I walked into Helen’s office this morning certain she was going to fire me. It isn’t really my boss’s job to fire me. It’s HR’s. But the HR department has been cut. Edge, the magazine I have written for and loved since I graduated from college, is hanging by a thread.
Three steps inside the cluttered room stacked with old magazines, ours and our competitors’, and my breakfast—coffee with two sugars, and strawberry jam on whole-wheat toast—turns into a stone inside my stomach.
Without even looking up from the folder in her hand, Helen signals to the chair across hers.
“Rachel, sit down.”
I sit silently, a thousand things leaping to my tongue: I can do better; I can do more; let me do more, two articles a week rather than one. Even: I will work for free until we can find our feet.
I can’t afford to work for free. I have rent, I’m still paying off my college loan, and I have a mother I love with a health condition and no insurance. But I also love my job. I don’t want to be let go. I have never wanted to be anything else other than what I am now, at this moment, as my fate rests in her hands.
So it’s with dread and an impending sense of loss that I sit here and wait for Helen to finally lower that folder and look at me. And I wonder, as our eyes meet, if the next story I have to tell in my life is the one of her firing me.
I am in love with stories. How they shape our lives. How they mark people who don’t even know us. How they can impact us even when an event didn’t exactly occur in our own lives.
The first things I ever fell in love with were the words my mother and grandmother told me about my dad. In those words I got what I didn’t have in real life—a dad. I would collect them into groups, memorize the stories they formed. Where he’d taken my mother on their first date (a Japanese restaurant), if his laugh was funny (it was), what his favorite beverage was (Dr Pepper). I grew up in love with stories and with all the facts and details that enabled me to shape, in my mind, memories of my father that have been with me for life.
My aunts said I was dreaming when I said I wanted words to be a career, but my mother kept quoting Picasso’s mother. “Picasso’s mother told him if he got into the army, he’d be a general. If he became a monk, he’d be the pope. Instead he was a painter and became Picasso. That’s exactly how I feel about you. So do, Rachel, what you love.”
“I would do it more happily if you were doing what you love too,” I always replied, miserable for her.
“What I love is taking care of you,” she always came back with. She’s a lovely painter but nobody else thinks so but me and one tiny gallery that went bankrupt months after its inception. So my mother has a normal job, and the Picasso in her has quieted.
But she’s sacrificed so much to give me an education and more. Since I’m actually a little shy with strangers, I didn’t have encouragement from a lot of my teachers. None of them believed I had the stomach for hard-core reporting, so I ran with the only thing I could: the sole motivation of my mother and her belief in me.
Now I’ve worked at Edge for almost two years, the job cuts started over three months ago, and my colleagues and I have all been afraid we’ll be the next. Everyone, including me, is giving 110 percent of what we’ve got. But to a flailing business, it’s not enough. There doesn’t seem to be any way of salvaging Edge except with a huge investment that doesn’t seem forthcoming, or with stories much bigger than what we’ve been running.
The moment Helen opens her mouth to speak, I dread hearing the words We’ve got to let you go. I’m already thinking of a story, an idea, I can pitch for my next column, something edgy that could put our name out there and somehow allow me to hang on to my job a little longer.
“You’ve been on my mind, Rachel,” she says. “Are you currently seeing anyone?”
“Um. Seeing anyone? No.”
“Well, that’s just what I wanted to hear!” She shuffles her paperwork to the side and pulls out one of the magazines from the shelf, dropping it on the desk between us. “See, I’ve got a proposition for you. It might require you to bend your morals a little bit. In the end, I think it will ultimately be rewarding for you.” She shows me an old magazine, a rueful smile on her lips. “This was our first issue. Fifteen years ago.”