Saturday, May 25, 2019

The Mid-Life Crisis (A Story)

     I'm taking a break from my mental health series for a short story.  It's mostly just a story about me, but since I think I've burned myself out a bit, maybe taking another approach will be a good coping mechanism.  Perhaps.  If you've been reading any of the previous posts, most likely you will have 'heard' all of this before and can just skip it.  Then again, if you haven't read any of it (or very little) maybe a different format will be of interest to you.  It's up to you.  Enjoy.

     There once was a woman who had decided upon her fortieth birthday that she was not going to have a mid-life crisis.  After all, even though a lot of people considered the big 4-0 "over the hill", she fully planned to live until she was one hundred years old, so at the very least, she had ten more years to plan for the mid-way point.
     Her life was a fairly peaceful one.  She approached it with a mild curiosity, seeing all of her friends get married in their late teens and early twenties, having a few children early on, and then eventually getting divorced, or just deciding they wanted changes by the time they were in their late twenties to early thirties.  She, after all, didn't do any of these things.  She lived at home with her mom until her late twenties, found someone to marry after much consideration, knowing that he would not be like those her friends married who cheated on them or fell out of love early, she had, after all, waited until later in her life.
     The woman had graduated college, debt-free (which was almost unheard of in her generation and the one that followed) and had gotten a full-time job that she had begrudgingly accepted to be her career.  She hadn't actually decided on one, and she's sure there were plenty of people who thought that working the way up the retail ladder was for them, she'd just sorta fallen into it.  People would leave, they'd need someone who knew the job, and she'd be there and had stepped up to the task.
     But not long after moving in with her boyfriend, changing cities, and eventually buying a house, she finally moved up into management.  This seemed nice.  The pay was okay, she knew what she was doing, and things seemed pretty stable.  After all, she worked in a place where people came to get things to create other things, so while stores were closing all over the place, the store she worked was thriving.  People needed things to "make" things for themselves and it was a good racket.
     She didn't notice, since up until this point everyone had been very positive about her moving up, that a spiteful woman who was just a bit ahead of her had started to despise her.  She should have noticed.  The signs were all there just as in her previous stint in retail in her early twenties, the woman started blaming her for all of her problems.  Some of the same things were starting to happen to her with this new manager, but because everything was going so smoothly, and the fact that her manager kept blaming her boss for any issues, she just kept with her upward trend and never looked back.
     Spring, a few year's ago, she started to have an inkling something was wrong.  She came back from vacation to find that she had been demoted.  But not quite enough to get a severance package.  She probably should have quit then, but the idea of finding a new job seemed so impossible.  She'd been in that place for some 10 years or so, how could she just leave and start again?
     So she stuck with it, took the demotion, and kept working, making less than before she became a manager, but it was money, it was still full time, she was still working with people she liked, and even though she did attempt to job hunt for awhile, things were okay at home and things were paid for and she just shrugged and kept plowing along.
     And it actually paid off.  Surprisingly, the woman who took her job left to another store, and the manager acted upset but when the woman didn't come back immediately, she had to replace her with someone else and the mid-thirties woman got to have her spot back again.  Things went okay during that year because the store was working well and they got a new district manager around that time and this new guy seemed much nicer than the older one.
     It was around that time, however, that she really realized that it had nothing to do with that previous district manager.  It was rather, all this spiteful woman she'd inadvertently angered at some point.  She thought it was the district who had made the call to demote her, but it wasn't.  She'd been kidding herself thinking that, because only about a year later, her manager was trying to do it again.  And it was that same lady again.  But she wouldn't give up what she had worked so hard to get back, so the lady didn't re-join them until almost a year later when the manager basically got rid of yet someone else.
     Things began to fall apart soon after that.  The manager just kept getting rid of anyone she didn't like.  The problem with that is a lot of those people were actually really good workers.  They just didn't listen to her because she was a terrible manager and they knew it.  So they listened to our heroine and things rolled along okay, but soon they were all gone, only leaving a handful of good workers, a bunch of good part-time people, and then this manager and her useless friend and of course, our lady.
     Until the manager found a way to get rid of her.
     Honestly, our heroine didn't even know if the manager was intelligent enough to hatch this plan on her own, but she later realized she probably didn't have to, there were two or three other people working against her to.  But she thought she was safe.  She thought by following orders and trying to keep her head down, that things would get better again as spring passed, but she was wrong.  The manager set her up.  Told her to keep an eye on shoplifters all the while knowing that by doing so she could turn her in to get into trouble.
     See, the manager had found out, most likely the week before she left on vacation, that they were going to make a rule that no one could follow shoplifters because an employee had gotten maced somewhere.  And after her vacation she was very careful who to tell this fact to.  Then she continued doing things as always until making everyone sign a very vague email about 'the new protocol' which had nothing to do with being fired and only stated that no one was to follow shoplifters out of the store or put themselves into harm's way.  Then she waited.
     Our lady, who by this point was only a few months away from her fortieth birthday, had known something was up the day that she was tracking her first shoplifter.  Oddly enough the manager sat in the office the entire time and never said a word.  She was careful not to leave the store and never accused the lady, merely tried to dissuade her by being nearby.
     The next day she received an email, a text message and a phone call from corporate wanting her story.  What in the world??  What was this about?  Why was she being asked about this?  She didn't even do more than say a few words and then stand in the doorway at the store and call out the license plate in case her manager wanted to call it in.  That's what they had been doing for years, so why a phone call about it all of a sudden?
     Scared to death, she didn't follow anyone or if she did, didn't say anything in the store about it.  She was told to follow people still, so she did as she was told, and a week or so past and nothing came of the first incident, so she figured all was well.
     It wasn't.
     Another incident, and this time there was only one other witness, but she was in a good mood as she got the merchandise back peacefully and the manager wasn't there to see it happen, and she decided it wasn't worth reporting it.  But she did mention the fellows to the closing manager and told her what happened.
     It was the wrong person to tell.  Apparently she was one of the people who were also against her, just waiting for any chance she got to rat on her.
     The next day they had a phone conference which said, in no uncertain terms, if someone did something that was dangerous they were to turn them in.  She thought about the previous night's incident and was glad she had not reported it.  She'd even looked into the emails to see if the closing manager had and didn't see any sent emails.  And when the call was done, she looked at her manager, wondering if the previous incident was going to lose her the job, but then the manager said, "I don't know about that one, but I have to report last night's, and I don't know about that one."
     Life crashed.  That mid-life crisis she had been trying so hard to avoid all of this time was suddenly knocking at her door and she tried her best to hold it together, but fell apart in the breakroom shortly after.  Her manager really was out for her.  She really did hate her.  The spite that she had in her expression that day cut through to the very bone and she realized just how long this woman had been planning for her downfall.
     The day would pass by uneventfully for another seven hours as the manager ran in, ran out, took a long lunch, came back and avoided everyone and took phone calls.  And when all was said and done, an hour before her shift was to end; once she had covered all of the breaks and lunches necessary, the terrible, hateful manager fired her.

