This week, a loved one found out that she did not get a job for which she'd applied. I feel terrible for her, and I told her what my brother told me in the winter of 1998. I had interviewed for a design residency at The Chicago Tribune. I had tanked that little event so badly that they reposted the job without telling me. In a final act of self-humiliation, I phone-stalked the AME, calling from different numbers until I finally got him (by calling another number and getting an inside-line transfer). It was clear he had been dodging my calls.
I can remember sitting there on my single futon mattress on the floor of my little apartment, just crying and crying. And I called my brother, who asked me, "Is there any chance you could end up in prison over this? Well, then it can't be so bad."
As I was thinking of that incident, it occurred to me that it led to a pivotal moment in my life. I've always thought of just two such moments as the full list: when I skipped fourth grade, and when I couldn't get into Dr. McMann's third-period philosophy class in tenth grade. Because of the former, I had already graduated college by the time my mom got cancer. If I hadn't, I'd have been a senior when she got sick, and I can't imagine I'd have been able to pull it together to graduate. I was having a tough enough time as it was. And because of the latter, I ended up in Mrs. Ecker's journalism class, which I was not even considering. And, you know, here I still am.
But when I think about the crying and crying, I remember that there was a little bit more to how I got here. The editor where I worked knew I was ready to leave, and he knew that I had been crushed by The Trib. So he called up the news editor of his old paper and handed the phone to me. The first thing he asked was why I hadn't applied for the open position. I told him the truth: I never believed I could get a job here. It was one of the premier design papers in the country. But we talked, and I sent my stuff, and they invited me out for an interview.
The day before I was set to fly out, I found out that my mom's cancer had metastasized. I called the news editor and told him I wasn't in the right frame and couldn't come. He told me to come anyway. So I did. And while I was out here, I made the decision to come home and take care of my mom. I remember telling her and the rest of the family on a conference call. I thought she'd be thrilled, but she seemed kind of cold to the idea. It kind of hurt my feelings. I asked her later, "Mom, aren't you happy I'm coming home?" She said, "Are you crazy? Of course I am." But now that I'm a mother myself, I get it. She didn't want me to have to.
So I went back, quit my job, and hauled home. And the news editor kept in touch with me periodically to see how I was doing. And as it turns out, the day that my mom died, there was a position open. Someone had come to interview and had gotten an offer but turned it down at the last minute.
And more than 15 years later, here I still am. I could never have imagined, when I was feeling humiliated and horrible, that it was going to be OK. That I would do the things that I needed to do and -- with help -- find my way.