Bashert- Yiddish word for ‘destiny, fate’. Something that was ‘meant to be”
On what was just another Tuesday in mid-November I came to work along with the rest of my colleagues to find out that the school where we were employed would be shutting the doors on all of their branches that day. Monday night life was normal, Tuesday it was upside down.
There is that period of shock, just like when someone you love dies. The stages of grief and trying to pick up the pieces. Being that I had experience with unemployment I knew the drill. My coworkers and I texted constantly with each other about applying for Medicaid, food stamps, unemployment. We bitched and shared our frustrations about the bureaucracy with government agencies.
At first I tried to be very upbeat and disciplined. Out of bed by 7:30, dogs walked. Coffee, shower then sit at the laptop and look for work. My resumes needed a little tweaking but were basically sound. I put in a solid 2-3 hours on job hunting.
Sometimes I blended fresh juices like we had been making and selling at school. Kale, beet, ginger, orange. I’d text with my friends and check in. Who’d gotten approved for which benefit that week.
I walked a lot. A month before the school closed I had made the move from Harlem to Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. Though I didn’t know anyone out there, I had sort of joined up with a group of Russian women who walk their dogs every day on the beach. There was one lady who speaks English well, and she was the translator when needed. Most of these ladies are up there in years, wearing their lipstick, bundled in their big coats, they chat while their dogs run and play.
My two dogs would join in. I have Lilly who is an aging chihuahua/terrier mix with a wiry coat and racoon eyes, who is very smart. Then there is Vita, my greyhound. Lovely brindle coloring, with dark floppy ears and sweet disposition. All the dogs would run and play. The ladies all loved Vita, her joyful personality and the way she would run when I finally got the nerve up to let her off of the leash.
And so it was, my day. At 5:00 I would make myself a cocktail and have happy hour. I kept a routine, dedicated to staying positive and moving on with my life.
One day in December, about a month after we’d closed I had an interview at a culinary school in the city. The interview seemed to go very well and while I was there I ran into the former campus president and chef of our Long Island school. He’s a mensch and we’d always gotten on well. After our respective meetings we had a cup of coffee together in the atrium of this huge, modern complex where the school was located near the World Trade Center. I felt human, I felt valuable and hopeful that things would turn out okay.
When I got back to Brighton Beach that afternoon it was sunny and mild for that time of year. I decided to take my girls out for a walk and enjoy it. I let Vita off of the leash and she went bounding down toward the water where there was a grey dog and a fancy looking white poodle. I followed with Lilly and stood with the other dog owners. The owner of the grey pit bull was a tall guy, Russian but spoke English well. He was admiring Vita. He said he had never seen a greyhound run in person, and how majestic they are. He was very nice and it was pleasant speaking with him and the woman with the poodle.
His pit bull was laying on her haunches in the sand with a little white ball in her mouth. Vita came over to play, and the moment she stuck her nose near that ball the game was over. Suddenly the dog attacked her, locking her jaws on Vita’s skin. Vita was yelping and pulling away. I yelled and ran to them. The guy pulled his dog off of her. It was like time stopped as we all stood there for a minute adjusting to the fact that in one minute everything had changed.
“This dog has never hurt anyone! Your dog is the aggressive one!”, he said, suddenly changing his tune from before.
I looked at Vita, standing there panting. I saw then that she had a flap of skin on her upper chest between her shoulders that was literally peeled back. Blood and muscle were visible. The pit bull was also panting, with bloody fragments of my dog’s skin hanging from her mouth.
“What??? What are you talking about? This dog doesn’t have an aggressive bone in her body!”
“No! Not my dog.” he insisted. The poodle lady was in shock as she stood there. I knew that she agreed with me but she was immobile.
At that moment I knew that I had to get Vita medical attention. This guy was an asshole and would not help or admit to any responsibility.
“Okay, I see..that’s how it’s gonna be”, I said. I picked up Lilly who was terrified and walked with Vita through the sand, toward home, to wrap her wound in a towel and call a taxi to go to the vet.