Knock knock!  Mid-Life Crisis here!

     She couldn't even argue.  She wasn't even sure what to say, what to do, just handed over her keys and left.  Then messaged all of her friends that worked there a warning in case the hateful woman came for her too.  Then she drove home in silence, trying not to cry, but then broke down the moment she saw her husband.  It was over.  Over sixteen years of being in retail, of being good at her job, of tolerating her job and trying to live through the stress that this woman had caused in her life... over.

     Changes during this period of life are difficult.  One doesn't feel young enough to start over completely, but not old enough to retire and start over that way either.  She felt like she should continue on in the same line of work, at least for a little while, get back on her feet, at least have a job.  She wrote out a resume, applied for some jobs, waited.  After no responses, she switched tactics, moved to new lines of work and tried applying there.  She was very close to getting a job, but again, if she had been younger then maybe this job would have been better for her.  It didn't offer enough, so she turned it down and went on her way, but nothing else came.
     Her husband said it was fine.  He knew she could take some time off and recover from the stress of this previous job.  She was already acting happier, wasn't she?  So, take some time to figure out what you wanted to do.  So she started plotting some things she had been putting off for a long time - getting into a craft, maybe starting a business of her own.  But it was slow going and she kept getting distracted by other things going on in life.  Plans that they had made when she thought she'd still be working.  She had all of this time open now and yet she didn't think she was getting much accomplished.  She tried doing housework and even tried making her 'home business' a job and yet she kept getting sick, one cold after another, and instead of doing her work she sat on the couch, listless.
     The depression became worse.  She wasn't accomplishing anything and after ten different applications sent out she'd had one 'almost' job offer (she was certain she would have gotten it and fretted now it was her only chance but had turned it down because of low pay and location).  About the same time she had also received a phone call for an interview but missed the call and by the time she was able to return the call it was too late.  She'd screwed up and it crushed her.
     So, swallowing her pride, she applied for unemployment, hoping that perhaps she could at least help her family that way, get some money to live on for a little while.  But she got flagged immediately about breaking the rules and even though things seemed to go on normally (getting sent emails to submit job applications, etc) she got no confirmations about if she was going to receive the money or not.
     This made her doubt herself.  What if other people saw that she had been fired for something that she didn't really do but that was accused of and since she didn't fight it the black mark would always be on her record, forever?  What if no one wanted to hire her because she was a 'bad person'?  What would she do?  She couldn't live off her husband forever, this wasn't the 1980's when men made enough to support a family of four.  Hell, she didn't even have children, no was she planning on them, but she still didn't feel comfortable enough letting him take care of her!  She'd vowed never to be completely dependent upon another human unless she physically couldn't anymore.
     So she updated her resume again, put more details in, peppered it with anything she could think of, and then started sending it out again.

