the steamroller

Today, i was thinking about how much I don’t like not having work. This is hardly new. I have a long-standing fear of the bottom dropping out. That I will be completely destitute. It has not happened yet. I’ve never been truly hungry or homeless. But I have been very close. I used to think of it as a steamroller coming up on to me, threatening to outdistance me and flatten me.

I do not cherish helplessness. I like being able to do for myself. And a steamroller coming up and flattening me would have the effect of NOT allowing me to take care of myself.

I had quite elaborate images in my head about the nature of the steamroller, and exactly how it would come up and come closer. I felt like I had to have a certain distance between me and disaster, a buffer. I knew that if I didn’t have a sufficient head start on the flattener that the smallest stumble would mean the end.

I was young and newly married. With the deadly serious naivete of youth, I felt that a single mistake would be the ruin of my entire future. Besides, i had no resources but my own. My family was not in the country. All of my friends had literally and arbitrarily shown me the door. And while I had an overweening sense of the guillotine-like permanence of any error, my husband seemed to think his life was carved every day anew on an etch-a-sketch: “I care not for the morrow!” Nor did he care for ephemeral things such as paychecks and rent.

So the steamroller was ever-present in my mind.

It occurs to me now to wonder why it was a steamroller.

Now, I think of it as a wolf. The wolf nipping at my heels.

This idea became very realized today. I was thinking about that wolf, I was staring him down in my mind. I thought, well, wolf. I don’t have a job, and you are waiting with bared fangs for the moment you can overpower me. But I have fangs of my own now.

And it is true. This time, I have weapons to fight back against destitution and abandonment. I have cunning and a quiver full of skills that I did not have when I was 22, and it was a steamroller I was dealing with. A wolf, you can fight and grapple with. A wolf can injure you, but it does not always kill you. A streamroller, however, is a different story.

A steamroller is a broad impersonal sweep. It has nothing to appeal to. It will flatten inevitably, the only question is whether it will flatten ME.

When I was 22, the forces that granted me employment or a working car seemed unfathomable and decidedly impersonal. I knew nothing about what I had to offer the world. Anything granted me was undeserved largess.

But I have since learned (In only 7 years! Imagine how much I will learn in the next seven!) that the worker is worthy of her hire. I discovered the rules of economics, that my labor and my abilities were a tradable commodity.

I had worth!

I really love feeling that in a job. I love knowing that what I do matters, in a very tangible way showing up on my paycheck. This is perhaps another reason why I find unemployment so decidedly uncomfortable–I long for the affirmation of another to prove my value.

But I also have seen the faces of those who assign worth. I know they are cheaters and liars, quite often.

Perhaps that it why I have left the steamroller back in history and think of disaster as a wolf.