The manila folder was staring at me. I know it was, because I was avoiding it. Acknowledging the presence of the folder was to acknowledge the certainty of my new existence. I had taken the folder out of the car and placed it on the dining room table, in full view of my every movement. I could see it from the kitchen, I could see it from the living room. I could see it as I walked in to the bedroom. I could see it as I walked out the front door to take Marlowe for a walk. I could feel its stalking eyes, if the folder had eyes, following me from room to room. I could no longer bear the strain. I hid the folder under the phone. I had to for my sanity. I had to, because the folder made the "letting go" real. Without the folder I could still pretend that this was just a vacation, a long weekend, I'll go back to work on Monday. The folder, in its absolute silence, was mocking me. I knew that as long as that folder existed, my job did not.
At four o'clock last Monday I was called up to my director's office. She told me she had to let someone go. In my naivete I thought, who in my department could it be? She walked me down the hall into the conference room--that was the first time I saw the manila folder. The blood drained from my head and I began to feel faint. I knew without words that the manila folder was for me and that I was the person to be let go. As the director from Human Resources opened the manila folder, words starting coming out of his mouth. I know they did because I nodded in response to their sound. He was pointing at something on the paper. He pointed again. Oh, he wanted me to look at something on the paper. I bent down to look. Oh, yes, these are letters on a piece of paper, let's see if they form any words. Focus, focus. Slowly, the blood started returning to my head. My tunnel vision was widening and I could see more than my hands in front of me. And just as slowly, my hearing returned. I was now able to pay attention to what was being said to me, albeit disjointedly. Their words were intertwined with my underlying mantra, keep it together, keep it together.
The manila folder contained my life at the company for the past eight years. Instructions on how to file for unemployment, how to keep my medical benefits, how to gracefully exit the building. I signed where I was told to sign, after reading what I was signing. I was told that my services were no longer needed. I was given some tissue and my manila envelope and I were shown the door. I never took the time to look at the contents of the folder. I knew the folder and I were not going to get along. I didn't want the heartache of looking inside and seeing Pandora's Box.
Now that almost week has passed, and the folder has not fallen into the abyss I had wished it would, it is time to take that look inside. I have to file for unemployment. Last time I had to file for unemployment was after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. A lot has changed since then. Computers and the internet, for example. I was to file this time for unemployment on the Internet, no going down to the EDD and standing in a long line. I rather liked this. So last night, a Sunday night, I pulled out my laptop and filed for unemployment in my pajamas. I was done in a matter of 15 minutes. Last time in 1989, I had to get in the car, drive down to the EDD office, wait in line for over two hours, fill out paper work, then wait another hour for the clerk to review it, and then drive back home-- over four hours of my day, gone.
But what made filing for unemployment so much easier this time around, besides the internet and computers? The manila folder. The manila folder that I dreaded so much had all the answers I needed for the EDD questionnaire. Questions like when did I start working, when was the last day of work, what was my rate of pay, etc. All right there in the manila folder. I now realize that is what the HR director was trying to say to me when he was pointing to these pages in the folder. I was simply physically incapable of hearing him.
The manila folder and I have now become, well, not friends exactly. What would I call it? Business Associates. I will now keep all my correspondences from EDD and anything related to unemployment in the folder. The folder has now been moved out from under the phone to beside the phone for quick reference. Almost in a place of honor. I do not fear the folder anymore. And that's one more step out of the darkness and into the light.