Authors: Erin Emerson
What Would Oprah Do?
Copyright © 2013 by Erin Emerson
All rights reserved.
Cover Illustration Copyright © 2013 by Natasha Brown
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. T
his work is not endorsed by Oprah Winfrey.
Strength shows not only in the ability to persist, but in the ability to start over.
F. Scott Fitzgerald
To my Dad, who taught me to be
In just four months I have realized that I can unintentionally give a room full of people food poisoning in an hour, get a charitable organization to ask me not to volunteer again, kill any plant I attempt to care for within a month, and turn 50 yards of fabric into something no one would wear. I’m not proud of this, especially since I’m telling the woman who could turn a room full of straw into gold. I’m not one of those crazy people who thinks you have a magic wand. However, I do have to admit that if I ever met you, and you pulled one out, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised.
I know you’re not going to read this; some intern might and decide that I’m nuts and block all future emails from me. Yet for some reason I get a little hope by writing to you. This is my way of throwing it out there. You found your way in this world, and by God, I’m looking for mine. I’m not asking you for anything. I’m tired of people asking you for things, so I can imagine how you must feel about it. You had a show on recession, and how people are making it through the economic
downturn. There was a woman on your show, about to lose her house, and as you tried to get her to talk about her situation and what she was going to do to get through it, her voice cracked and she started to cry. I feel bad saying this, but I think she was crying out of shock: ‘What? Oprah, I thought you put me on the show to be my personal salvation army! You want me to talk about what I’m going to do? I really am going to cry if you aren’t going to pay my mortgage!’ I swear that was what she was thinking. All I could think was ‘Oh Oprah, this woman came on the show expecting you to save the day!’ I bet that happens to you all the time.
Now for the part that is going to make the intern reading this decide that I’m crazy. I play a game in my head, like the people who play the lottery: where you think about what you would do if you won. I don’t play the lottery. I can never remember to buy a ticket. The game I play is ‘what if Oprah adopted me?’
I know it sounds nuts, but it helps me stay positive, thinking about how my whole life could be different, and all the stupid problems I have would be gone. It’s hard to sort out your whole life when you haven’t figured out the basics. Thank you for being there, so I can have my own silly daydream that gets me through the day. Sometimes I need that, even if it’s just 5 minutes of imagining that it could all miraculously be fine in the end.
P.S. I may have underestimated how long I spend playing ‘If Oprah adopted me’. It’s probably closer to twenty minutes on the days that it’s really hard to get out of bed. Also, if you decide you want to adopt a 32 year old white girl, please let me know.
I was sitting in my softest pajamas randomly looking up old friends from high school on Facebook. They all have pictures of happy babies, which I don’t necessarily want. There are pictures of husbands too, and I would like one of those but that hasn’t worked out yet. While I looked at one of the pictures where the focal point was undoubtedly supposed to be her little girls playing in the yard, it hit me. All I can see is the yard, the nice big fenced in yard with green grass, and a big shiny stainless grill. You can almost smell barbecue and hear a little laughter in the distance. And the only thing I can think is that I’m all alone and I have nothing, which isn’t exactly true.
I have friends, and my sister and parents. Technically, I really do have nothing. I have a mortgage on a condo, an interest-only loan in a sinking market, so I’m no closer to owning it than I was 6 years ago when I bought it. I have a car, which I recently found out I’m upside-down on, so I definitely don’t own that. That blows my mind, that I couldn’t sell it without giving someone money to take it from me. You can add that to the long list of things that make me feel ridiculous at this very moment. Anyway, back to the pictures, you can just see it on their faces that they don’t look at that yard and wonder how the hell they’re going to pay for it, which is what I do with the one bedroom, one bath, 700 square feet of space that I call home.
I’ve always been happy with my life, being a single girl with a career, making my own choices, but now that I look at all of my old friends’ pictures, I’m jealous. I envy that they’re not worrying about the fundamentals, like their electric bill or what kind of life to have. Sure, they’re probably thinking about their kids’ college tuitions and what not, but I don’t even have a savings plan for myself anymore, and I don’t know when or how I ever will again.
They say that two can live almost as cheaply as one. Maybe if there had been a second income, I’d have something to show for all the years I’ve busted my ass just trying to make a life for myself. Here I am with nothing, trying to figure out where my money went. I know where most of it went: maintenance, going out, entertainment, drinking and smoking. I have nothing to show for it, unless some future doctor’s visit reveals some damage that I have yet to find out about.
I don’t even have nice jewelry. The most valuable thing that I own outright is an unworn Gucci dress that I bought three years ago, when I read in a magazine “10 Things You Should Have By the Time You’re Thirty” that said you should always have a formal black dress, so you’re ready to go at a moment’s notice to a fancy event. Now I could never wear it at a moment’s notice because I would have to lose fifteen pounds to fit in it without looking like a black stuffed sausage.
Maybe I should lose those fifteen pounds and start going to events in my fancy black dress, shopping for a husband. I had always planned on the right man coming along, and marrying for love
. Now that I’ve lost my job, discovered that I don’t have potential in anything I’ve tried since, and sit around wishing Oprah would adopt me, it may be time to rethink things.
I have to face the facts
. I have no idea what to do with my life and the only thing that gives me hope is writing letters to Oprah. I really believe that she tries to do good in this world, and it’s just nice to imagine that she lets me move into one of her houses and gives me some sort of stipend or general relief so I can find my purpose. Right now I don’t have a clue what I’m supposed to do with my life, nor do I have the luxury of time to sort it out since I have bills to pay.
