“Dear applicant …
“You’re just too enthusiastic.
“Well, you’re really overweight.
“You’re a great fit but we’ve decided to go with someone else.
“We’re taking the company in a different direction.
“We don’t really know what role we’re trying to fill here.”
Last October my husband was let go, over the phone, two weeks before our third wedding anniversary. Over the next four months he applied to more than 200 job openings — from marketing and social media (for which he has a degree) to cashier at Whole Foods. For four months, he was pounded with the contradictory, inarticulate, noncommittal “You’re great but …” blow-offs that we’ve all come to expect from a full-time job search.
In between filling out applications he also ran our household. With my money anxiety ratcheted up to insomniac level, I pulled in as much freelance as possible; all while fighting the sinking feeling that more money in meant more money out with1099 taxes. The idea of trying to cook and clean, too, seemed laughably impossible.
He did the laundry (even the scary delicates). He built a folding board out of an old moving box to make sure everything fit nicely in the dresser. He filled the dishwasher and had clean plates ready for dinner. He scrubbed the toilets and our walk-in shower. He caulked things. He cooked things. He went to the grocery store week after week. He kept track of our bills and the dog’s flea and tick meds. He got house plants — they’re thriving. He swept the floors, vacuumed the furniture, the changed the sheets, and made sure our pup got plenty of love and playtime.
This man has worked his ass off for us.
It’s not the first time.
Before we were married, our income took a nose-dive when his department was shut down. I quit freelancing for a low-paying, steady agency gig. He went to Starbucks. He got up at 4:30AM, six days a week, to open the store and work drive-thru — un-caffeinated people are an impolite and ungrateful bunch. He was passed over for a shift lead role and the $8.25 an hour wasn’t keeping pace with our bills. He went to work for a commercial electrician outfit. For a year, he worked in raw conditions — standing or squatting for hours on concrete, steel grates, beams, or scissor-lifts. Being the electrician means there is no heat in December, no A/C in August, no hot water, no option for a warm lunch or afternoon cup of coffee, and no lighting until your work is finished. Then you move to another phase where there is, again, no electricity. He made $11 an hour after his six-month evaluation. Few workers, even the 20-year journeymen, made more than $17 an hour.
That August, he landed a marketing role. The hiring manager noted in his interview recap, “He has good ideas but he’s about 50 pounds overweight.” This became an on-going remark each time they interacted. It was a toxic workplace but it was a job with a desk and a chair, indoor plumbing, and A/C. It made use of his degree. His first day was on a plane to a trade show.
Cut to that phone call last October. I was nervous but relieved. No more poor communication. No more wasted ideas. No more blows to his self-esteem. No more scapegoat bullshit.
In the time since we’ve moved, he’s lost 153 pounds. He’s found peace in running and powered through two half-marathons with a P.R. of 14.4 miles in less than 3 hours. We’ve fallen in love with hiking and are trying to learn bouldering. He’s also found his voice and his passion in business.
200 applications, 200 rejections and straight-up ghostings later, he asked if we could talk.
“I know it’s really stupid, and now isn’t a great time, but I think I want to start a business.”
When you have no money coming in — that’s a fantastic time to start a business. I was two months into a new job; we had stability and back-up income. Most importantly of all, the light was back in his eyes. The eagerness to learn, the excitement to build something new, the happiness of possibilities made him smile. I hadn’t seen that big grin in years. It’s the one I fell in love with.
Hell, yes. Do it, darlin’.
At the end of February he built a website, made a spreadsheet of local business owners, and launched Social Burro, his own social media consulting company. He walked up and down Main Street for the next few days and signed two clients in 48 hours.
I was fired that same week.
In the last two months he’s signed another four clients. His new business is covering nearly all of our expenses. I am, once again, too wrecked for housework. In between conference calls, content schedules, photo shoots, and on-boarding, he takes care of the house — and he takes care of me.
I have worn the same clothes to work for the last 33 shifts. He has washed, dried and folded my uniform every single day. When I’m too sore to move, he pours half a bag of Epsom salt in the tub, makes me a cup of tea (with a heavy splash of whiskey), and connects Pandora from my phone to the overhead speaker. Now that our pup is shedding her winter coat and the “dust bunnies” look like two-bit Donnie Darko cosplayers, he sweeps the floors and brushes her day after day. He rubs my shoulders without being asked. He keeps the heating pad on the couch for my back. He tucks a blanket around me when I fall asleep in the middle of a Netflix binge, and takes the dog out on my days off so that I can sleep as long as possible. He has coffee ready every morning. He keeps my Kindle charged and picks me up a sweet treat any time he runs errands.
I’m tired and sore and disappointed by the lack of give-a-damn that customers show me every day. If I’m honest, it’s breaking me. I’m breaking and he fills the cracks in my soul — not with the liquid gold of kintsugi but with hundreds of tiny kindnesses — and puts me back together.
He lays my uniform on the bed every day while I’m getting ready. Every morning, he puts a bottle of ice water in my bag and packs my lunch. He pulls the chair out so I can put my shoes on then gives me the squeeziest hug and smoochiest kiss to start my day. Some days at work, his smile before I leave is the only one I see. I couldn’t get out the door without him. Every evening he has the house clean, the dog calm, and a dinner plan ready by the time I get home.
I don’t know how long this will be our new normal. I don’t know if I’ll ever relax into it and stop henpecking myself for not doing more around the house right now. I do know that our marriage is stronger than ever and that we make one hell of a team. I know that his business will continue to succeed and that his knowledge is finally, finally, getting the respect it deserves.
I hope he’ll never have to deal with another toxic boss but I know he’ll make the best of whatever is to come. I know I’m so proud of him that I could burst just thinking about it. And most of all, I know this — I’m glad you fired my husband.