A Man, a Job, and Dignity
The story of how one man fell victim to the pandemic
I’ve been homeless for the past year. I miss the times when I tasted delicious food that melted on the tip of my tongue, when I had a place to call home, and when I had a job I enjoyed. But that all changed when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. I vividly remember the day I was fired.
I arrived at work, shocked to hear about all the travel bans and restaurant shutdowns, but optimistically thinking about how my employer cared about my job. As soon as I sat on my swivel chair, unpacking my lunch and setting my fingers on the keyboard to edit graphic designs, my boss rushed over to my desk and solemnly asked,
“Steve, could you come into the office?
Confused, thinking about how I clarified confusion with him over the recent design I made a couple week ago, I followed him. He motioned me to a chair across from him. As he sat down, he looked nervously around the room, licking his lips. He then cleared his throat and looked into my eyes.
“Steve, this is very hard for me to do. But we’re going to have to let go of you. The COVID-19 pandemic is going to decimate the greeting card industry. You may choose to stay here today, but you must take all of your items away from the office.”
Trying to hold back tears, all I could muster was a small nod as I stumbled out and fell into my swivel chair. I rarely cried, but the tears came streaming down my face as I gathered binders, post-it notes, and pens into my bag. When I stood up with my now-full bag, my coworkers gave me sympathetic smiles and hugs. One decided to lead me to the elevator and told me,
“It was a pleasure to work with you, Steve. You’re such a hard-worker. You didn’t deserve this.”
I gave him a small wave just as the elevator door closed on me. I then leaned against the railing, realizing that I was out of work, out of opportunities, and out of hope.
Flash forward two months later, my unemployment benefits weren’t enough to pay the bills. Unsurprisingly, I read an email that coldly stated, “Steve, if I don’t get your rent this week, you must move out of this apartment.”
I blankly stared into my apartment, taking in all the decorations I bought and the pictures I had hung up. I then packed a bag with warm pants, sweaters, shorts, t-shirts, and toiletries. Before leaving, I remembered my childhood gift. The little black notebook. My mother gave this to me as a gift before I went to college. She softly ran her fingers through her hair and told me,
“You’ll write down so many good ideas here.”
When she passed away three years later, I kept this notebook close to me wherever I went so I would never forget what she wanted me to do with it.
I stuffed it into my bag and left my apartment for the last time towards the unwelcoming night. Shivering on that June night, I laid down on the sidewalk, closing my eyes as I tried to imagine that I was instead laying on my soft, warm bed.
A year later, nothing has changed. Well, people don’t have to wear face masks anymore and the majority of the world has been vaccinated, but I’m still without a job. I’ve sent hundreds of applications at Starbucks and public libraries, despite the glares from people who can smell me, with no response.
So today is my last day on this Earth. I’m out of work, out of opportunities, and out of hope. The raindrops coalesced around my little black notebook as I wrote about my day with a worn-out stubby pencil I found on the side of the road:
“Some guy threw his drink on me today, which sucked. I felt so frustrated and wished more than ever that I could be treated as a human being, not a trash can.”
Once I closed my notebook, I took a deep breath and walked towards the bridge that faced the ocean. I climbed up, held onto the pole, and under my breath, I whispered,
As I let one foot go, I heard,
I looked down and found a man who looked to be around my age wearing a suit and a Cartier watch.
“I have seen you around here, sir.”
I nodded, not sure whether I should stay put or jump down and walk towards him.
“Sir, please come down.”
I jumped down and faced him, thinking hard about why this stranger wanted to take the time to talk to me.
“What’s your name?”
“Steve”, I responded quietly.
The stranger invited me to sit down next to him. “My name is Khris. I work as a business management consultant. How about you?”
I sighed heavily. “I was a graphic designer. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I lost my job. It was everything I wanted. And that, due to no fault of my own, was taken away from me.”
The stranger looked at me sympathetically, the first time I had ever received such a look in a year. “I was homeless too. After the 2008 financial crisis, I was in your shoes. Sleeping on the streets, dealing with rude people, applying to so many companies. But I became lucky when a donor approached me. She gave me a job and enough money to start to get back on my feet. So that’s what I would like to do for you today, Steve.”
To my shock, I saw that Khris pulled out a checkbook and wrote $20,000. He gave it to me.
“I would also invite you to work for the company. We actually need a graphic designer so I’ll talk to the CEO and put in a good word for you.”
I noticed a couple tears were making the check wet, so I quickly wiped my tears away and placed the check in my pocket. I rushed to give Khris a hug and kept saying, “Thank you, thank you. I can’t wait to work with you and put this money to good use.”