I began working in Annual Giving for the UND Alumni Association and Foundation. I worked in a beautiful office, with glass walls and white noise in this super-architecturally-environmentally-sustainably-awesome-buzzwords-that-means-something-to-people-who-know-about-amazing-buildings-building. I was part of a talented marketing and communications team. I had an actual Lichtenstein print on the wall just outside my office. I was learning new things. I had health insurance options and finally started my own retirement plan. I had a professional photo taken that went on my professional business cards. I felt like I was adulting to the point my family could be proud of me for, honestly, the first time in my life.
For the first time, I was earning more than $14.50 an hour. (As a civilian spouse in the military, if you aren’t able to get in the GS system, I found out I was impressively underpaid compared to your civilian counterparts.)
Eventually, over the months I started to break down less about my impending divorce and leaving my husband. It would be once every couple weeks, then once a month, to once every other month. My new life began to take form, even as it took me in directions I never intended.
Leaving my marriage was hard and lonely. But at least I had my new job, and goals for myself.
I had a plan–
I would stay in Grand Forks, ND for two or three years, get used to nonprofit work (since I’d found out I loved it)–learn as much as I could about Annual Giving, Stewardship, Donor Relations, and then secure a job in Minneapolis/St. Paul and settle there. This gave me time to get grounded mentally and financially secure. I’d alway loved the Twin Cities, they have a great art scene, a lot of nonprofit organizations, and my best friend, Sam. This huge weight had lifted and I was living my own life on my own terms for the first time. I was competent adult with a strong work ethic. I was finally starting my adult life; a career I wanted to be in for years, coworkers who were fantastic, my own office, a livable salary, a retirement plan, medical insurance, and my own little apartment–things were daunting, but everything seemed possible. Everything seemed so possible and it was all going to be okay–and then I was laid off.
I felt it was coming that strange intuitive nagging that something bad is about to happen. I’ve always worried to much, so it’s a feeling I’ve learned to ignore in a lot of circumstances.
I had only been in my office for about 15 minutes. It was a Monday morning. I sat across the desk from my non-boss-boss and the woman from HR.
I can’t recall exactly how it went “It’s difficult to tell you…blah, blah, blah…we’re contracting out your position so it’s being eliminated…something, something…You may leave today or stay on another 2.5 weeks and get paid for that, it’s up to you. We’re so sorry…no severance…we’ll do whatever we can to make sure you land on your feet…blah, blah…Just let us know how we can help. You’re a great employee…blah blah”
I don’t mean “blah, blah” in a derogatory way, I just mean, after you leave ten years of marriage, moved out of your house alone in the middle of winter and finally found a career field you want to stay in, and just used up your meager savings the previous two weekends–it all becomes muffled words and memories. Because the sticking point is that I was basically told “Oh. Yea, you’re super fucked. Sorry.”
My heart dropped and any attention that should have gone toward whatever else they said was redirected to me trying not to cry in front of them. I didn’t want to appear weak. My mind was racing about how the hell I was going to make things work for myself now?
I do embarrassingly remember, being an overly empathetic dumbass, and actually apologizing to them as I left because I knew the situation had to be hard and uncomfortable for them. –For them to take away my job.
What. Seriously? Honestly, Swenson? They both make thousands more than I did–and still had viable employment options, but I was apologizing because taking away a person’s current means of survival has to be hard?
I had the rest of the day off. I went home to my little sunny apartment that felt safe and comfortable. And cried. Alone. I sobbed. (Like, that super ugly cry that you really don’t want anyone else to see. But you also just really want a hug and to be held and told things are okay. So, I guess that person would have to see you to hug you? Unless you blindfolded them? But that would be weird. I lost the plot there.)
The logistics of why I lost my job are a bit convoluted, and ultimately not worth delving much into. But the relevant points are these–the previous two weekends I’d gone to the cities, first for Sam’s wedding, then for a concert I’d wanted to see for years. (This meant the small savings I’d built for myself was depleted by the whole me-wanting-to-live-my-life-thing.)
