Part One: Break Up
The Moment That Changed Our Lives
Jaime was whiter than usual when he walked into our apartment that day–which was especially concerning, as we’d just come back from a week in the Caribbean, and he had tanned himself to a lovely golden bronze. But his face was deathly pale, his eyes wide, and his entire body trembled as I sat in our bedroom, editing my most recent photo shoot since returning to New Jersey.
I looked up, and he just stood there, head bowed, eyes squeezed tight to hold back tears.
“I’ve been fired,” he said.
“How can you be fired?” I asked. “You own the company.”
But he was right. Just as Apple fired Steve Jobs, Jaime’s business partner removed him as co-owner of his own company, a week after taking his first vacation in two years.
But there was still another shoe, and it was about to drop.
His company owned the building where we lived.
“We have to be out of the apartment by the end of May.”
There were a lot of tears and more confusion that day (“You haven’t done anything wrong! How could this happen?”) and basically cocooning in the bedroom we would need to vacate in 90 days, but now was not the time for a plan of action. Now was the time to lick wounds; allow ourselves to feel the shock, sadness, frustration, anger, and betrayal that flooded in; and to try not to think about the next step, whatever that would be.
Twenty-Four Hours Later
Twenty-four hours later, Jaime again stood before me–pale, shaken, and wide-eyed. He went into the office he’d once called his own to clean out his desk and return his company phone when his former business partner stopped him and offered to “rehire” him and pretend like the last twenty-four hours–during which the business partner wouldn’t even answer Jaime’s phone calls, texts, or emails for an explaination–never happened. Of course, there were conditions–ridiculous conditions like listening to a lecture about how Jaime ruined his own life by hanging out with the wrong people, doing the wrong things in his spare time, holding the wrong political opinions, and more.
“What should I do?” he asked.
To me, the answer seemed obvious.
All of the panic could go away. All of the anxiety about where we would live in three months, how we would pay our bills between then and now, how we would manage to get by and start over — it could all be gone. We could be back to where we were–living comfortably with Jaime owning his business and me building my own–and the nightmare of the last twenty-four hours would be over.
But would it be worth it?
Would it be worth it to work with a business partner who might fire Jaime again for no reason? Would the anxiety of never knowing if or when Jaime would be unemployed be worth staying in the town Jaime had called home for the last 30 years? After all, this wasn’t the first time Jaime had been dismissed by his business partner — there had been other times for minor infractions, such as farting in the office and having the audacity for his gas to not be odorless.
How much security would there ever truly be–and for how long? Yes, this was so much more than a paycheck–it was his home, it was his car which was a “company” car, it was his cell phone which was a “company” phone and his laptop, which also suddenly belonged to the company. It was his health insurance, his retirement acount, and his community, all wrapped up and dangled in front of him, easily yanked away once again at any time in the future on a whim.
To me, the answer seemed obvious. But it wasn’t my decision.
“This isn’t my choice,” I said. “Decide what you can live with and do that.”
Jaime returned to the office. He listened to his business partner’s lecture and demands for Jaime to make changes to his personal life, then Jaime said no.
No, he would not make changes to his personal life outside of work–his friends, his girlfriend, his habits, his relationship with his family–to please his business partner.
And his business partner rescinded the “rehire” offer.
Three months later, we packed everything we owned into three large storage pods and drove to Michigan, where Jaime’s best friend from college lived with his wife, daughter, and two housemates. The first night, after a fourteen hour drive from Princeton to Grand Rapids, we slept on a pullout couch in a small spare bedroom, staring out the window at the last rays of daylight still visible in the Michigan sky at 10PM at night.
Where were we going?
What would we do now?