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paula papshise


One More Bend in the Road

The Soul of Unemployment

by P. D. Papshise


          My working life has been a mostly happy one beginning right out of high school as an information operator for the phone company.  Although I could have stayed there, I knew the confinement and routine repetitiveness would never suit me over the long run.  I wanted to learn more, know more, do more.
          For a couple of reasons, my college life was a shambles, but I was accepted for a teaching position at a private school in the mid-1960s and stayed for twelve years before I gave my two month notice.
          In my late thirties and with no job lined up, it took several months before I was hired by a title company to do real estate title searches.  I loved the job because it was a responsible one, I worked alone, and I got to travel to local city and town halls five days a week.
          When I wanted to return to school for my masters', I asked to work part time.  Having had some frustrating experiences with two recent part-timers, the boss said he wouldn't allow anyone else that privilege.  I decided to leave.
          Shortly after starting to do freelance work, I was invited to apply for a title work position with an attorney in a solo practice.
          Eight years later, on a still sunny Friday evening in July, just after six o'clock, he called me.
          "I can't afford to keep you here," said this fellow who'd raved about the consistent quality of my work and hoped I'd be there for the next twenty years.
          Shock was the pervading response.  How to live, even through the weekend, with this brutal cowardly end?  Nowhere to go on Monday?  No money coming in?  I'm a fifty-three year old widow!
          Freelance work was available but it lacked benefits and wouldn't pay the mortgage like my salary did; major surgery followed and interfered with whatever earning power I might have had.  I began dipping into savings to make payments, and was advised by my doctor, accountant, and lawyer friend to consider a move into public housing because it was just a matter of time before the bank began foreclosure proceedings.
          Reeling with rage, screaming and howling wordlessly into an unknowing, uncaring silence, I moved into public housing in February of 1999, thanks to the unmatched assistance of that doctor, accountant, and lawyer.
          The months before moving were marked by a gargantuan effort, both genuine and resentful, to accept the inevitable.
          I didn't cry in the car the way I did while my husband's body slowly shrank as his life slipped away.  I couldn't cry.  Caught and trapped in shrieking fright, blindsided by shame-filled ambushes of flop sweats, I was frozen to all but an enraged invasive impotent terror.
           Abating slowly, the rage sprang from two sources: my powerlessness in the teeth of corrosive physical and financial decline compounded by the ravages of drenching shame; and my life's brutal plunge from unspoiled health and robust pride in my ability to support my widowed self, to just another typewritten name on the glass-enclosed list of applicants in the public housing apartment lobby - not on the Low Income list but on the Very Low Income list - a painfully public declaration of abject material failure.
          I spent months gnawing on ways to come to terms with my now unrecognizable life.  I read, I drove around talking to myself, I went for walks talking to myself.
          I needed to write about all of this but couldn't find a form because I was so distraught and so close to my own ongoing experience; it was on one of these walks that it occurred to me that using the alphabet, though not original, would help corral my thoughts and concentrate my mind on what I really felt, thought, and wanted to say.
          One More Bend in the Road was born then.
          It's sprung from my soul.
          May you find some surcease in it.

          Although I've moved twice since then, I remain, in 2012, in the same type of housing, which for the past two years has been my happiest experience of it yet.
          Through gritted teeth I have learned that indifference is the way of the world, as is lack of justice; that gritting grinds down spirit as well as teeth; that in the "poetry of the world possessed" I have choices; that I do not want to live in a worn down state.