by Lela Fox
Chapter 1: STITCH & BITCH
“I’m walking the walk and doing all the right things! So how could I get fired? Why me? I mean… I’m six whole months sober! And it wasn’t even my fault! I didn’t do anything to deserve it.” I stabbed the embroidery needle through the linen fabric with more force than needed, huffing a frustrated sigh.
Murmurs arose from the forty-plus women in the AA meeting as if they challenged the “not my fault” statement. But I insisted, “Seriously, ask Jenny! It really wasn’t my fault!” I looked at my sponsor, sitting close beside me in the circle and pushing her rimless eyeglasses higher on that cute, porcelain-doll nose. But Jenny’s grimace offered no support or defense of my plea.
I continued, “And no matter how much I pray, I still can’t find a job.”
“Have you looked for a job, Lela, or just prayed?” Jenny’s sponsor, Nancy, asked from the other side of the circle.
Of course, I knew her question was just the opening salvo of a lecture on patience. My eye-roll spoke my disgust for her approach, and I refused to reply because I hadn’t had time to look for a job yet. Nancy’s snippy tone made it obvious she thought I was just a whiny newcomer, and her judgement pissed me off, so I snapped, “It just happened two days ago, dammit!”
All the women laughed, and Nancy added, “Maybe you should look a little longer before you fuss.” That snarky comment brought even more laughs.
“But what if there aren’t any jobs for a washed-up advertising writer? West Palm Beach isn’t that big of a place, you know. And what if there are no jobs – that’s my fear. Y’all, my rent is due! I have a Visa bill! ‘Woe is me,’ as my dad would say, because I’m in a world of hurt.”
“Your bitching time is up, Lela.”
“But I’m not finished!”
“You actually went over. No matter how serious your issue, newcomers get a max of three minutes. So pass the needlework to the left, please.”
“That’s another thing! I want to bitch about this stupid meeting. I thought it was funny and cool at first, but you guys give me so much grief that I don’t even feel welcome here! How can Jenny call this her homegroup? You guys are flat-out MEAN!” A curl fell forward on my forehead as my body jerked in time with my words.
Chuckles all around, even from Jenny. I clenched my jaw and thrust the embroidery hoop to the next woman, who shot me a look of pity, then deftly picked up the needle. She cooed, “I have only gratitude to share today, so thirty seconds will do.” Then she spouted some happy-ass news about something at work, something I cared about NOT ONE BIT.
I leaned in closer to whisper to Jenny. “These women don’t believe I have real problems, Jenny, and I do! How can you stand this butterflies-and-lollipops meeting?”
“Sounds like this would be a good day for you to just listen, hon. Listen and learn.”
I rolled my eyes. I just need a job… a job worthy of my advertising degree and decades of experience. After all, I deserve a certain level of respect as an award-winning writer… a professional.
As the embroidery hoop passed from woman to woman, each shared honest wisdom about how to live sober; powerful wisdom because this meeting attracted women with long-term sobriety. Only a handful struggled with life the way I did. On good days I admired them but doubted I could ever be sober enough to need just thirty seconds of stitching. Yet I continued to go, every Wednesday before my study session with Jenny at the Subway in Pompano Beach, home of the famous Goodyear blimp.
Getting fired had been a smack in the face, and I still felt buckets of anger toward Smyth Software in general and my boss Dale in particular. Plus, I guess I felt a touch of Shame for not standing up for myself, and for not seeing through his plot to get me fired.
In my eyes, Dale had made me look like a fool, just like my ex-husband Stuart had, and I’d played right into his hands. Now I’d suffer without a letter of reference from my most recent job.
“Actually, I’m double-screwed, Jenny. And I can’t let it go. My sense of peace is gone, and I’m out of control of things.”
“What do you mean ‘again?’”
“Sorry… I shouldn’t have said that.”
“Quit making it worse, Jenny!”
“Your stack of colored notepads isn’t helping you sort through options, Lela?”
“Not this time.”
“You can’t put things in alphabetical order?”
