A year later, I was working as a newspaper reporter for the Wind Valley Enterprise. I soon found that my life as a single mother clashed repeatedly with my profession. Legally separated from Richard, I still lived in our home in the San Fernando Valley. My job was thirty to forty-five minutes away in the community of Wind Valley. After dropping my children at day care at 7 a.m., I drove to the Wind Valley Police Department where I quickly scanned police reports filed over the last 24 hours. By 8:30 a.m. I was in the newspaper office writing stories based upon those reports. My deadline was 11 a.m.
Not only did I cover the police beat, my job included covering the Wind Valley City Council. Because the city was completely revamping its development plan, council meetings were often scheduled three days a week—Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. Those meetings ran from 7 p.m. until after midnight, yet I had to be back at the office to file stories for the police beat the next morning.
Faced with having to cover the multiple night meetings and my inability to pick up my children from their after-school day-care, I hired a close friend, Erin. A college student, Erin retrieved the boys from day care, took them home, fed them dinner and put them to bed. When I arrived home, usually about 1 a.m., she would be asleep, often over a textbook while sitting at the kitchen table.
After six months, I realized that both my children and I were suffering. I could see the impersonal attention they received at their day care center, and I agonized about the lack of time I spent with them because of my frantic work schedule. Although the boys and I loved Erin, she was a twenty-something college student, wanting to move on with her life; she had applied to several out-of-state universities and I knew her commitment to us was going to end sooner than later.
I was also living on the fine edge of financial disaster because the majority of my salary went for day care and Erin’s help. Many of our dinner meals during this time suffered from a distinct lack of meat. I grew weary of Top Raman but the boys seemed to enjoy it with hard boiled eggs, the only protein I could afford.
After much trepidation, I decided to discuss my work schedule with my editor, Owen, a man ten years younger than myself. I knew I had entered the journalism profession later than my colleagues on the newspaper, but with Owen, from the beginning of our relationship, I sensed a distinct lack of empathy with anyone over thirty who had a family. He was a dedicated newspaperman—single—and tolerated little talk among the staff of responsibilities outside of work. I struggled to make an emotional connection with Owen, but that never happened, probably due to my initial interview with him months previous when he pointedly asked me if I could fulfill my duties as a reporter with children at home. At that time, I was enthusiastic and unrealistic: I had no idea the kind of schedule I would be assigned, and as weeks passed, I began to suspect Owen was testing me—no other reporter in the office had the twin difficult assignments of police beat and city hall. Still…I rationalized Owen always seemed pleased with the quality of my articles and that I produced more copy than any of the other reporters.
One Friday afternoon in late November, after the issue had been put to bed—an old journalism term for the paper was in the printing stage—I approached Owen and asked if we could talk. He nodded and I pulled up a chair and sat across from his desk. A small man with a beard to match, he spoke with a mid-western twang, having come to Wind Valley from Wichita, Kansas, the home of our sister newspaper.
I tried a smile, but Owen merely looked at me with no emotion. “Owen,” I said, “Is there a possibility that one of my beats could be assigned to someone else? I feel that I’m not adequately covering either the police or city hall. I believe I could give you top-notch, in-depth stories but I can’t do that while covering both.”
He pulled his pipe from a stand on his desk and stuffed it in his mouth. “I don’t understand,” he said.
I could feel my heart rate move up a notch. “Well, you know that I’m covering those redevelopment meetings three times a week. Often, I’m not home until early morning—about 1 a.m., and I need to be back in Wind Valley to look at the police logs by 8 a.m. With the police blotter to get out by deadline, I’m don’t have time to write longer, in-depth stories about the city’s meetings.”
Owen fumbled around his desk looking for his lighter. When he finally found it under a stack of papers, he took his sweet time lighting the pipe and inhaling. By now, I could physically feel my heart thumping wildly in my chest. I also inhaled deeply, trying to steady myself with a burst of air; however, the pipe smoke caused me to cough.
Owen did not look at me as he slowly took the pipe out of his mouth and said in a monotone, “Type faster.”
My brain could not perceive what he had just said; it seemed like a one-line remark out of a comic strip. I waited for him to follow up, to say something more, to make me believe I had not found myself in a profession that was so impersonal, so callous, so unyielding. When he didn’t, I stupidly asked, “What?”
He lifted a piece of paper from his desk, looked at it a moment, then put it down—a move of impatience and intolerance. “Type faster.”
All I remember of that moment was that a huge weight had been lifted—my juggling act ended abruptly. I leaned forward, putting my hands on his desk. In an even voice, I said, “Owen, you can take this job and shove it. You have two weeks’ notice as of this moment.”
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish