I'm sitting in the cafe at Barnes & Noble, facing the giant parking lot that holds this fissure firmly to the earth. For a few moments the sky above Home Depot reminded me of Kansas. Heavy, black clouds curled behind the orange stripe while the sun shone brightly overhead. Had I seen this in Kansas, I would have felt a bit nervous. The pit of fear that a childhood full of sirens created would have reopened. I would've wondered where I should run if a tornado hit.
I haven't spent more than a few weeks in Kansas since 1998, and rarely during tornado season. Virginia weather is much more idyllic. Not that there isn't a possibility of tornadoes, but there isn't an assumption of "tornado weather" that pervades the air of any plains town.
A tornado watch of sorts came up this past week. I had applied and gave a presentation for a promotion at work. Not quite sure what pushed me to do it. I guess the "well, you won't know unless you try" was the main motivator. The presentation went well. I felt I sounded pretty competent, and figured even if I didn't get it, it was more due to the fact that the only other person applying was a more experienced teacher than my presentation. Strangely, though, I felt an impending sense of doom in the days following. I couldn't put my finger on what was wrong, until I talked with my husband about it. He said, in that gentle matter-of-fact way of his: "Well, you lost your last job after you asked for a promotion. You're probably expecting it to happen again."
I hadn't thought of that. Things are going pretty well for me in many ways. I'm getting my novel, Shaken in the Water, published in December by Foxhead Books. I won an honorable mention for my essay, "Mustard Seed." I like my job. But I have the whole "waiting for the other shoe to drop" mentality. Things are going to good to last. That, doubled with the fact that yes, I had just asked my manager for a promotion days before I was "let go" (an insidious phrase, as though it were for my own good), would push the feeling of doom.
I've read that losing a job can cause trauma similar to losing a loved one. Even though I found my much-better job barely six weeks after I was "let go," the trauma did not leave--has not left. On the second day of teaching, none of my students showed up for class. A fear grabbed my throat and began to squeeze. You're such a horrible teacher. They've gone to complain to the director. You're finished. You're a failure, the fear whispered.
My students appeared ten minutes after the fear began to squeeze. They had gotten lost, they said, laughing with their broken English. So sorry, teacher. So sorry.
I've hesitantly talked about it with a coworker who also was "let go." Her horror, anger, utter depression was nearly identical. "Does it ever go away?" we both wonder.
There was a spawn of tornadoes in Kansas and Oklahoma last week. One of the cells was basically headed for my hometown; reports of a twister on the ground on the ground were broadcast on the TV and radio stations. My mom said that the weirdest thing about that storm was that it was completely silent. No wind. No rain. The only thing to warn them a tornado was in the area was the sirens that wailed for over 45 minutes. Five people died in Oklahoma from that massive storm. Why? The sirens were busted in their mobile home park.
Life after losing a job--even when you've gotten a better job than the one before--is a little like sitting in a silent storm without sirens. You wonder if it will strike. You wonder if the storm will ever blow away.