Before I started, my position moved to another department–that department also had a new director (my actual-boss). I reported to her, I was on her team. She made the calls about my work, I was held accountable to her–while, the person who used to supervise my position (my not-boss-boss) was the one who evaluated my performance, while not providing much in the way of guidance or expectations beyond my first couple of weeks. Ultimately, those two directors didn’t agree on how things should be approached and prioritized regarding my position.
So–I was caught in the middle, to people outside my department or in comparison to my predecessor, perhaps my role seemed unnecessary–but those I worked with directly, my team, and my immediate supervisor knew what I contributed. Because, the thing is. I did my job well. My numbers were good, I met challenges head on, and I was a quick learner.
My job being contracted out to a third party was a shock-to everyone. (Especially, after we’d been told by our CEO no staff cuts would be made.)
My eventual-ex husband offered to take me back. But that was never really an option, not after I started to find myself again.
I tried to have faith in myself. Or the universe? Or a bigger plan? Or just something beyond myself? So, I decided to move my plan forward. I’d use this additional upheaval as an opportunity to move to Minneapolis.
I’d only signed a 6 months lease on my new apartment (thankfully) and there was nothing to keeping me in North Dakota. I’d met some very nice people (thanks for being awesome, you wonderful Grand Forks humans), but I didn’t have a strong group of friends. My artistic and career options were very limited, and obviously, my husband certainly wasn’t reason to stay.
Despite my ever-impending fear of failure, I still had a sense of hope. I’d wanted to move to the cities. Granted, I wanted to be a lot more prepared which was theoretically years away. So maybe this was just things falling into place even sooner than I had planned? Maybe? The Twin Cities are known for having lots of nonprofit organizations. I was skilled, I could be an asset. I had now known what it was like to have a career-career. I did it once. I could do it again, right?
Sheepishly, I applied for unemployed, to have some incoming funds to live on. And began the process of applying for at least 4 jobs a week. Every week. For what ended up being for six month. I had a couple of promising interviews and final round interviews that lead to nothing.
I applied for so many jobs. Some that I knew I could do, but my heart wouldn’t have been in. Some that seemed like my absolute dream jobs–over 80 job applications.
Trying, and trying and trying to find a job. With each passing month I lost more faith in my abilities. I cashed out a savings bond from my grandmother just to afford, you know, groceries and, life.
Finding an apartment is tricky and moving is the worst. I moved for the second time within a year. I was now moving in the bonkers heat of mid July. So, I packed, and cleaned, and called all sorts of apartment options in the cities. I checked websites and Craigslist.
Time was running out. My lease was ending, I had to figure out somewhere to live. I ended up with a 400 sq ft one bedroom apartment, with stupid high rent, and basically no natural light. But, again–it was mine. It wasn’t perfect. But it was my space. And I had a tiny corner to make art. Life had taken me to Minneapolis years sooner than I expected. But finding work would present it’s own challenges.
Anyway, I figured out how to rent a U-Haul. I rented one. I drove it. Two wonderful friends helped me load. I finished cleaning out Apartment 204 in Grand Forks–my first home. The next morning, I headed out for the five hour drive, with my little white dog and weirdo little cat to move into Apartment 204 in Minneapolis. In Loring Park on July 19, 2016.
I remember this distinctly, because it was a Friday–the Friday before PRIDE weekend begins in the Twin Cities. My new neighborhood was a center for PRIDE events. I was surrounded by love, happiness, and acceptance. People of all genders, sexual orientations, and body types dressed however they wanted. It was so utterly beautiful.
This weekend is again PRIDE, and it also means I have been living in the cities for two years. My life is finally leveling out, and it’s been so wonderful, hard, depressing, amazing, and lonely–but I’m so grateful.
And I never regretted ending my marriage. Not for a moment.