So, I was invited to a lovely birthday dinner on Saturday night. A group of approximately twelve people, friends and acquaintances, got together at a friend’s house for hearty hors d’oeuvres and filet and roasted potatoes and shrimp and red and white wine and champagne. The host and hostess were friends of a friend. The evening was one of delectable decadence. Total generosity. Relaxed festivity.
Two dining room tables were pushed together and covered with an ivory table cloth, creating an oversized square table with even seating for three around each edge. The center was decorated with silver candlesticks, bottles of champagne, hand painted wine glasses for the birthday girls, and strands of silver string tied to helium birthday balloons that hovered overhead. As the wine poured and the gravy was passed, the conversation rolled. From across the table the host asked me, “So, I heard you’ve moved.”
“I did!” I answered.
“Are you still working at the same place?” he asked.
I paused. Hesitant as how to respond. Do I tell the truth? That I’m collecting unemployment? That I’m currently without health insurance? I looked around the table. I was surrounded by an attorney, a judge, two business owners, an advertising executive, a wall street guru, and an older couple clearly enjoying the fruits of a comfortable retirement. Do I tell these people the truth? Should I be embarrassed about my current state of unemployment?
A close friend from the other end of the table offered up to the group, “She just graduated from grad school! Isn’t that awesome?”
I plucked the purple and gold party hat from its place setting and strapped it to my head, “Think I should wear this in the unemployment line?”
The table murmured a collective, faint, haha.
The host continued, “Grad school? Yet you’re unemployed? How does that happen?”
It probably happens all the time. An advanced degree does not always guarantee the right job. And I’m in hot pursuit of the right job. The questioner in question, our host, was not being aggressive, just curious. His mood was jovial, he had just prepared a lavish dinner for twelve, poured endless glasses of wine, and was getting ready to offer espresso lattes.
The conversation turned from there, no one made another mention of my lack of employment for the rest of the evening.
The thing is, I could have lied. I could have said I was still in the same job or staring my own business, or in the middle of interviewing for a new job. But, I didn’t. For some reason I had to amp up the imagery by providing a visual of my wearing a birthday hat while waiting in line at the Department of Labor. Why did I do this? It has bothered me since.
Did guests leave the party and on the way home discuss how I was not looking so well? How I’ve gained some weight. And no wonder, she’s out of work. What do you think she does all day? Poor dear. It’s a tough job market. How do you think she is supporting herself? How long has she been unemployed?
I can picture these conversations taking place between my friends and without me. I feel embarrassed. But I have no excuse. I did not ask to be laid off. In fact, I could see the writing on the wall over a year ago. It was getting to be obvious, even back then—edges were fraying and staff was being worn thread bare—our company was running out of money, the business plan was unsustainable. And so in fact, I have been looking for work for over a year. Either that is something to proud of, or depressed about. It depends on the day and how much sleep I was able to log the night before.