"Don't even consider it," were the first words out of my mouth when my husband mentioned he was offered a buy out package from his company. Because his length of service and age combined to equal 60, he was eligible to receive one year of salary for quitting.
It was May and I couldn't even think about him quitting. I was in graduate school. Both our daughters were juniors in college. He was building a granny cottage for his mother, who would be leaving our property after two years, and my sister lived with us. There were too many people depending on the status quo. We couldn’t afford for him to be without a job, even with a financial cushion.
My husband was passionate about his work and was blessed by a new boss who supported him fully. The two of us had moved past the conversations we'd had more than a year before when everything about our lives was overwhelming and we'd fantasized about selling our house and moving out-of-state into a tiny cottage with a large garden and an oversized tool shed where my husband would leave corporate management for an orange apron at Home Depot and I would teach memoir writing at a senior center.
During the past year, we examined the stresses that had piled into our laps over the three decades we’d been together. We worked hard to understand ourselves and change the way we communicated and interacted so that we viewed each other as allies and partners and not as persons who were piling burdens on one another. With the shift in our outlooks and strengthening of our marriage, the external changes we’d dreamed up no longer seemed necessary.
We were content. I thought I wanted to keep it that way. But something nagged at me about the instantaneous and vigorous "No" I'd issued. I had reasons, plenty of them. If my husband left his job, even for another one, we'd need to leave our house. We couldn't make the payment on a smaller salary and still meet our other obligations. We'd need to sell our house, if anyone would buy it in this market. My husband would have to finish building his mother's cottage right away. My sister, who has no income, would need to find another place to live. Our daughters wouldn't have their childhood home to come home to anymore. We’d lived in our community for twenty-three years. It was overwhelming to think of finding a new doctor, dentist, veterinarian. My list went on––a list of fear, of worries, of things that might get worse.
The thing about fear is that it squeezes out everything else. When fear tops the list, there isn't room for hope, for optimism, for faith, for anticipation, for belief in something better. My life was chaotic growing up––and I was always worried, chronically vigilant even in the lulls. I never knew what was coming and I lived in fear, trying to prevent anything bad from happening. It took me years to realize how much fear impacted my adult life and marriage, muddying my perceptions and skewing my vision.
I thought about my “No” for a few days after my husband mentioned the buyout package, and decided that I didn't want to continue to let fear rule my life. "If you want to take this package, we can make it work,” I told him. He thanked me and said he was going to decline. There was a lot he wanted to accomplish in his position.
Then, in late June, just days before the deadline to accept the package, news of budget cuts, management changes and possible layoffs began to circulate. People my husband trusts encouraged him to take the package. If he didn't, he might be redeployed within the company, or he might be laid off with a less generous package. The future was uncertain.
He signed the buyout papers. I sent them via Fed-Ex, and sealing the envelope my hands were a little shaky. The end to so many aspects of our life rested on his signatures scrawled over a few sheets of photocopied office paper. I took a deep breath, stepped onto the sidewalk, and began to walk home.
Our future was blank, fresh, crisp, waiting to be written.