“Hell, I can’t even recite the alphabet! Nothing has happened yet, but nothing is listed on the job sites or in the classified ads. And the real problem hasn’t come yet. See, I drank through the technology revolution in the advertising business. I’m out of the loop, and a forty-year-old can’t exactly offer a fresh perspective for today’s fast-paced ad agencies.”
“Something will come around. Keep looking.”
I said sarcastically, “I’m glad you’re so sure of that, Miss Ma’am. Send some of that assurance my way, please, since you’re so in control of it.”
“Don’t get smart with me, Lela. All you need to do is keep walking the walk. You’ll get there.”
A growl of frustration shot through my lips. “You just don’t get it.”
“I get that you’re upset, I really do. But I can’t help you do this, Lela. I can’t make it go away for you. Why do you seem to expect me to fix the problem?”
“You always fix my problems.”
Jenny threw her head back and laughed – loud enough that other Subway customers turned their heads. “You only think it’s me, Lela! All your progress in sobriety?” I nodded, hoping for a pat on the back. “All that progress has come from your own hard work.”
“Really?” I glowed with pride.
“Definitely. So keep working hard and you’ll continue to make progress. I’m sure of that. But I don’t know what else to tell you.”
I murmured, “Maybe something will show up in the classified ads this Sunday.”
“Do you have your résumé ready?”
“The guts of it, and it’s ready to customize for whatever job I’m shooting for.”
“A cover letter?”
“Ditto. Ready except for the fill-in-the-blank parts.”
Jenny's brow wrinkled. “Then you’re prepared… what are you bitching about?”
Can't you SEE the problem, Jenny! “I have nobody to address the résumé to! Don’t you get it?!”
“First, keep your voice down. Second, do some research on how long people look for a job. I bet you’ll find that you’re not supposed to get a job in the first month of looking.”
“A month?! I can’t wait that long! I have bills!”
“Then get off your high horse and start bagging groceries! Go to the mall and fold clothes… anything, Lela! Why are you so against that?”
I put my head down, knowing I should do exactly as Jenny suggested, but I honestly believed it was beneath me. Quick comeback, Lela. Think! I said, “It would be so temporary… is that really fair to the grocery store? Or the clothing store?”
“That’s not the point. The point is you’re a snob. A job snob.”
I looked at my watch, trying to avoid this line of questioning. “Oh, shit! I’m going to be late for house arrest! I gotta go right now!”
“How convenient.” Jenny didn’t move, but I gathered my papers and jumped up in a frantic rush.
I kissed her left cheek. “See ya next week at the Stitch and Bitch!”
“Call me,” she yelled at my back as I bounded out the door.
A job snob! How DARE she call me that!? I’m just a down-to-earth alcoholic trying to find my way. And I have a lot to offer! My talents are sure to be an amazing asset to ANY ad agency, right? As long as I realize it may take a while for my salary to reach the six-figure point, I’ll be fine.
The right side of my brain argued with the left side, and I defended myself out loud. “It doesn’t matter how long ago you earned those awards! They’re still on the books. National superlatives don’t go away.”
The doubting side of my brain countered with a separate problem, which I answered curtly. “No! It doesn’t matter how long it’s been since you’ve been a copywriter! Advertising is advertising. The basic rules don’t change.”
Another pause, another defense.
“Someone of your caliber can’t work for minimum wage. It’s unhealthy and likely to throw you into a deep Bi-Polar depression. Nope, you can’t do that.”
You can prove your talent, Lela. It’s there in the closet, waiting for you.
I didn’t know why I’d avoided putting my portfolio together for so long, but on that frantic ride home, I decided to use my anger for a good cause. Make that portfolio sing, Lela. Show ‘em what you’re worth.
Night had fallen as I unlocked the door to my apartment, and I heard the strange, distant buzz-ring of my GPS box, checking the whereabouts of my house arrest ankle bracelet. I’d barely made it home in time.
Too close for comfort, Lela. That’s all you need now, huh? To go back to jail for breaking probation.
I said aloud, “Yeah, that would help you find a job, for sure. Then bagging groceries would sound pretty damn good.”