     But then her friends, who were also trying to get out, started to get interviews.  From some of the same places she herself had applied at!  What happened?  Was that black mark really a thing?  Why was this happening to her?  She found out they were getting out, but she hadn't received a single phone call since those first couple weeks.
     Her tenth anniversary past and she was miserable.  This was supposed to have been a fun time.  She was supposed to have taken paid time off to go on a vacation.  She was supposed to have money to be able to take a trip, maybe even finally do their honeymoon, at long last!  But they hadn't planned anything early, and now she had no money coming in and she felt worthless.  She felt like she was a complete and utter let down.  She had wanted to plan all of these special things to do with her husband, and they'd really have a good time together, maybe on a beach somewhere or maybe they'd go somewhere they'd never been before.  But it was too late.  Her anniversary was over, and nothing had come of it except for going to eat at a neat restaurant but she couldn't even enjoy it because she kept thinking about the fact that she wasn't getting interviews or even call backs and no one wanted her.
     She tried telling her husband how miserable she was, but he didn't say anything in reply.  He would say that he was fine, and he'd get upset when she'd tell him that no one was calling, and he'd make noises of concern, but for the most part he just kept to himself.  He didn't want to hear it, she was sure it made him uncomfortable, but he also stepped up and managed to get a raise at work, so at least it was something.  But she knew he was looking for another job too because his job had been rather uncertain since the recession.  Somehow he had kept on only by taking the money they offered and not asking for more until he really needed it.

     And now she had exactly two weeks until she was to turn forty.  She had originally thought she'd hold herself a big party and invite everyone.  Her mom would come down and she'd have her friends over and they'd do a big shindig thing in the backyard and it would be fun. she didn't feel like she deserved it.  She didn't feel like getting to forty was anything special.  Especially since she was a worthless loser with no job and no direction.
     Maybe this was mid-life.  Maybe this was the crisis.  Maybe there was no way out of this.  Maybe she was going to be stuck with this black mark on her life.  Was it because she chose to wait so long to get married?  Was it because she chose not to have children?  Was she being punished for not popping out a bunch of squiggling babies?  Was it because she hadn't made a life decision of what she wanted to be when she grew up?  She still hadn't completely grown up, had she?  Was there a point?
     Memorial Day weekend came and she realized she wasn't going to hear anything from anyone during the weekend, so she should instead try to buckle down maybe and do things to make herself happier.  So she bought some flowers and did some planting.  She knew she shouldn't have spent much money on it, but things like that made her happy.  She did some trimming around the yard and got some chores done.  She did some cleaning.

     Then she sat down on her front porch with her laptop one day and decided to type out a short story about how miserable she was.  Maybe she would feel better if the words were out on paper.  But she'd been typing these same words over and over; telling the same story over and over again, and she still wasn't feeling any better.  The words weren't getting her a new job.  The words were simply words.
      Her friends were getting out, or at least attempting to get away from that terrible lady, and maybe she was helping make that go by faster.  Was this her actual reason?  Maybe her not getting these jobs that they also applied for meant that they were getting out finally?  Maybe their happiness would eventually lead to hers as well.
     But in the back of her head she worried this was all the beginning of an end of something that had just started.  She'd had some friends, but only recently had made more through that job, and now that she no longer worked there, would she still remain friends with them all?  Would they still be friends if those people also left to find new places?  Would they be able to get together still?  Would they start thinking she was a complete loser if they all got jobs and she didn't?
     These miserable thoughts were always with her now.  When she tried to be confident, those thoughts would start to creep up again.  If she started to think about her friends she would start thinking about that job she was forced to leave, and she'd miss it.  By God, she missed being with those people and being at that job even though it made her absolutely miserable by the end.  She tried to tell herself it wasn't healthy, that she needed to move on, go somewhere else, find a new purpose in life, and she wanted to but she had all of this baggage no  Husw, and she just couldn't shake it.
     It was like she was at an airport with far too much baggage and she kept dropping it to the side and trying to give it to other people and they just kept bringing it right back to her.  And the misery of feeling like she had abandoned everyone - even though she had honestly been forced out and it wasn't her choice - she felt like that baggage just kept coming back.  The mental load all of all of those years was so unbearable that only once in awhile did she feel like maybe the wait had been lifted.  But it would come crashing down again and she kept shrugging it off - trying desperately to get rid of it.
     Writing it down was her way of getting rid of it.  Of trying to work through it.  But it felt miserable and repetitive.  Like this baggage was hers and hers alone to suffer with.  Telling people wasn't working.  They'd bring it back up but also inadvertently make her feel miserable as they'd go on to other things.  One got multiple calls and interviews.  Another started more art and started creating things (something she had wanted to do at one time but felt she had failed at because her other job took too much of her time) and the others were content or at least had jobs where they weren't completely drowning.  Her husband had gotten a raise.
     So she wrapped up her blog and saved it.  Closed the computer and decided she was going to avoid thinking about it for awhile.  Gave herself permission to not think about it for awhile, whatever good that would do.  It was a beautiful spring day.  The sun was shining and flowers blooming and maybe thunderstorms in the evening, and it was a day she used to hope to have off from work to enjoy.  So...why couldn't she enjoy it anymore?

Because it was a crisis.... her crisis... one she hoped she could overcome before it destroyed her.

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