Four years ago, in March 2007, Brian and I were in vastly different places than we are now. We lived outside of town in an old house (cabin, almost) with unreliable water and electricity, a stray cat problem out back, and a love-hate relationship with our heater. We had water we couldn’t drink, and kitchen shelves I wouldn’t reach into in the dark. We were starting to think about moving in that abstract way where you start to notice For Sale signs and start thinking about your credit rating.
At this point, I was in private practice as a music therapist, and also taught piano and voice lessons. I worked in a variety of places since I traveled to schools and students’ homes as well as teaching in my home studio. I saw about 60 clients and students a week, and when I was home I had no trouble keeping our tiny house in fabulous OCD order. Brian was working about 60 hours a week at an electronics retail store you definitely are familiar with. At certain parts of the year he was incredibly busy and didn’t always love his job, but things were going pretty well. Until the company began to lay off employees left and right, and we realized that Brian was probably going to lose his job. He started returning all the calls he got each week from headhunters looking for a successful sales manager, and putting in applications. In short order he was hired by the Bargain Basement Retail Store that was coming to town. They promised 45 hour work weeks and a family-centered company. It was totally worth the huge cut in pay to start working for a company that wanted happy, ethical employees.
At the same time, we bought our new house in town, moved, and I quit my job. I had gotten quite burnt out with my work, so I was going to stay home, start providing daycare for my Munchkin Coalition, and get started on making some babies. My biggest concern was being lonely while Brian was gone for training. But it was going to be so worth it! For a while, we were amazed with the difference a 45 hour work week makes — we had date nights, free time, and energy.
Fast forward about three years, to March 2010. Brian was working well over 70 hours a week, and hated his job. Those 70+ hours were filled with work that was simultaneously back-, spirit-, and family-breaking. He frequently slept less than 4 hours between shifts, had huge bruises and occasional injuries from the physical labor expected of every employee. He was screamed at by district managers, and was expected to put the company profit far ahead of his own ethics. When he was home, he was tired, apathetic, and scattered. He started suffering from sleep apnea, migraines, degenerative disk disease in his neck, and acid reflux.
Six months after that, we were in the midst of infertility, depression, and what looks to be adrenal exhaustion for Brian. We talked at length about the fact that he needed a new job, and how much he hated the one he was chained to. But it’s very hard to find a new job when you work 70-80 hours each week. It’s also hard to function when you have been so beaten down by your hated job. I was watching my sweet husband die in small increments, and there was nothing I could do. I spent evenings home alone, hoping to see him sometime around midnight before I had to go to bed. There were many nights sleeping alone until Brian came to bed around 4 and then only seeing him for 20 minutes the next morning before he went back to work. I attended family functions alone, and depended on family and friends for transportation since we’re down to one car. I learned how to handle things so as to not further stress Brian who was already at his breaking point. By 2011, it became clear that something had to change. Especially when we realized that this company we thought was family-centered, ethical, and well-run was in fact firing managers left and right in an effort to save money and boost profits. We both heard the clock ticking.
So much has changed again in a short time. Last weekend, I used a heavy duty cleaner and cleaned the nasty black diesel residue out of our shower for the last time. I washed my last load of red shirts and black pants, laundry that I would never wash with our other clothes for fear of the fertilizer dust and pool chemicals that might be (and indeed were) clinging to Brian when he came home from work. I started ironing white dress shirts and washing “civilian clothes”, as it were. Brian packed up a huge bag of work clothes and took them to a local homeless shelter. He printed off resumes and started interviews, and when he’s home he’s cleaning out closets and reorganizing his office. We reevaluated our budget and started to understand how life works on unemployment.
And a funny thing has happened. My tired, overworked, beaten down husband has left. And in his place is a glimmer of the man I married — the funny, sweet, reliable man that has been hidden for a while. He’s sleeping more, eating better, and is starting to live again. He smiles more. The sense of freedom that I feel probably can’t compare to the liberation he must feel. The shackles are off, the future is wide open, and we are adapting to change. Sometimes blessings are disguised as tragedy and you just have to look a little harder to see the truth.