My Life in Shambles

Chapter 3

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My tears made Sandra come to my defense which then made my mother go after Sandra for being too Hollywood and elite and forgetting where she came from.

Which then made Angie stand up for Sandra, and then everything came out after that. My mother, feeling righteous and with a never-ending quiver of arrows on her back, let it fly that she was disappointed in Angie for not trying hard enough with Andrew.

That was enough to make the entire table gasp.

See, Andrew, Angie’s ex and Tabby’s father, cheated on her repeatedly. In fact, he was caught, the other woman publicly confessed, and it was a scandal that rocked the Chicago political scene (to anyone who pays attention to that shit). Angie did the right thing and left his unfaithful ass, winning a big divorce settlement from him.

And yet I always knew that my mom hated that Angie left him. She was always so proud of her—not for going to Harvard, but because she landed a rich and powerful man. It was more important that he went to Harvard, not her. When Angie first told my mother that she suspected Andrew was cheating, my mother advised her to look the other way, and it had probably bugged her ever since that Angie did the opposite.

Suffice it to say, my father then started yelling at my mother and then she let some arrows fly at him and then the rest of us again, hitting the target every time until everyone left the table, forgoing the annual Christmas cake and fireside chats and everything else we usually do after dinner. Sandra went back out on the town with her friends, Angie took Tabby for a drive to look around at all the Christmas lights, and I proceeded to go to my room and get in bed, much like I would have done as a teenager.

It’s funny how you so desperately try to have an adult relationship with your parents but after a while you all revert back to the way you used to be. Here, in this house, I’m back to being a teen again, feeling worthless and insecure and dreaming so big for something wonderful to happen to me, something to take the pain away and erase all the years of shit that I had to go through.

I’m full of hope yet feeling unseen. I want more but I don’t know of what and I don’t know how to get it. I feel as lost and alone as I’ve ever felt.

Which gets me to thinking of my sisters as I fall asleep, wondering if I’ll ever get to know them as individuals and adults instead of falling back into our old roles.

Once again, I wish I were going with them on their trip.

Once again, I wish I wasn’t going to be left behind.

The next morning I wake up early. That’s what happens when you go to bed at nine p.m.

But I’m not the only one up at this dark hour.

My phone is buzzing incessantly.

I roll over in bed, nearly falling off, and pick it up.

For a moment I think it’s Cole, and for a moment I realize that’s all I really want. For him to change his mind. For me to have a reason to go back to him and not look like a fool. I miss him so damn much, even though I shouldn’t.

But it’s actually Denny, my co-worker, and he’s on a rampage. I have to keep scrolling back through all the texts because they keep coming in, rapid fire.

Hey, have you heard anything about Upward and layoffs?

Not wanting to scare you or anything but srsly do you know anything?

K I’m hearing stuff on Twitter about layoffs that are coming.

I’m FREAKING THE FUCK OUT VAL WHERE ARE YOU?

Yup I’m just looking again and Meredith is tweeting some shit about leaving?!

AHHHH ANSWER ME YOU BITCH.

OH MY GOD CHECK YOUR EMAIL.

From the first text I stopped breathing, and I fear my heart is now permanently lodged in my throat. I don’t even want to make sense of what he’s talking about because to make sense is to wrap my head around…

Layoffs?

From Upward?

As in my job?

Oh my god.

VAL VAL VAL DID YOU GET IT? ARE YOU DUNZO TOO?

I haven’t even responded. I can’t.

I immediately go to my work emails and there I see it.

A subject line from the CEO—Massive Layoffs.

I didn’t even think this was how things were done now but there you have it. What did Angie say about the future of journalism again?

With shaking hands, I click on the email and read, but the words just sort of come at me without sinking in.

Then I do what Denny suggested and check Twitter, specifically Meredith’s account, our editor-in-chief.

Her tweet says: This morning almost my entire team at Upward was laid off. I resigned. This talented and dedicated group of reporters and editors are now looking for work, so if you’re hiring and want introductions, DM me please.

I’m then sucked into a Twitter rabbit hole, learning that the CEO also resigned, finding out more information as other organizations pick up the story and start reporting on who was laid off.

