Unemployment, Employment, and Mexico

I was in Mexico last week.

I know.

Let me back up, because it’s a long story.

Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote about David’s law school graduation. I said:

We both, in our own ways, worked our asses off for Friday. And in the past three (or really four) years, we both learned a lot, both about ourselves and about the world. And when the words, “I now confer on you a JD, with all the rights and privileges therein” were said on Friday, I cried. When we walked from party to party in North Beach on Friday, looking at the moon on the bay and Coit Tower by night, the air crackled with possibility – not just the possibilities of the future, but with the possibilities achieved.

It’s been a long year. David and his classmates graduated into the worst law market in a generation, and even for those with killer resumes, there were no jobs. David’s focus is criminal law and litigation, areas that have been severely impacted by state and federal budget crisis. It was so bad, that there would be months when only two or three jobs would open up in the state of California that he was qualified for. In the sate of California. How crazy is that? And of course, with the job market in such a horrific state, each of those job openings would have hundreds, or thousands, of applicants.

It was rough. It was hard on our marriage, it was hard on our psyches. For a while I was supporting both of us, doing a corporate job that I didn’t love, while working on APW on the side. I felt like I was having to defer my dreams, to martyr myself, to keep us both afloat. Let’s just say martyrdom is not my best look. Then, in January, after a lot of planning, I made the leap to working for myself full time, and writing a book, and supporting two people. Things looked better, but we still felt like we were slogging through, emotionally.

Through all this, David kept busy. He took the California bar. Because he’s married to an overachieving mad-woman who believes in the power of being busy, he then took the New York Bar (he passed both, for the record. Go David.) He had a fellowship, and he volunteered his time as an attorney. This spring, he hung out his shingle, and started doing piecemeal work on a variety of cases. But we both really wanted his legal career to really get started. Even though we pool all our money, we wanted him to feel like he was financially contributing to the household (though dear-God-in-heaven, the man cooks and cleans, and handles tons of domestic stuff that I’m terrible at, so he was contributing to the household in huge ways the whole time.)

Then, this spring, we hit what felt like rock bottom. We realized that we were looking down the gun of a year of un/marginal employment, coming out of three years of David working hard and doing phenomenally well in law school. It was awful. I’ll only speak for myself, but there was a day in early April where I sobbed all morning long. Rather hilariously, because I was on book deadline, I sobbed while typing dutifully away on my book. (That’s the story of my life, by the way. I may be sobbing, but I’m still efficient, goddammit.)

And then I just surrendered, to all of it. I totally stopped fighting—I didn’t have it in me to fight anymore. I decided I had no control over the outcome, and I was just going to let things play out. And, because isn’t that always the way, David started getting interviews. And I surrendered some more. There were interviews in various places around the state (urban centers, because I do know my limits), and I decided I was fine with moving. I just wanted him to get a job. People would ask me did I prefer this location to that location, and I’d say, “I honestly don’t care. I can get excited about whatever I need to get excited about. But he needs a job.”

And then it happened. He got a job in the Bay Area, and he starts tomorrow. Almost exactly a year from his law school graduation.

Better than that, after all the tough work situations we’ve been through in the last four years, with me stuck working really long hours because we didn’t have options… after all that, he got a job where we’ll have good quality of life. How amazing is that?

So, when we found out two weeks ago, we decided to do something crazy. When we made a list, as part of our pre-marital preparation, of goals we had for our life together, one of the dreams that made both lists was, “take a last minute trip somewhere.” So we did that. On one week’s notice, we booked a trip to the Yucatan, where we’d never been. (Which, by the way? Was crazy affordable. We stayed part of a trip in a luxury boutique hotel for half price.) We spent a lot of time in hammocks, napping. We kicked some dirt. We swam in the Caribbean. We climbed to the top of Mayan ruins. And in the middle of all of that, I edited the second half of my book by a pool, overlooking the ocean.

We closed the door on a hard era this week. One that started with us moving to San Francisco for David’s law school, where I toughed out a hard job, where the economy collapsed around us, where we got married in the middle of it all. We toasted survival, and the way our relationship held steady. We toasted a return to doing work that we love. We toasted growing a little older together.

I’m sharing all this today, because, well, I finally can. And because I know that so many of you are going through, or have gone through, similar really rough patches. The economy is shitty. Unemployment is painful. Supporting a partner doing work you don’t love is hard. Keeping faith through all of it sometimes seems impossible. And I know I’m not the only person who’s spent hours sobbing and sobbing and sobbing over all of this.

I don’t have a grand message here, other than if you’re going through the madness that is un/marginal employment, you’re not alone. And there is, always, light at the end of the tunnel, even when it seems so dim as to be a mirage. And the shared history, and entwined support that is marriage? Well. That’s what got me through.

So here is to David. May you continue to love the law, over many, many happy years. I’ll be here, cheering you on.

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