That’s pretty much when things went south.
Vita had surgery the next day. She went home with a cone around her neck, anti-inflammatory drops, antibiotics and painkillers. A week later the wound started smelling, turned out to be infected, the stitches had pulled and she needed another surgery.
More antibiotics, painkillers, anti-inflammatory drops were given. She had to go in twice a week to have the dressing changed and when necessary another suture to keep the wound closed. Being that it was so close to the shoulder, it was a very hard place to keep from moving and hard to heal. Her whole chest had to be kept wrapped. The girls at the vet started decorating her bandages. She had a red one with green holly leaf cutouts for Christmas. There was a “Let it Snow” one with little cotton balls on it. There was the New Year’s one that looked like a racing dog coat with the number 2017 on it. If it rained or snowed, I had to put a garbage bag on her with a hole cut out of it for her head because she could not get the bandage wet. The antibiotics gave her diarrhea, which was not fun to pick up after.
By now I did not exactly jump out of bed. I didn’t always shower and my outfits tended toward pajama pants and sweatshirts. I’d put on a bra if we were going to the vet. When I did get up, I’d take the dogs out, feed them, give Vita all of her meds and put her head in the cone so she wouldn’t tear at the wound again. I still kept on going for the jobs, sending out letters and applications but the holidays were upon us and nothing happens then. The interview that seemed promising had gone silent. Happy Hour was getting earlier and earlier, and it wasn’t so happy.
Though I couldn’t take the girls to the beach now while Vita was recuperating (and Lilly was traumatized and had no interest in going near the beach any longer) I would go for walks. Living in a small apartment and sitting on that same couch all day long, staring at the same four walls, my ass was starting to atrophy along with my psyche. I’d bundle up and walk.
Sometimes I walked to Coney Island. I’d look at all of the rides and the shops that were closed for the winter. Then I’d head out on the pier and see what the fishermen were up to. Sometimes I would lay out on the benches there if it was sunny. I’d text one of my former coworkers who had now become a friend. She could make me laugh sometimes or give a word of encouragement. She was a single mom and had gotten turned down for food stamps, but she had gotten Medicaid.
Sometimes I’d walk toward Kingsborough College, then near the marina. I’d look at the swans and remember when my kids were little and we lived in Connecticut, we’d drive by this one pond near the Long Island Sound and yell out “SWANS!”. Seemed like an awfully long time ago.
I’d walk past the charter fishing boats. Maybe next summer we could go out on one of these, I’d think to myself. After I turned back around I found the Holocaust Memorial that was full of names of relatives of local people from Poland, Russia, Latvia, on and on.
The company insurance ended on November 30th and they only offered COBRA for one month because they were bankrupt and not legally bound to continue. I had to push to get Medicaid because I had a couple of expensive prescriptions. They needed one form after another. Unemployment needed this document, SNAP needed another letter, Medicaid needed forms from doctors among other proof that I was without income and needed to cash in on all of those taxes that I paid into every year. Every stinking agency needed something from me. My printer had broken a while ago, and I had never replaced it creating yet another obstacle to getting this all done.
I headed over to the Brighton Beach library to make copies and send faxes (who else but the government requires faxes now???). The library as it turned out was closed for renovations. The sign said it was to reopen in January 2016.
It was now December of 2016.
I crossed Brighton Beach Avenue, passing underneath the subway tracks and went upstairs to a little office that according to Google made copies and sent faxes. The guy there was nice but spoke little English. The fax would not go through.
Having accomplished nothing, and no closer to receiving benefits I headed home. Anxiety was hitting all of my nerves and I tried to breathe deeply to relax but I started taking short little breaths instead. I mumbled to myself all the way home.
After weeks of this bullshit I finally broke down. I sat on my coffee table in my little living room and started sobbing. It was one of those from the gut, tear gushing crying jags. I put my head in my hands and let it out.
“THIS WASN’T SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN!” I screamed out to no one.
