Sunday, September 10, 2006

The second Friday in September

Five years ago, on the second Friday in September, I was laid off from my job at a high-tech startup in Silicon Valley. It had already been a bizarre week. The weekend before, I had gone to probably the poshest wedding I'll ever go to, where the bride and groom flew everyone to a super-luxe location and housed all thirty-five or so guests. When my flight landed back in California, I had a message from my father that my great-aunt, whom I had loved dearly, had died. My mother (whose aunt it was) was in Europe at the time. My brother and I flew to the funeral, forced by Continental Airlines to expend fifty thousand frequent flyer miles each in order to fly on planes that were no more than one-sixth full, and we flew back to California less than a day later. I went back to work for a day, and the next day, I was laid off.

There were some mitigating factors that kept me from being too profoundly devastated by this news: I'd just received a great performance review; the person who I thought was the best employee at the whole company was also laid off; it was the fifth round of layoffs; and I hated the commute (and a few of my co-workers). Still, it sucks to be let go. The forty or so people who'd been laid off met over at what we called "Building D," a pub called the Duke of something or other that was remarkably authentic and incongruously located in a strip mall. We all drank a lot and ate some fried shit.

Later that night, I hosted a bunch of my friends for ladies' night, something that had long been planned and turned out to be perfectly timed. The following night, I met up with a few friends who were also not working (unemployment was in vogue back then), and we spent a hilarious evening trying to think of the ideal reply to the "So, what do you do?" question; it would have to be something both serious-sounding and vague, with just enough of a hint of surely you're familiar with it in your tone of voice that the inquirer would not ask any follow-up questions. What we came up with was "threat assessment."

My boyfriend at the time, now my husband, had been out of town, but was back that Sunday. By Monday, I was happy not to be in that stupid job anymore, and, pumped up by my friends, I was beginning to see lots of better possibilities for my work life. My boyfriend and I decided to go hiking on Tuesday up in Marin - a sort of cathartic, indulgent excursion.

If you're doing the math at home, then you realize that when we woke up on Tuesday morning, there had been a terrorist attack. Like everyone, I stopped worrying about my individual problems, and it didn't even occur to me for a long while that my job prospects might be inconvenienced by world events. We went to a funeral that day down in Palo Alto; one of my boyfriend's college friends had committed suicide a few weeks before. Oddly, the funeral had almost magnetic pull - the turnout was huge, I think because people just wanted to be with other people, and to hear a clergyperson say something wise.

If you had asked me back then to make some predictions about my life five years in the future, some of them would have been easy. I would have predicted I'd marry my boyfriend, since we were living together and it seemed headed that direction. But I couldn't have predicted that I'd move to a faraway state and have a kind of schizophrenic existence, with two careers and different, often distinct sets of friends located in several clusters all around the country.

Would I have thought I'd have children by now? Probably. Almost certainly. But I always somehow thought both that it would be easy for me to get pregnant and that it would be incredibly difficult. Call it doublethink. I always seem to think of things this way - that they'll go great, and that they'll turn out horribly. I start any endeavor with great optimism, but can all too quickly imagine the worst.

I'm not sure what the point of the post is. I don't know that things happen for a reason, or that they always turn out for the best. People are adaptable and somewhat unimaginative, and it is simply difficult to, for instance, imagine who your friends would be if you hadn't met these friends. I guess sometimes I envy people with unflappable optimism, or at least a sense of great certainty.

(Second beta is on Monday; I'll post 'em when I've got 'em.)


spark said...

Small world! I also was unemployed five years ago after my high-tech startup (based in San Mateo) fizzled out. At that point it was a couple of weeks into my "life of luxury" and I was traveling in Europe with some friends. And then of course everything changed. I have a hard time remembering my thoughts about the future -- it seems like a few lifetimes ago!

Good luck at tomorrow's beta!

My Reality said...

You call it doublethink, I call it realism. Same premise, different name.

Good luck with the beta tomorrow.

The Town Criers said...

Checking back tomorrow for the second beta results (the first one is HIGH!). It's a strange day--I had forgotten it was going to be 5 years. I got married right after 9/11, so I should have been able to put it all together. I don't know. It just doesn't seem 5 years away now. Thanks for the post--it made me think.

Motel Manager said...

Thanks for all the comments!

This morning, I was lying in bed and I realized that it was actually the first Friday in September five years ago (ie, Sept 1 was a Saturday). So maybe this post should be called the Friday before the Second Monday in September.