Worth

There are moments in time when things become hard to grasp. You know that all you need is perspective, but things are happening, and your boss is in your face and the words are on you and that’s that and perspective is gone.

Your worth isn’t your job.

You repeat the mantra, knowing the truth lies somewhere in it, but when people don’t like you, it’s personal.

“I quit,” I said, letting the words win and feeling my worth slide down farther than it’s ever gone, down dark and deep where words are everything and I can’t win.

***

“What are you going to do now?”

“I don’t know, Mom.”

It was all I knew to do. When there’s a problem, you call Mom.

***

 The first few days are going to be painful.

Someone’s going to ask what you do. It’s going to happen. And you’re going to feel the heat rush into your cheeks. You’re going to feel the self-loathing fighting to take over again. You’re going to feel like failure.

***

“You weren’t happy, Pete,” my sister Anna says. Somewhere along the way, Anna became the older one, Anna became maternal, Anna became mature and levelheaded, and the look on her face is just like Mom’s.

I run my hand over my face, feeling the exhaustion close behind my eyes.

“Nobody’s happy with their job, Anna. That’s why they call it work.”

But she was right. I hated it. And it hated me. I came home every night feeling like less and less of a person, like there were so many things that I couldn’t do right that I wasn’t even sure what right was anymore.

“Ross thinks there might be a temp job he can get you. It would be manual labor, but it would tide you over.”

“Thanks, Anna. That would help a lot.”

***

I couldn’t do it. I didn’t even want to do it. But I couldn’t handle the pity I knew I’d get if I didn’t do it. I couldn’t handle Anna’s eyes, her calm hand on mine, her smile that said, “Everything will be all right.”

So I got out of bed and got dressed. I even shaved, and after I was done I stared at myself in the mirror, scrutinizing my own face, hating the way my ears poked out a little too far and my front teeth were a little too crooked. A familiar feeling of fury started deep in the pit of my stomach and I ached and I wanted to punch the mirror but you can’t do manual labor with stitches so I ground my teeth and I walked out of the bathroom.

***

Ross was waiting for me in the parking lot. I was three minutes late.

“Hey, buddy. You ready? I’ll take you in to the office. They’ll probably make you fill out some paperwork and stuff before you get started.”

He was right. The overweight guy behind the desk was sweating as he handed me a clipboard with all kinds of liability forms and employee information forms and regulations checksheets and papers.

I hadn’t brought my social security card.

I was the idiot who didn’t bring his social security card to the first day of work.

“I, uh, I forgot my social,” I said after staring at the forms for eight minutes, trying to think of a way of wording it that didn’t make me out to be completely ridiculous. “I’m so sorry. I can run home and get it and be back in like a half an hour,” I said, even though I knew I was lying; it would take at least an hour.

The sweaty guy waved his hand. “Don’t worry about it. All that means is we can’t pay you yet, which is fine by me.” He laughed and I could hear his last cigarette. “Just bring it tomorrow, kid.”

***

My worth is not my job.

I’m not paid much, about a quarter over minimum wage. I can barely afford my apartment, and I had to cancel my cable. I’m embarrassed every time someone asks me what I do; the shame is still there but the guilt has started to fade.

In a few years, this will just be a blip in my life. I’ll still be the same Pete. But maybe I’ll be a little happier, a little worthier, maybe I’ll have a new job and a girlfriend, and I’ll be able to look back and shrug and say, “Yeah, I quit my job once so that I wouldn’t get fired,” and that will be that.

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