It is impossible to get back to sleep. But it’s dark, and if you get up now you’ll be tired as well as worried. You flip onto your stomach and push your hand through your hair twice, to move it away from your face. Everything is all right for now. There are a few people in your department who are sure to be fired before you. Maybe you can find another job.
At 5:08 you wake again, and this time the fear in your stomach is insistent. This has been the start of every day for the past six months. Or more. Maybe forever.
When you started working from home, you told yourself that things would improve. You would have more time to yourself. No more packing a lunch. No more driving. More time to walk the dogs. Maybe you could take a class in conversational Italian—who knows? And no more afternoons spent listening to your deskmate’s dire warnings about the company’s future. The company wants to send its employees home as a money-saving measure. First you got the email asking employees to please turn off any lights they weren’t using in the office, and then managers actually started turning off overhead lights as people were still working. Now that the office is down to a manageable size, it will move to a cheaper site, packing its files for storage in a cheaper state and its remaining staff into even smaller, even draftier cubicles. But working for a dying industry from home has its own pitfalls.
While it’s true that the first week you were still showering in the morning and managing to put yourself every day into some semblance of an outfit that could be worn on the street, the second and third weeks of working from home were marked by lunchtime showers, every other day sometimes. By now, you shower in the evenings, and change from pajamas into clean pajamas, from slippers to socks. You can’t even think why conversational Italian sounded interesting. Now you think, maybe you can start taking walks in the evening. Maybe cleaning the house would be interesting. The time saved by not packing lunch, not driving, never materializes. Where does it go? It slips unnoticed through the crack of your office door, into the pockets of your fleece pants, into the deepening crease between your eyes.
Two weeks ago, your work load was unmanageable, and your boss told your department that if everyone continued to fall behind the company would take the work away and give it to another office that could manage getting files out in time. Today, there are eight available files, then ten, then six, then none. You email your former deskmate: “What are you doing?” He’s alone. The boys left about an hour an a half ago, just after your boss did. Your boss went to his friend’s house to help him fix his water heater. “At least the economy is strong,” your friend writes. “All the companies are begging for examiners. We can probably just walk in anywhere and they’d let us work there.” Your boss’ friend’s pilot light was out. He was out of the office for two hours fixing it.
The elder statesman of the office, a man from
A few nights ago, over a couple of beers, you watched a show called “Office Tigers,” a documentary about a company in
You’re a hard worker. But you find it difficult to work these days. If you work overtime, when you get fired you’ll regret losing your nights and weekends, your health and your sanity, to your job. If you don’t work overtime, when you get fired you’ll wonder if you could have saved your job by working more overtime.
You have thought of your savings at least 20 times today. You have made a list of things you can sell. You check Craigslist, but the only jobs you’re qualified for were listed by the staffing agency that’s already rejected your resume twice. You need a beer.
When you take a break from the computer and stand on the deck, enjoying a smoke, the streets in your neighborhood are quiet. Two months ago, you would have assumed that everyone was busy working. Now, the quiet seems ominous, as though all of society has come to a halt. The buzz of industry is replaced by actual insects, as far as you can tell. Flies have made a landing strip of your deck. People stay home.
You will think of all this later, tomorrow morning as you lie awake in the dark. Your stomach will hurt. Everything is hurting.