Part III: 2 Jobs, 1 Nightmare
Welcome to Part III of my ‘There and Back Again’ series. This is meant to provide background on the ‘Dogs or Dollars’ journey of the past 3 years. Please take a moment to read Part I: The Layoff and Part II: The Leap
The Husband has always been a blue collar kind of guy. Early on, I thought this would change. That someday he would sit at a desk just like the rest of us. I was wrong. He likes to build things, big or small. He likes to be outside and work with his hands. He’s good at it.
But, the trades, they are fickle. You deal with a lot of fly-by-night operations. Mostly no insurance or benefits, and you have to be careful or you’ll get burned. To circumvent all this, some years ago, he joined a union. After an apprenticeship, he would have a guaranteed hourly wage, health insurance, a vacation fund, an annuity. You know, the “real job” stuff I always dreamed of.
It’s still one of those jobs where, if you don’t work, you don’t get paid. And subject to project time tables, supply shortages, and flaky people. Every now and then, you end up with an unexpected day (or week) off, unpaid. Just Because. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. It can’t be helped. It is the nature of the beast.
That’s an occasional thing. The exception not the rule. In the 5 years leading up to The Leap, work had been stable for The Husband. In fact, he’d worked primarily for one company that whole time. Plus, if work ever got really scarce, there’s this magical place called ‘the union hall’, where they give out jobs each morning.
We were ready for The Leap. I would quit the Corporate America job I so loathed. He would be the bread winner for a while. We’d be a blue collar family. We had a healthy emergency fund and medical through the union. What more could we ask for? We’d both have jobs we wanted and less money, and be hap-hap-happy! about it.
In February 2010, just 6 months after we put all our eggs squarely in the Union basket, The Husband was laid off.
No big deal. He’d trek down to that magical union hall and get another job. Trek he did, and put his name on the list. Along with the 500 (literally) other individuals in his union who were very suddenly out of work. This was unprecedented. What was going on?
The economic slow down was late to hit our little PNW bastion. When everyone else was already reeling, we naively thought it had skipped us. Things couldn’t get much worse, so we were mostly safe, right?
Commercial construction, The Husband’s bread and butter, suddenly dried up. As most of the existing projects neared completion, no one was financing new ones. For those 500 people down at the hall, 2 to 3 jobs a day would typically roll in. Sometimes as many as 6, but often 0. Getting a new job used to take days. Now, there were people sitting there for months.
This was my Worst Case Scenario. The Husband collected unemployment checks, which were about 1/2 of his normal income. I brought home 1/3 of what I’d previously made in Corporate America. The Big Fat Mortgage now represented more than 50% of our monthly take home.
Needless to say, while all this was happening, I remained calm, cool and collected. Of course. I wouldn’t be running around tearing my hair out, bearing mountains of guilt for quitting my cushy corporate nightmare. Because, really, what would that accomplish?
Well, if I could have helped such behavior I would have.
It certainly seemed like a good idea at the time; My spiral of worry and doom and gloom. Again, this was worst case scenario. To some degree, I was prepared. I even had a budget all drawn up for just this circumstance. We buckled down. We scrambled. We sold stuff. I bumped up our savings. The Husband put the word out to our friends and family that he was available for hire. This resulted in a boom of side work. After his daily trips to the union hall, he built fences and railings and helped a friend remodel. Engage overdrive.
Unfortunately, overdrive is unsustainable for any length of time. You run out of things to sell. There are only so many projects your friends want done. Usually this kind of effort would see us through until work plentiful again. Not this time. Weeks were turning into months.
After 2.5 months this, with no end in sight, I sent casual email to my old boss. You know, just checking in, doing fine, if you had any part time contract work, I’d be interested. Very casual.
A month later, I got the phone call. After much paperwork and rigamarole, I finally start back with my original, pre-layoff employer in May. The Husband had been out of work for 5 months.
This was a part-time, short term (3 month) contract to do mostly off-hours work 2 or 3 times per week. I would show up at about 4pm or 5pm, after finishing my day at the Pet Store, and work until 11pm or Midnight. Sounds fun, right? (Note: Sarcasm) It paid 3 times my hourly rate at the store. With this job, I could make up for The Husbands lost income.
Now, we were still paying our mortgage. We weren’t behind on any bills. We just didn’t have a whole lot of extra for unexpected, big ticket items; like vet bills or car repairs. I’d been treading very carefully and had managed to avoid touching the Emergency Fund. The 2nd job would give us breathing room. No more walking around on egg shells.
I went into this gung-ho. I was fortunate to have the opportunity. Pet Store Boss Lady was in the know, but less than thrilled. I told everyone, including myself, that this was short term until we were back on our feet and/or The Husband went back to work.
Only, The Husband didn’t go back to work. At the end of August they renewed my contract for another 3 months. Similar story in December, when they renewed my contract again until March. No work for The Husband and a minimum of 50 hours a week for me.
During this time, my gung-ho ran out. I went into survival mode. I slept, I exercised, I ate and I worked. I had 1 day off per week, and I focused on making it as low key as possible. I became very hard to get a hold of. I started to resent all other demands on my time. As this wore on, I wore out.
Boss Lady desperately wanted me to quit my other gig. To commit to just the Pet Store, as was my original intention. She wasn’t going to fire me. During this whole dark time, regardless of the triple-rate, that is where my loyalties laid, with the Pet Store. Somehow, I continued to improve there. I got better and better at my job. I loved it. I wanted to be there. I drug my feet leaving to go to Corporate America. I kept the amount of time I spent there to a minimum, just to pay the bills. Financially this made no sense. It was so much more about heart than head.
How could I cut that Corporate lifeline though? That would be burning a bridge; a bridge I was actively using. Even if The Husband went back to work, who knew how long it would last?
There I sat. I couldn’t quit the job I wanted to because I needed it financially, and I wouldn’t quit the job I wanted to keep, because, well, I didn’t want to. Stuck. With no sleep and no time. No way out and no room to think. And so it went, for a year.