if I didn’t want to talk, but they were there for me. An immediate message that felt empty given the previous 15 minutes, but I know was likely heartfelt. It wasn’t that person’s fault, but they also couldn’t find a way to fight for me. I couldn’t bring myself to respond.
Then came telling my husband, then my mom. My closest friends. Lots of “I’m so sorry” and “Let me know if I can help.” Conversations I had to end quickly because I couldn’t stand the pain. Then came the first wave of tears. The first of many.
The moment I had to tell Abbie, because she’s seven and I can’t keep something like this from her like I can with Ella. Me letting her know that things would look different for a while, that she wouldn’t be going back to daycare, but I wasn’t sure about Ella yet. Her tears that I wouldn’t see my work friends again, that she wouldn’t be able to visit. Her little I’m sorry that broke my heart and made me feel I failed my children. I wasn’t valuable enough to be saved from this, and as a result, I failed my children.
The unstoppable urge to get out of my house, the place where this happened, and the knowledge that that awful experience will always live in my head in my bedroom. It’s a place that should be a haven for me. It’s now the place I was when I was laid off, sitting cross-legged on my bed while my daughter had a Zoom meeting with her teacher. A meeting I was so looking forward to her having, and I couldn’t even witness or bring myself to ask about.
I cried some more. I cried a lot in the first 24 hours, a constant headache in the back of my head, immensely puffy eyelids, and the strongest desire to go back in time, back to a month ago, before any of this happened and things were normal. Or to skip ahead, to when this is all over and just a terribly painful memory. I know it will be someday, but I also know it is an experience I will never forget.
I’m not going to get into the details – I’m pretty sure I’m not allowed to anyway. But I wanted to share the feelings, the shock, and what this is really like when it happens to you. I wanted to put a face to the headlines in the news. This is what these layoffs due to COVID-19 look like. They look like employees who loved what they did and the teams they worked on. They look like people who are stunned and scared. They look like your friend, your neighbor, your aunt, your brother-in-law. They look like people scrambling to do absolutely anything they can to provide for their families in unprecedented times.
They look like me.