In a week I would be fired. Sure, the managers and I would sit around and discuss why, and comfortable phrases would be used. Phrases tossed around like, “agree to part ways,” and “better for both parties,” but we both knew I was being fired. For years it would go on resumes and applications. Uncomfortable questions would arise in interviews about how I wasn’t really fired, but this had been a decision that was reached unanimously. I had agreed to stop getting paid by my employer in favor of crying a lot and getting in fights with my girlfriend. Living with my Mom for a few more years wouldn’t be that bad. Plenty of 24-year-olds live with their parents, right? I think I read an article about that recently.
I imagined working in a place where you sold the thing you loved would be amazing. That’s what High Fidelity and Empire Records were about, right? I was lucky enough to be working in a small, independent bookstore in North Carolina. I was batch-hired for the holiday rush. After working the registers for a few months with shitty hours and short pay, it was decided that I would be moving up to a new position.
Let’s see if you understand this. I still don’t, but that’s what these essays are about: self-reflection. At that point I wanted to be a teacher, so when that information started to get around at work the managers decided to put me in Institutional Sales. It wouldn’t make me a better teacher, but I would be talking to teachers as I wheeled out boxes of books to old minivans, putting them in the back seats while thanking my learned customers for their time.
Seems like the job for me, right?
I never got the ordering process down and eventually, my mistakes started to cost the store more than the other person in my department.
I can tell you that getting fired is as bad as you can imagine. I remember not being able to talk and being totally agreeable to the situation. I didn’t have coins for the bus so I walked the seven miles home. Everything I had been built up to believe in college was a lie. I wasn’t the amazing wunderkind that my professors had sold me as. I was a failure.
A few months later, after a lot of depression and a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, I got a job. Since that day getting fired in February of 2007 I have made a life for myself. I live with my wife and a cat. We’ve bought two houses in that time. I went back to school to learn to be a better poet. Learning to become indispensable was the trick. It took a lot of frustration and a lot of hours, but I made myself a valuable member of a hard-working team that I respect. Culture spends a lot of time building us up to believe we have to work in an office to be successful, and that simply isn’t true. I get to leave work at the end of the day and not think about it. I get to spend my time doing the things I love outside of work: being a good husband, traveling, writing, and reading. The only thing that ended on the day I got fired was a life of blind subservience. I work to better the lives of my fellow workers, and that is the most important work I can do.
Ian Wallace lives with his wife and cat in Durham, North Carolina. He bakes and writes and chops fire wood.
Ian urges you to check out The Wayne Foundation, a group committed to spreading awareness of commercial sex exploitation of children and domestic minor sexual trafficking occurring within the United States. Visit waynefdn.org.