When I got laid off I thought it was going to be easy. Two days before I lost my job, I realized that marketing was not what I was supposed to do with my life. I had felt it growing in me for months, some gnawing dissatisfaction
. The weekends went by so fast, and the dread on Sunday night had grown to dread on Sunday morning, at the mere thought of going to work. I was on my way to meet a friend for drinks, a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time, where you have to try to explain what you actually do for work, since they think they’re interested until you start telling them. Somewhere on the drive over there, it hit me like a ton of bricks,
I can’t do this anymore
. I was so certain that I told her as soon as I got there that it was time for me to do something else with my life, although I didn’t know what. I did know a few things: I wanted to feel good about my existence again, instead of my current purpose of figuring out how to separate consumers from their money. I knew that I needed to do something that I could be passionate about, instead of trying to hang on to every weekend and holiday for dear life.
I got home that night, and prayed, although I’m not sure to whom, that I would find something else to do with my life, the right path for me, ASAP. So two days later when I got laid off, corporate downsizing that no one was expecting, I thought it was divine intervention. I had saved up just enough money to pay my bare necessities for five months. I figured that since somehow God had immediately intervened and changed my work situation, surely I could sort out where to go from there in five months. Besides, at the time I thought I had a lot of potential. Sure I was stunned and freaking out a bit when I found out that my position was being eliminated. I even cried when I found out I was only getting two weeks’ severance pay. As soon as I left my meeting with human resources, I did what any single girl would do.
I texted Jill to meet for emergency cocktails. Not only is Jill my closest friend who knows all the details of my life, she’s also the best at commiserating.
We went to the pub near her apartment. It’s not exactly a great spot, but as one of the last people who has yet to smarten up and give up smoking; it’s one of the few places where I can indulge my filthy habit. Since Jill wasn’t losing her job and able to run out the office door, I got to the bar before she did. However, being the great friend that she is, she left as soon as she could and was there in thirty minutes. I was sitting at the bar, already on my second beer. Jill rushed in, hugging me before sitting on the stool beside mine. “I’m so sorry. Are you ok?”
She asked, eyeing the mascara trail that I hadn’t even thought to wipe off my face.
“Yeah, I think I am.” I nodded, still unable to fully wrap myself around it. After my first beer, it had sunk in somewhat.
“Really? And you’re drinking beer, not a martini?” She looked incredulous.
I said, “I figured this was an occasion worthy of carbs.”
Jill used a cocktail napkin and condensation from my beer bottle to wipe off the mascara streaks. She said, “This is why you should wear waterproof mascara every day. You never know when you’ll need it. Where’s Kay?”
I shrugged, “Probably on her way, but I told her not to come.”
Jill said, “She’s your sister! Why would you tell her not to come?”
“By the time she could leave
, traffic would already be bad. And if you really think about it, I lost a job that I hate. I mean, yeah, I also lost the paycheck that I busted my ass for, but I wanted to leave anyway.”
“I thought you would be a wreck! What the hell happened?” Jill motioned for the bartender to bring her a beer.
“I don’t even know where to start. When I came back from lunch, there was this random meeting on my calendar for a client review. I knew something was weird because it was obviously scheduled by Barbara, my boss, since it was on my calendar without me accepting an invite. Also, it was in the boardroom. We never use the boardroom unless the conference rooms aren’t available, or we need the big projector. I tried to get in touch with Barbara to see if I needed to bring anything, but she wasn’t in her office and never replied to my email. I would have thought more of it if Barbara wasn’t always such a mess, but I just figured she probably wasn’t paying attention when she booked the room. Speaking of, Cheers!”
“Cheers to what?” she asked.
“No more stupid ass Barbara!”
“Ah,” Jill answered as she
clinked the top of her beer bottle on mine. “I have to say, you’re taking this a lot better than I would have thought.” I could feel her eyes on me, looking for some indication that under my good cheer tears were on the way.
“Well it is what it is. Anyway, when I started walking down the hall to the boardroom, there were random people from different teams going that way too. I figured we were probably moving accounts around or something, but I knew when I got to the door. Barbara was sitting at the end of the table, looking like somebody had died or something and the big clue - Jennifer from HR was sitting in the corner. I don’t know when he flew in, but our CEO was there too, so I knew shit was going down.”
“Oh no, HR and CEO in the same room is always a bad sign! What was everyone else doing?”
“They looked like cattle, herded to a slaughter house, trailing in the door. At that point, you’d have to be an idiot to not figure it out. Oh, and Mr. CEO started his little speech with ‘I’m not happy to be here today…’
Then he said ‘As we all know the economy has been affecting our clients’, and this shit is verbatim, ‘now the economy is affecting each of you.’ Can you believe that?”
Jill was shaking her head. She said, “Oh my God! That is so tacky.”
“Oh wait, it gets worse. He went on and on about how hard it was for him and that it had almost ruined his Christmas knowing that he was going to come here this week and let us go, like we should feel sorry for him or something.”
Asshole!” she said a little too loudly. “Then what?”
“That’s about it. They handed out packets to everybody, with our individual separation details. I only get two weeks’ severance since I’ve only been there a year. I never should have left Headlines. At least then I would have gotten a decent severance package. Anyway, we have to work for the next week to transfer over our accounts. And oh my God, I can’t believe I almost forgot this! He said that we needed to realize that it was hard for the people who were staying too, and we needed to be positive during the
transition time to minimize survivor’s guilt!”
Jill’s face reflected the
indignance that I wished I had the energy to muster. “Seriously Cate, that’s bullshit. How does someone get to be a CEO without having a little diplomacy?”
“Beats the hell out of me.”
I answered. “Now I just have to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. You know, after I’ve done my part to reduce survivor’s guilt.”
“Well, you don’t have to figure that out tonight. Give it a few days,
then start sending your resume out. I’m sure you’ll find something in no time.”
“With everybody downsizing, never mind the holidays, it won’t be easy. And besides, this wasn’t how I thought it would happen, but it’s time for me to do something else. I hate my job.”