The house is quiet this Wednesday morning. The rain, which rumbled and hissed over our heads most of the night has ceased and the sky has cleared; there's even a hint of dawn over the houses across Amherst Street. I'm learning to enjoy my wife's upstairs workstation. Birdsong and light instead of the cold arachnidenous gloom. The coffee is hot, blatant in my mouth cut with the silky creaminess of the half-and-half.
I have a busy day today, finishing up work on a state highway project. And most of my week looks pretty busy as well.
But that's becoming unusual.
My business, like all businesses associated with development, construction and building, is in trouble. We're losing money, or holding our own. We're a small firm, and though we don't have the ugly overhead costs of some of the larger outfits, we also don't have the deep pockets. We're running harder to chase less work, and so are our competitors.
So I go to work now hoping to see new jobs on the schedule, hoping to see my week - shortened to four days - full to bursting with reasons for my employer to keep employing me. Fearing the emptiness of a blank week on my Outlook calendar. That fear is one reason I've been less and less motivated to post here. I'm worried, and worry is stopping my mouth with fear.
This should he a happy time. We're enjoying a beautiful spring. My little boy is learning to read and write, to play chess, growing strong and smart and loving. My little girl is a wonder; bubbling over with laughter like a ravenhaired spring of happiness whose reach lengthens every day. My wife is a lovely companion, helpmeet and partner, working, playing and loving me and her children. I look around me and I feel all bliss, like I could close my eyes and float weightless in a sea of love.
And then I cringe, feeling the cold kiss of that blade, the razor-edge of fright. What happens if business doesn't get better? What happens if my employers need to shed even more cost? Will I lose my job? Can we keep our house? What will happen to us?
My wife is a contractor - my value, as much as the salary I make, is in that I carry the insurance for the entire family - and if I lose my job we all lose our insurance. Now I read the political games the insurance companies, politicians, and pundits are playing about "health care" and my hands fist with anger. THIS is the reality of most people in America, assholes. If I lose my job, if something horrible happens to one of us, we will be devastated; we're one automobile accident away from poverty. And even if not, without insurance, how will I manage my deteriorating knees? Who will pay for Mojo's antidepressants? What about little Miss' dental work? What happens if my big Peeper falls and breaks something?
Who will want to re-hire a fiftyish geologist in an overpopulated geotechnical community, when a dozen can do what I do younger and cheaper?
Is this how the fathers of the Depression felt, looking at their children playing heedless of the ruin around them, feeling the clenching in their guts as they could only stand by helplessly hoping that the axe was whispering to another and not to them? Knowing that if - when - it struck it would cut down the children they loved as well?
There are times I can forget. Times I can join in the happy silliness of my children, or the quiet serenity of my bride, without a thought. But there are other times, and those times are increasingly insistent, when I feel the cold, crisp shiver of fear up my back, the sting of the steel, and I dread the moment that the blade of Hard Times will strike me dead.
Update 5/13 p.m.: Nasty day today. Nasty. Cold wind, driving rain. Rainy hand augering in the painful field. That, and working by myself most of the afternoon gave me way too much time to think about what I posted above.
Please don't feel like I'm buying trouble, or giving up, or curled in a fetal ball whimpering. I work for a good little company, my bosses are good engineers, terrific workers and aggressive marketers. Our overhead is low, we're very lean, and we should have a even shot at the work that's out there.
But...even the best companies don't always come in first. Even the best people don't always get the happy ending. And in this economy it doesn't take much...a missed deadline here, a slightly high proposal fee there...and then you're standing in an office with your hands tightly clenched, the intentionally bland face on the man telling you the bad news designed to defuse the frustration and anger he knows you feel.
Then the stunned drive home. The look on her face when you tell your wife what has happened. The smile papered over her tight eyes and drawn face.
Then the desperate round of fruitless applications. Bills shoved, unpaid, into a file. Slow disappearance of disposable things, slipped out in hopes that the children won't notice. Frightened glances at the shrinking bank balance.
Finally the "family talk". Coaxing a weeping child to choose what toys he can take. Holding back the tears as you touch the woodwork you lovingly crafted in her cheerful little bedroom, now echoing and empty. The truck and the boxes, the crying and the anger...the slow pull away from the curb towards an uncertain future.
One curse of an overactive imagination is the ability to see all this in excruciating detail while standing in a rainy field, under a gray lowering sky.
It may never happen. I will try like hell, I will HOPE like hell, that it never happens.
But right now my fears make it very real to me.