Seven summers since I lost a proper job. Warm weather, like this, outside. I walked down the hill into town to put my redundancy cheque – yes, a cheque – in the bank. That time of year when violet takes over from bluebell. I saw a dead fledgling, its bulging oversized face being eaten away by hungry ants, at the bottom of a tree, and I carried on walking.
You can do anything you want, go anywhere you want, and no one will stop you. That’s what you think, but you don’t end up doing that. You end up filling out forms, writing the same thing over and over. This is my name, this is what I did, this is how I am justifying myself to you. I studied here. I got these results. I worked here. And here, and here and here. Would you like me to work for you? You might? You wouldn’t. Thank you very much and I’ll try again.
You meet people in interview rooms. Some of them are kind, and others you just want to jump over the desk and punch their stupid fat wobbling red faces until they stop moving. Sometimes they have sympathy for you, but often they don’t. There’s a thinly veiled contempt, which you feel obliged to return, but there’s only anger, and anger goes nowhere but back inside. But you never do anything. You try and be yourself, and you worry if yourself is really what you should be. Some people say, don’t be like that. Be more like this. You try being more like this and less like that. It doesn’t work. So you go back to being how you were anyway. And still it doesn’t work. You move on. Another room, another interview. Can you tell me why you want this job? Well, I need money in order to buy things and pay bills, and I can do this job, I really can do it, just let me have it, I’ve worked hard, I’ll work hard for you, I might not be exactly the precise person you’re probably looking before, but I know I can do it, and please give me the money you have, please, I would beg but I don’t know how to beg. So you don’t beg, you just retreat into that forced, polite, trying to make yourself look as good as you can, and you wonder if they can sense the desperation, and if they can, whether they care, but you know that they probably don’t, or if they do, so what? They’re still not giving you a job.
I did have a proper job, for a while. It paid pretty well and I could go on holidays. But I didn’t do the right things. I didn’t want to lie about the figures. I didn’t want to lie about the things that were happening. I didn’t want to pretend everything was all right, when it clearly wasn’t all right. I was a trouble maker. I wouldn’t just put my head down and tell the good lies for the benefit of everyone else. If you just say X is Y, that will get them off our back. But X isn’t Y. And when you won’t make X Y, even when it isn’t, you’re marked down as being the wrong kind of person. You’re the kind of person they really don’t want clogging up their organisation. So soon it was time for me to go, and seeing as I really didn’t want to go, I had to be made to go. So mistakes were found. Errors were seen. The slow walk down the corridor. The feeling that something is about to go horribly, horribly, terribly wrong. The meeting. The phone call. The meeting. With regret. And all of that. And then you begin again.
Work is a thing that has to be done. Find the thing you love and do it, they say. But not everyone does the thing they love for money. Not everything you love will pay you money, and there are bills that need to be paid and things that need to be done. Sometimes you just want to stand on the warm grass in the summer and know what the next week or next month or next year might bring, without knowing the only thing you can rely on is the passing of time.
Feel the warm grass under your bare feet. Summer again. Still nowhere to go.