Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sick of Sorry

John and I met at a bar in Gramercy, not far from Union Square, on a prematurely dark December evening at the end of last year; a typical black-box kind of place.

I hadn’t seen John - a big jovial grizzly-bear of a fella - in months; not since I had been laid off at the end of July. The company we had both worked for was sold. John went with the acquiring company. I was severed.

At the moment we bear hugged hello, I had been out of work for a little more than four months.

“How’s it going?” he asked.

I assumed he meant my job prospects so I listed companies I had been targeting and the many interviews that showed positive progress.

As I talked I kept my tone and manner buoyant. That was intentional. Self pitying was not allowed. In order to stay strong throughout my job hunt I had assumed the position that I was stalwart so as not to admit those doubts and fears creeping around the corners.

I had also begun to anticipate other people’s well intentioned sympathy and so I reinforced my self esteem every time I entered a “hello, how are you?” conversation.

“So, how’s Mark?” he asked,.

“We’re separating. Planning to divorce.” I made a little smile. I had taken the stance that the unraveling of my marriage would have to wait until I landed a job. At that time, divorce would have been a dangerous distraction from finding a job that would pay my mortgage. I needed my focus and energy soly fixated on finding a job to pay the mortgage. For every interview I wanted to portray myself as strong and confident so I played that part.

John paused before replying. “Shit. Please at least tell me that your health is okay?”

We laughed and I patted him on the shoulder.

How are you? So what's up? I had dreaded those questions every time I heard it over those six months of unemployment. When I answered it in any detail, in any number of ways, the response was almost always: I am so sorry, accompanied by a slump and a sad sack look of compassion.

The good intentions were obvious and kind. That had not been missed. I just didn’t want any fucking sympathy. I didn’t need it. I didn’t want it.

A week or so after seeing John, a friend-of-a-friend laid another “I’m sorry” on me. And then these words popped into my head was: Don’t cry for me Argentina.

So I said that back to the friend-of-a-friend: “Don’t cry for me Argentina!” I said it with so much attitude that I almost snapped my fingers like a sassy black woman.

He just looked back at me baffled.

In that moment I found clarity and, in the weeks that followed, I ran the song and its lyrics through my mind and sometimes sang them out loud.

Don’t cry for me Argentina
The truth is I never left you
All through my wild days
My mad existence
I kept my promise
Don’t keep your distance.

The lyrics make no literal sense, even in the context of the musical (“Evita”) when Eva Peron sings it to her adoring mob. They have been chanting “Eva! Eva! Eva!” She comes to the balcony of the Casa Rosada and answers them with this ballad.

As I wrote this I began to realize that the “cry” wasn’t boo-hoo, weeping, but rather calling out. The crowd is crying out her name so she sings to quiet them while laying out some personal actualization as political theater.

It made no difference. The abstraction of the lyrics and killer melody allow anyone - me, for example - to project themselves into the song. As I puttered around my apartment, unemployed, yet defiant and rueful, I sang these lyrics again-and-again and I felt coherent and empowered.

Losing my job and looking for another had been aggravating and tedious, but it was also thrilling.

I found something clarifying. As I looked at my profession, my experience, and my value, I began to sell myself like a goddamn gold standard!

And more, I didn’t like the job I lost. The only thing that was going to make me quit was being asked to leave.

As for the end of my five-year marriage, that sucked. And I had a mortgage where I now owed more than the apartment was worth after it devalued. And my severance had dwindled and I was dipping into savings.

As each woe piled on top of me, I kept thinking that I could not take on one more problem and yet I did. I did not panic. I did not cry. Oh no, not I! Handling that level of responsibility in the face such adversity made me feel like a bad-ass. From the depths of my soul, the guts of my being, I felt like a Phoenix rising out of the ashes.

I had a plan:
1. Get a job
2. Pick the least terrible option for condo
3. Separate and divorce

By the first week of February I had accomplished #1, when I started a good job after fielding two other offers. Now my husband and I are working through tasks two and three.

I changed my Facebook “relationship status” to “It’s complicated.” That, without intention or malice, became a public declaration resulting in comments and messages from concerned friends.

What really tickled me was the friend who “liked” it with the wee thumbs up icon. Some people might think that bad taste or just a bizarre by-product of the Facebooking of our lives. I appreciated it. I liked my new relationship status too. It’s forward moving and leaves opportunity for someone new.

I appreciate every one's concern - friends, family, strangers.

“I still need your love after all that I’ve done,” but “don’t cry for me Argentina.”

Please like my status.

I’m good.

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