This post is an excerpt from my book, based on my experiences in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis
It was mid-January. The year was 2009. It was a particularly mild day, and the sun was shining brightly. My nearly two-year-old daughter, Kayla, and I pulled into the parking lot at the local grocery store, King’s. We needed baby food and vegetables, and I figured I could purchase the necessities if I moved quickly. Kayla just spent an hour climbing, crawling, and jumping on the foam gym pieces at Gymboree. Surely she’d be able to sit in the grocery cart without a fuss for 20 minutes.
Just as I reached to loosen the straps on her car seat, my cell phone rang. Annoyed at the interruption with a time crunch on my hands, I dug through my purse in search of my ever-elusive phone. It was my husband Dave.
“Hello?” I answered, about to tell him I’d call him back when I got home. Didn’t he know I had such a brief window to get things done before Kayla had to be fed and put down for a nap?
“I just got laid off.”
“You’re joking, right?”
Dave had been talking about the risk of lay-offs for at least a year now. He frequently told me his boss believed an economic collapse was imminent. “You’d be better off taking your money out of the market and putting it under your mattress,” Dave would exclaim over dinner, in between bites of salmon and couscous. He’d look me deeply in the eyes as he shifted in his chair, wondering if I understood the enormity of his statements.
I wasn’t sure how to react to Dave’s prophecies. We definitely weren’t as comfortable as we’d been before moving to the New York area in 2006, but the mattress seemed a bit extreme when it came to savings accounts. Isn’t that what they did during the Great Depression?
No. I did not have any idea what Dave was really talking about. Instead, I interpreted his dramatic statements as symptoms of dissatisfaction with his current job. Financial instability was not one of the fears I considered when alone, contemplating the injustices the world might inflict on me, because I’d always had employment and money when I needed it.
“No.” I could feel the tension in Dave’s voice. It traveled along the waves with swift precision, quickly penetrating the mommy bubble I’d been operating in. My body stiffened in response, resisting the push out of that safe, beautiful space.
This was no fucking joke.
“Where are you?”
“I’m on the train. Can you pick me up? I’m arriving in ten minutes.”
I began to refasten Kayla’s car seat straps immediately. It took just ten minutes to drive from the grocery store to the Maplewood train station.
“I’ll be right there,” I answered.
As I hurried around the car to get into the driver’s seat, my mind began to race. The wind cut through my jacket and the unusually warm day suddenly felt seasonally chilly. There were a lot of unknowns to contend with, but I was certain of one thing: we had to get the hell out of Maplewood.
Our move to New Jersey in 2006 had been an ill-fated one. Though I’d made some friends and begun to feel comfortable, Dave hated every minute of it. We’d moved so Dave could pursue a position as a trader at a large international bank, but the job never amounted to its promise; he felt his daily commute through Penn Station was dehumanizing, a regular visit to one of the circles of hell; his expected bonus went unrealized year after year, and his two children from his previous marriage made infrequent visits. For Dave, living in New Jersey was nearly intolerable.
I pulled into the station to see Dave’s head bobbing up and down as he walked up the steps from the platform. His was among the first to roll, but there would be thousands of others. Hundreds of thousands of others. His face was hardened by decades of charts, figures, ledgers, management strategies, budgets, relocations, backstabbing colleagues, trading desks oozing of testosterone in overdrive.
Without a word, he slipped into the passenger seat in the car. The car wheels sputtered on wet leaves as I put my foot to the gas and the car screeched up the hill to our house, an oasis that would soon become a crippling debt.