Once, God came to me in the form of a cat.
Two thousand one had been a stressful year. I lost a job that I had held for years. I was forced out due to my boss’ preference for someone else – a person who took my job and within a year, used it as a stepping-stone to a better position elsewhere.
I believe that being bitter is wrong and unproductive, not conducive to personal growth, and not Christian. But it’s difficult because of all the repercussions that decision taken years ago has had for my family.
In 2001 my ex-husband was still alive, barely. After a failed kidney transplant in 1997, Bob spent many weeks in the hospital. Our marriage, already troubled before this, was a casualty of all the medical problems. We signed divorce papers in late 1999, but we never really lived apart. Bob and I had begun as friends and we ended as friends. When he wasn’t in the hospital or nursing home, he slept on a single bed in what had been the family room. Medical paraphernalia was always around; the kids grew up with it.
I had a good job that was supporting all of us, but that changed on February 1, 2002. My boss’ secretary called me at 8 a.m. and said: “Dr W wants to see you at 4 pm and I can’t tell you what it’s about.”
Oh, that day. I’ve tried to forget but I never will. It was a Friday, which was a casual day, so I was wearing jeans and a sweatshirt. The sweatshirt had a stupid saying on it:
Top 10 reasons to procrastinate:
When 4:00 came, Dr. W left me waiting on the ugly, uncomfortable Victorian-style sofa in his waiting room. His secretary smirked at me as she left at 4:30. Then I entered the inner chamber, where Dr W and his deputy, a woman I’d known and trusted for years, ended my career as I knew it. I was handed a letter stating that “as of yesterday” my appointment was ended, and if I cared to continue working for the school, I could report to the library where I would do whatever the head librarian wanted, and work appropriate hours.
That stung. I thought of all the times I had left my children in the care of sitters, or my mother-in-law if they were sick – my mother at that time was still working. I thought of the days I came to work on no sleep, the nights like the one a few days previous when, having been at the hospital all night, I lost my temper and lashed out at my boss’ current favorite. I’m sure that was when the decision was taken. We were going through a big software implementation at the time, and somebody had to take the fall in case it failed.
For the record: I never thought it would fail, and it didn’t.
I cried all of Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday. I’d asked that my staff not be informed until Monday morning. “Let them have a good weekend,” I said, before indulging in several adult beverages.
I threw that sweatshirt in the trash.
Even Bob said it was unfair.
I was still reeling from this mess, on hiatus before I took up my diminished position in the library, when my mother, the rock of our family, died of a pulmonary embolism on February 5, 2002, two weeks shy of her seventy-first birthday. Now my guilt was compounded, because my grief over the job loss was still so overwhelming that I didn’t know how I would grieve appropriately for my mother. I was very grateful that she never knew about my humiliation. I sang at her funeral, and the very people who had sought to ruin my life sat there in the pews of my church.
Pride is a sin, I know, but I was proud on that day to sing ‘The Wind Beneath My Wings.” My brother-in-law played guitar. Afterwards, the hypocrites in charge complimented me on my performance. They didn’t even understand that it was not a performance, it was an homage.
So. Life goes on. After a few weeks I reported to the library, which is in the basement of this university. I had to bring my own laptop computer. The librarian, a lovely man, didn’t know what to do with me. The other staff members were kind. Three of us sat in a space meant for one person. The librarian asked some things of me that weren’t technically possible, but I was afraid to tell him that. I reached out to colleagues. I did what I could. And I applied for jobs, because I could see that this one had no future.
Eventually I was hired by a community college in the western part of the state. The salary was much less than I’d been earning, and it meant that we had to move. It meant that my daughter would be on her own at age twenty-one. My middle child was distraught about leaving his girlfriend, who is now his wife. My youngest wasn’t even twelve years old.
The boys and I moved on September 30, 2002, and I began work at my new school the next day. On October 5, Bob lost his long battle.
I had visited the day before we left. I’d held his puffy hand and said, “We’re moving tomorrow, you know.” He was on a ventilator, breathing hard and fast – even to watch it was exhausting. I’ve no idea what he knew or didn’t know, but I talked to him as if he could understand.
So, we moved. We had a rental house on the shore of Lake Michigan, one of the nicest places I’ve ever lived. But a few weeks into my new assignment I started to feel unwell.
My stomach hurt constantly. Ironically, the route to my new job took me right past the local hospital. I would think “I need to get a scope” but then I would drive past and go to work the same as always. The school was understaffed, impossibly so; I knew it when I took the job. But I thought that through sheer strength of will, and working long hours as usual, I could make it work.
Then one day I was struggling with my stomach pain. I went out at lunchtime and ate some French fries. After that I was in a cold sweat, sitting on the toilet. I was afraid to look down. I felt faint. At about 4:00 I told the staff that I was leaving for the day. I never left early, but nobody remarked about it.
I fixed something or other for the boys – chili, soup? I don’t remember. I put the food on the table and told the boys I was going to bed. I couldn’t even look at food.
In the middle of that night I woke up on the bathroom floor. Our tabby cat, Chandler, was yowling and nudging me. A thought came through: I am in real trouble here.
I dragged myself to the hallway and yelled for the boys to call 9-1-1. I was told to lie on my left side. It would be left to my future daughter-in-law to clean up the mess I left behind.
In the ambulance I said, “They just lost their father.” My teeth were chattering. The paramedics put foil blankets around me and said, “Well, they’re not going to lose you tonight.”
And they didn’t.
Ann Liska graduated from the MFA program in Creative Writing, University of Tampa. She has had work published by Dark Alley Press, Pure Slush Books, Tempo Magazine, Abu Dhabi, and the Abu Dhabi Writers' Workshop.