I had not gotten out of the neighborhood when my company cell phone began to buzz. It was my first day back at work after three weeks of paternity leave following the birth of our second son. Caller ID showed an unfamiliar extension from the newspaper where I had spent 16 years building a respectable career in sports journalism.
The date was July 14, 2008, the day I was laid off.
Before I answered the call, I slowed the car to a crawl and looked around at our pretty, suburban Florida neighborhood. It was a sunny morning. I remember that.
I also remember seeing a gray-haired lady escorting a tiny little dog along the sidewalk. She carried a white plastic bag and a long-handled pooper scooper. I didn’t recognize her or the dog. We didn’t wave to each other. I doubt she noticed me as she and the dog walked by.
They went about the business of pissing and pooping and scooping it off other people’s lawns. I went about the business of answering a call that would shatter my career and throw my family’s future into turmoil.
You just never know what’s going on in the car next to you, do you?
I’d like to be able to say that on the day I was laid off, memories of the wonderful things I did and places I saw as a sportswriter rushed through my mind in a flashback montage, like a spurned lover in a movie mentally reliving all the warm and fuzzy moments of his relationship. That didn’t happen five years ago. On that day, I was just pissed, scared and, finally, numb. We focused on the potential good, which pretty much boiled down to me being able to stay home with the baby and his toddler brother.
On the other hand, with each passing year (especially on the anniversary of the layoff), I find myself remembering the good times, the experiences I never would have had without that job.
Sportswriting allowed me to:
• Meet a London cabbie who told me all about his years of cabbie training and who gave me one of the guide books he used as a text during his apprenticeship
• Fly on a U.S. Army Blackhawk helicopter from Tokyo to Yokohama and see snow-capped Mt. Fuji floating on the clouds off in the distance
• Stand in awe before the Aztek Sun Stone at the Mexican National Museum of Anthropology
• Stand on the edge of the south rim of the Grand Canyon for the first time and realize, after a full minute, that I wasn’t breathing
• Tour the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas, the Space Needle in Seattle, the Bull Run battleground in Manassas, the Sensoji Asakusa Kannon Buddhist temple in Tokyo, the British Museum in London, City Lights book store in San Francisco, the inside of the Green Monster at Fenway and Monument Park – alone – at old Yankee Stadium.
And so much more.
I sat through a 5.8 earthquake at Petco Park in San Diego. I walked across the Harvard campus on a bitterly cold April morning. I walked alone in the rain through the impossibly green Back Bay Fens in Boston from Copley Square to the Museum of Fine Arts.
I did all these things, and much more, as a sportswriter. I also watched games and wrote about it for a living. So, yeah. Not bad.
None of that went through my mind on the morning of July 14, 2008.
Back to that call. My stomach lurched as I answered in a flat voice.
The noise on the other end sounded like words telling me to go to the human resources department at 11 a.m. He told me, when I asked, that the layoffs at the paper had not in fact ended two weeks ago, as we thought (and hoped).
There was one more piece of business.
They waited, he said, until that day out of respect while our family worked through the health issues that kept our son hospitalized for 10 days after his birth. What do you even say to that? Thank you for not laying me off while my infant son was in neo-natal intensive care? I guess.
Look, it’s been five years. You would think I’d be over it by now, no? I’m not. I doubt I’ll ever be “over” the fact that a sportswriting career I spent 20-plus years building did not end on my terms.
I wasn’t alone in this, of course. Newspapers died in 2007; everything since then has been decomposition. And no, I extracted no satisfaction from the fact that within a year, the editor who called me that morning also was laid off, along with the sports editor who put my head on the block.
OK, maybe I extracted a little satisfaction, but it was fleeting and that was shameful and small-minded of me. Anyway, misery might love company, but this isn’t about commiseration.
I’m not going to pretend I’m in a position to pass on some profound, wise realization about the power of personal reinvention following a life crisis. Still, there is something to be said for willfully shedding the identity you had built for yourself and making someone new, someone equipped to act and think and live the way the circumstance now demands. You don’t have to “get over” the things that happen along the way. You couldn’t do that, anyway. It’s always going to hurt. What you have to do is find a way to live with the hurt.
You have to live. How?
You just do.
How do I?
You just read it.