I wailed about the shitty management that drove my school into the ground.
“THOSE IDIOTS! THOSE MOTHERFUCKERS!” Thinking about the underhanded lies, mistreatment of employees and students.
Then I looked at Vita, walking over to me wrapped in one of her ridiculous bandages with the cone on her neck. A new wave of sorrow hit me, as I put my arms around her.
“I’M SO SORRY, THIS WASN’T SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN TO YOU!” I had named her “Dolce Vita” because I had planned on giving her the sweet life after rescuing her. Here she was, not living such a sweet life after getting ripped apart and sewn together like Frankenstein’s monster.
I sobbed for a while longer, then I got up to get a pen for to write something, sign another stupid form, but I couldn’t find one. Usually I have pens everywhere. Then when I found one, it wouldn’t write. The dam opened again.
“WHY DOES EVERYTHING HAVE TO BE SO HARD????”
Once I emptied those tear ducts again, I made a decision. I was calling it a day. It was 3:30 in the afternoon and this day was officially over. I was going to get in my bed and not get out till tomorrow.
When that next day came, I told myself that I would spend it getting all of that paperwork done. I would stay calm. I took a bus to the Staples in Sheepshead Bay and copied, printed, faxed, did whatever I needed to complete all of that crap so I could get benefits.
I did get Medicaid and could fill my prescriptions for no cost. Unemployment came finally. I had to withdraw from my IRA to pay for Vita’s medical bills and I paid off my Amex.
I went to a couple of interviews. Any nibble for a job would give me hope that carried me through a couple of days.
When the holidays ended and people went back to work, I started hearing from them. By early January I had two strong leads.
This is where bashert comes in.
Moving to Brighton Beach was bashert. My rent was $500 less a month than it was in Manhattan. When I moved my application showed long-term employment and great credit. After hating everything that I had looked at in Brooklyn, I found Brighton Beach a lovely surprise with the produce stands, the bakeries and the beautiful beach. Originally I was shown an apartment in what ended up to be my building but I didn’t like it. I kept coming back to that building though. One day I was with a realtor and he showed me that same ugly apartment but there was another one that wasn’t on the market yet. He snuck me in there and within 60 seconds, I knew. Everything was immaculate, had just been re-done with nice finishes, light.
“I’ll take it. Give me the application”, I said. I got that sucker before it even went on the market. The realtor was a nice Jewish boy and we joked about it being “bashert”.
So a month later when I was out of a job, living near that beach and could walk everyday it kept me somewhat sane.
Toward the end of January I was offered the type of job that I wanted. It was an administrative position with some teaching involved at the culinary school that I had interviewed at that day in December. Unlike my old school, this one was solvent and growing. The campus is extraordinarily beautiful with top of the line equipment and views of the Hudson River, the Statue of Liberty and blushing sunsets.
This also happened to be the culinary school that I had gone to twenty years ago. It had expanded and modernized greatly since then. When I went it was in a little walk-up building on the Upper East Side. I had come full circle in my career, back to where I had started. It felt like it was meant to be.
On that first day, I got up early, showered, walked the dogs. I put on lipstick and real clothes, not pajama pants. The dog-walker was rehired to take the girls out during the day. I was on the subway with all of the other working people. I was given a sunny office with a window. The H.R. lady went over benefits with me. I felt like I was among the living again.
Two weeks later, Vita had her last bandage removed. She was healed. I took her to the beach, cautiously looking around for predators and then let her off of the leash. She ran like the wind, with a big dog smile on her face.
All in all, I had only been out of work for two months. That’s not really too bad considering that the holidays were right in the middle of it. I did not force myself to take any job that did not feel right. Even during my lowest days, I kept focus on where I wanted my career to be.
It was a big test for me. It was a reminder of how life can suddenly change in just one minute and how close we all are to having it ripped apart. Kind of like a pit bull on a greyhound. You have to stitch it together, let it heal and if you’re lucky one day you will run again.