I see my name, Valerie Stephens-Arts & Entertainment Reporter, and it makes me wonder why they even sent an email at all when things travel so fast and viral and so very publicly.

The speculation has already started on why forty of us were let go. Apparently, the owner of Up Media Group wants us to concentrate more on videos and ad content instead of the written word, something that hasn’t been officially confirmed yet but seems to be the consensus.

It doesn’t matter anyway.

I’m out of a job.

I lost my dream job.

I lost my fiancé, my home, and my job within the span of a week.

If this isn’t my life officially crumbling around me now and the universe telling me to give up, I don’t know what is.

Somehow I manage to text Denny: I just saw. I need to process.

And then I lie back in bed and stare at the ragged glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling and try to do just that. Process.

But I can’t.

The dread and anger want to sink in. I want to throw shit around the room, I want to have a temper tantrum better than Tabby ever could and scream my head off. I want to punch the wall and ask what I did to deserve this, why I have to lose everything at once, why God hates me right now.

I want to do all that and just let this new reality destroy me from the inside out.

And yet it can’t find its way in.

Not right now.

Not this morning.

I’m thinking of everything that happened last night with my family and everything Sandra told me the night before.

I’m thinking about fear and how I’m always so afraid and how I always play it safe and how I never stick my neck out.

How I care too much what others think.

I’m thinking despite all of that, shit still fell apart.

Playing it safe gets you nowhere and being afraid won’t save you.

I’m thinking that I don’t even know who I really am.

But maybe it’s time I find out.

Suddenly, I throw back my covers and get out of bed, ignoring my phone which is buzzing with more texts, and I head down the hall to my sisters’ rooms.

I go right to Sandra’s room, throw open the door to see her crumpled in a heap in her bed, and say, “I’m going with you to Ireland.”

“What?” she asks, confused and half-asleep.

Then I close her door and make my way down to the kitchen where I can hear Angie and Tabby puttering about.

“What are you doing up so early?” Angie asks, pouring herself a cup of coffee. “Even Mom and Dad aren’t up yet.”

“I’m going with you to Ireland,” I tell her.

She blinks at me in surprise. “You are? What happened?”

“I just got laid off,” I tell her.

“What?” Sandra says, appearing behind me, trying to tie her bedhead back.

“Are you serious?” Angie asks.

I nod. “Just happened. Almost everyone has been laid off. The CEO and Editor-in-chief resigned because of it.”

“Holy shit,” Angie says. “That’s huge! You guys were such a big site.”

“They want to concentrate on video more. Goodbye to the written word.”

“I am so sorry,” Sandra says, giving me a hug from behind. “You are having the worst luck.”

“The worst,” Tabby repeats, chewing on the end of her toast.

“And so now I’m coming with you guys. Don’t you dare retract your invitation.”

“Of course not!” Angie exclaims and brings out her phone. “Hold on, let me see if there are any seats on our flight. With any luck you can sit with us.”

“Aren’t you flying first class?” I ask, eyeing Sandra. With Angie’s settlement and Sandra’s TV money, the two of them never have to worry about finances.

“We’ll figure something out,” Sandra says. “But yay, you’re coming!”

“Are you sure?” Angie asks, raising a suspicious brow. “You’re not going to get cold feet and back out at the last minute? Because once you get this ticket, you can’t get a refund.”

“I’m going,” I tell her with as much determination as I can muster, even if I do feel the fear starting to creep in again and those little voices asking me if it’s a good idea. “I’m going, I’m going, I’m going,” I repeat, like a mantra.

I’m going.

3

Padraig

Dublin, Ireland

“You have to come home,” my grandmother says. Her words seem to echo, bouncing around in my head with no safe place to land. “He’s gotten worse.” She pauses, her voice cracking. “It’s much worse than we thought.”

My grandmother is the strongest woman I know. Ninety years old and still going for walks every day to the beach and back, still checking in guests to the Shambles Bed and Breakfast, still putting you in your place with her razor-sharp tongue. I’ve never heard her voice be anything but steady.

Until now. That crack splits me right open.

My father is dying.

I know that’s what she’s saying.

“Padraig,” she repeats. “Where are ye?”

I clear my throat. The brain fog has returned along with the rise in my blood pressure, making it harder to think. “I’m at home. In Dublin.”


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