A year. Twelve months. Three-hundred and sixty-five days. It sounds like such a long time, but it feels like it was just the other day.
That's how long it's been since I worked what would turn out to be my last shift at a job I loved. I can't really say it was my last day in normal times, because we had realized the week prior that the pandemic was coming, then found out it was already here with the announcement of the first case in our state at the end of that first week of March. Things rapidly changed over the following week, starting with canceling all in-person programming for the next month, implementing frequent sanitizing of high-touch surfaces, removing some toys from the children's area and frequently cleaning what remained. I spent my last shift removing the last of the toys we had kept out, cleaning them, and putting them away. I knew a closure was imminent, though it had not been announced yet.
I was off the next day when the library announced it was closing for the next three weeks at the governor's request; most of the schools had already announced they were closing for the next 2-3 weeks, and the rest of the schools and most public libraries soon followed suit. Most people really expected that was going to be it, a brief shutdown, the pandemic would blow over quickly and life would get back to normal relatively soon. I knew better. As a former research microbiologist, I knew we would be dealing with this for at least a year, likely two, though nobody wanted to hear it.
But even I couldn't have predicted how bad it was going to be, how ridiculously politicized it would become, how much willful ignorance there would be, how selfish so many people are, how badly some organizations and governments would handle it, or how it would turn my life upside down. Instead of being closed for 3 weeks, the library remained closed for 3 months, during which time I finished my MLIS, but without the graduation I had been looking forward to attending. I expected this, but I did not expect what would happen next. In July, the library announced the beginning of curbside service at most locations, and in the same breath also announced the permanent layoff of all 101 part-time staff, which included me. I never had any warning this was coming, expected gradual layoffs and furloughs, but never this. I was devastated.
I keep thinking about if I had only known my last weeks were going to be my last weeks. I would have crammed in more programs, I would have spent more time talking to patrons, I would have had the chance to say good-bye to the families and coworkers I had built relationships with. I would have applied for the full-time children's librarian position in a neighboring county that I had passed on because of the long commute, knowing that one of our children's librarians was set to retire at the end of March and thinking I had a decent shot at that position. Or I would have applied to the one in an area my husband and I were thinking of retiring to, but I wasn't quite ready to make that leap just yet. If I had only known what was coming...
Instead, I missed those opportunities and later had to jump into a desperate job search in an already difficult job market that the pandemic had now made absolutely abysmal. I had to make very difficult decisions and choices in order to do what was best for my family's long-term financial stability, which resulted in my taking a job out of state, and moving there by myself until we could get everything else in order. I know on many levels I was one of the lucky ones. I got interviews from at least half of the jobs I applied to, and within just two months had gotten a good offer, less than five months after completing my MLIS. But though I've been in my new position for almost 6 months now, I'm having trouble letting go of the past and moving on.
I still grieve for my old job everyday. It was a nearly ideal situation that really allowed me to thrive and grow, and I truly loved being at work. I had great coworkers, a wonderfully diverse community with a strong reading culture that loved and supported their library, a large diverse collection, and lots of programming opportunities. I miss my kiddos, my coworkers, the collection. The library I am at now is very different. Not bad, just very different in almost every way, and I'm having trouble adjusting my expectations. I can't stop comparing it to my old one. I feel so homesick for my old job, even though I know that reality doesn't exist anymore, and even if I were still there, it would nothing like it was before. And I know that even without the pandemic, most likely I would have had to leave to find a full-time professional position anyway.
Maybe if the end hadn't been so unexpected and traumatic and handled so callously, maybe if I had left on my own terms, maybe if I'd had time to mentally prepare myself and say my good-byes, maybe if I hadn't been forced to make such drastic changes and disrupt my whole life, maybe then it would be easier to let go and move on.
Maybe I just need more time...