Questions

… are what surround you when you’re not quite where you wanted to end up.

I’m 27 years old, three years out of college, and I’m still not in control.

So far this year, I’ve lost a girlfriend of six months and friend of four years to … well, I still don’t know what happened. I’ve also lost a friend of 20 years — hours earlier on the very same day as the breakup, no less — to old age and internal injuries.

I didn’t get the chance to say a proper goodbye to one or the other.

On either side of those losses, too, I’ve lost two jobs in eight months. If there is one thing I have learned in the year since I started meeting with a therapist to help myself out of years of chronic depression, it’s that, in the past, I had been far too complacent. Speak up! I’ve learned. Be more aggressive! I’ve learned. Don’t let people walk all over you! I’ve learned. Take control!

In light of the way things have gone for me this year, I’d be hard-pressed to say that their advice has paid off.

The first job I lost was a part-time gig at NBC 12, the NBC television affiliate in Richmond, Virginia. I had moved back to Richmond from Chestertown, MD, where I had gone to college and then had decided to stick around for another year.

At NBC 12, my job was to take television scripts and translate them into readable news stories that would be posted on the station’s Web site. If you read the stories on their Web site now, you might get the false impression that the job is as easy as it looks.

It’s not, or it shouldn’t be for whomever is doing it now. My former boss explained that he hired me because of my background as a newspaper reporter and editor. The station needed someone with experience as a print journalist because, he admitted, people who work in television are not good writers.

So in addition to picking news stories, creating graphics and video clips to be posted on the Web site, I had to be on the lookout for sentences that had no verbs, no punctuation and, on occasion, no apparent relevance to the rest of the article.

I soon found myself in the position of the young upstart who knew more than everyone else, including my boss. Even he was often responsible for some of the more egregious errors that made it into print when I wasn’t on the clock, like mixing up capital and capitol, grisly and grizzly, and countless other mistakes I learned not to make in middle school.

I didn’t get any thanks, any credit. Visitors to the Web site read the stories I had fixed up, and the news reporters kept their bylines. The anchors and reporters had makeup artists whose job it was to make them look good for the camera. My job was to make them look good for the Internet.

On February 19th, I was laid off from my job at the TV station. My boss explained that money was tight. The Internet division shared its budget with the broadcast division, blah blah blah.

What it boiled down to was the station had to let someone go in order to save some money. Last one in, first one out, my boss said. I had seen it coming. People in the newsroom, I think, had grown to resent how I would fix up their stories, doing the job that I knew an editor should do.

The station kept another editor, the person I had been hired to oversee. In my last meeting with my old boss, I let him know that I doubted his judgment and that, by letting me go and keeping the other editor, he was shooting himself in the foot.

I was worried that my girlfriend would leave. As independent as she was, I still wanted to show her I could be a good provider. As an unemployed college graduate, I didn’t feel that I was doing so great.

Several months passed. My girlfriend did not leave me, and my therapist applauded me for not letting the layoff bring me down into another depressive episode. I had aspirations of finding full-time work as a writer or editor again.

I made sure that prospective employers knew I was interested in full-time work, so they would not dare offer me part-time or freelance work. My next job had to be better than my last one. It had to be.

Unfortunately, I live in Richmond, Virginia. The job market is fantastic if you want to work for Philip Morris or Capital One, and sorry-about-your-luck if you don’t.

I floundered around, barely surviving on freelance work for three months, but then found a new job at Capitol Mac, a smallish computer retailer that sells Apple Macintosh hardware and software. As a sales consultant, I thankfully spent little time behind a cash register and instead spent most of my day on the phone or on the Internet, tracking down solutions for clients across the U.S. and abroad.

After working there for a month, I was certified as an Apple Product Professional, received a raise, and began working on commission. The company quickly hired 10 additional employees, and I helped train a few of them.

My life was like a well-oiled machine. My therapist suggested we scale back our regular meetings to where we’d only get together if I called him and said I needed to see him. It was fairly empowering to think that I had beaten what had been troubling me for years.

Then, beginning in June, a fairly rapid chain of events happened. At the end of May, I had helped my girlfriend relocate from Maryland to a town in Virginia two hours closer to Richmond than she had been. I purchased plane tickets — a surprise for her, but really a present for us both to celebrate having been together for six months. I knew it would be hard for her to scrape together money to visit her parents on opposite sides of the country.

I arranged for flowers to be delivered on the day we would reach the six-month mark. Three days before the flowers would be delivered, June 12, my father called me at work that morning to let me know a longtime friend of the family had died after a six-week stay in the hospital. Ginny, in her 80s, had taken a bad fall six weeks earlier, breaking her nose, knocking out teeth, cracking her spine.

It was on my mind for the rest of the day. I arrived home later that night, having spent a few extra hours getting a head start on work. There was a message on my answering machine. Whatever had been hanging over my head from earlier that day was temporarily lifted with the realization that my girlfriend had called.

The message she had left wasn’t specific, but I still put dinner on hold to call her back. I had a lot on my mind.

But so did she.

Now, four months later, I still wish I knew what it was. Tips I had picked up from my therapy sessions over the last year have been fairly counterproductive, and once again I find myself discouraged, realizing that making an effort does not pay off.

This kind of thinking is what sent me into therapy in the first place.

I lost the job at Capitol Mac last month, on September 17. It should have hit me harder than the news of the layoff from NBC 12, but it didn’t. I certainly didn’t see it coming. On my last day there, I had seniority over 40 percent of the store’s employees. But then again, I was one of the expensive employees: salaried, on commission, and receiving medical and dental insurance coverage.

Seniority worked against me at NBC 12 because I didn’t have it, and it worked against me again at Capitol Mac because I did have it.

Now I’m back at square one, hoping future employers will overlook the fact that my last two employers couldn’t see fit to keep me around very long. At this point in my life, at this age, I’m supposed to be much further along than I am. I look around me, and I’m nowhere near where I want to be.

I don’t have answers. I just have questions.

Article © 2001 by Marshall Norton