Hitting a brick wall, S. Grady Barrett wonders whether or not he made the right decision in leaving a lucrative career as a software consultant to become a writer.
Author’s Note: This is the last of a six-part story written from memory, and as memory is an unreliable source, I cannot say this story is entirely true, nor that it’s completely false. As a result, people’s names, the name of the newspaper and the town in which the newspaper is located do not appear in this story. Nor should they.
Part 1: “Hope in the Form of an Email Arrives” can be found here.
Part 2: “Head West?” can be found here.
Part 3: “Jesus is Watching You Masturbate” can be found here.
Part 4: “The Weather Makes the News” can be found here.
Part 5: “People Don’t Care About Their Community” can be found here.
6: THE CIRCLE IS FULL
The first few days of waiting weren’t difficult to endure. I reminded myself that even if I had done a magnificent job, they still had the other person to interview and it was something they had to do, regardless of whether or not a decision about the job had been made.
In the meantime, I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt about actually getting the job. My ego and my bank account needed it. I knew, too, if it were offered to me, I could turn it down. But, I reminded myself, if I get the job, I have to take it.
After almost a week passed since coming home from New Mexico, I became antsy. During the day, I didn’t do much; I simply waited. I tried to stay busy, but couldn’t write and couldn’t read, couldn’t sit still and couldn’t find anything to do that would take my mind off whatever answer was inexorably coming.
Sometimes, I’d get up and pace the narrow hallway of our small apartment. When I did this, R. left me alone. She was careful not to talk too little or too much. She asked once if I heard about the job and I responded in a surly tone that if I had heard anything, I would have told her. She did not ask again.
On top of it all, I wasn’t sure how I was expecting to be notified about the job, or if I’d even receive a response. Of the multitude of employment opportunities that had been dangled in front of my face, many of them simply faded away without an answer one way or another.
So, waiting: it’s a terrible thing.
More than a week passed and I was getting more and more nervous, more and more anxious, and less and less hopeful. As with these instances in life when waiting for someone to call, or waiting and waiting for that book to arrive in the mail, or staring down into the pot, hoping for the water to boil, when you stop thinking about it, when you put it aside, the person calls, the book arrives, or the water violently bubbles until it evaporates. It’s the wait for a singular moment. But the moment comes and goes like all the others before it, and all that’s left is the next thing that happens.
And so, I forgot about it for a minute, maybe two, and it arrived. I was checking e-mail and noticed a message from the editor. Reading the first sentence was like watching the needle as it pierces the skin.
The editor said that I had done a good job and that his decision was a very difficult one to make. In the end, though, he decided to go with another person. However, I was his second choice. He reminded me that people don’t always accept job offers, and if the other person didn’t accept the offer to work at the newspaper, then I’d be his man, so I should hang in there and he’d be in touch if anything changed.
Quick. Impersonal. Crushing.
My first thought was how I would tell R. that I had clearly failed again. I wondered if she knew she had bet on a horse with a broken leg. Then I wondered if I’d ever get a job. I thought about the fact that I used to be a software consultant, a man with a career—not just a job—and a salary with benefits. I thought about the bonuses at the end of every year, and how I could spend that money on trinkets from the Sharper Image catalog, dinner at a good restaurant, a trip to someplace I’d never been, or, if the mood struck me, a bottle of whiskey and a big ol’ bag of pot.
I thought about that money and how it could provide a future with a woman I loved and who loved me, and how the health benefits meant we could have children and the money would provide for them too.
But I knew why I had given it up. It wasn’t the right path for me. For whatever reason, treading down that trail gave me the feeling that it would be the ruination of who I was as a person. But to give it up to be a writer? Or even a journalist when newspapers were collapsing? Yes, that was a dumb move. I admit that much. Still, I was so sure it wouldn’t turn out this way. I was so sure.
Right at the deepest point of self-pity, like a child swimming down through the water and touching the rough surface at the bottom of a pool, R. came home. “Hi,” she said, staring at me from the doorway to the room I was in. “What’s going on?”
I looked at her and flatly said: “I didn’t get it.”
“Oh, honey. I’m so sorry. Are you OK?”
“No. No, I’m not.”
“Well, what did they say?”
I showed her the e-mail still up on the computer screen. She read it. “That doesn’t make sense!” she said. “He wants to call you if I doesn’t work out with the other person? Fuck him! That’s ridiculous!”
“Yeah,” I said.
She calmed down. She stood next to me for several minutes, rubbing my back. “It’s going to be OK,” she said. “It’s going to be OK.”
“No, it’s not.”
I said this before walking down the street to a pet store where I got a part-time job washing dogs, and before R. and I fell into a strange emotional distance that we tried to fix but somehow could not. I said this before I was let go from the part-time job because business was slow and someone had to go. I said this before R. moved out for good, while I slept at a friend’s house on a narrow fold-out bed in a small room he used to store some extra furniture and other unwanted belongings.
“Yes, it will,” she said, trying to end the conversation on a high note. “Everything will be fine.”
—Photo by cdsessums/Flickr