By Jessica Benedetto
There’s a particular statistic that’s swept the nation with its car-wreck appeal: you don’t want to look, you know the people inside are probably badly mangled, but you have to peek. Just one eye. Then the other. And there it is: the United States Unemployment Rate. This past December, I became a statistic.
With our income cut clean in half and a brand-spanking-new mortgage to pay, my husband and I heaved a heavy sigh and set upon our mission of finding and cutting corners. Problem was, we lead a pretty round little life. Our cable is basic and is piped through a hulking box full of color tubes (remember those?). We’d already taken a hatchet to our dream of traveling the world when we decided to purchase our first home. Our closets are full of practical numbers that make repeat appearances in the course of a week. By and large, we’re a fairly frugal pair.
And so, it came down to the basics: Mortgage, Heat, Food. Once my unemployment benefits started coming, we reasoned, we’d be able to squeak by until I was able to find another job (a dim hope in this economy). But in the meantime, we’d do our best to tackle the Big Three.
The mortgage is non-negotiable. We’d cash out our savings, reluctantly borrow from family, do whatever necessary to hang on to our humble little home. The next biggest monthly offender was the heating bill. Originally built as a seasonal beach cottage, somewhere down the line someone slapped some scraps of insulation in the walls of our house and called it year-round. As our first New England winter in our new home winds down, I’m calling their bluff.
Since my husband has an irritating habit of never being cold, he didn’t feel right taking the lead on the decision to turn the heat down yet another handful of degrees. And so, one brave day during my new life as an unemployed American housewife, while my husband earned the bacon in a well-heated office building, I put on a stoic face and a pair of fuzzy slippers and approached the thermostat.
As the weeks wore on, there was still no sign of life from the Massachusetts Unemployment Office. I had joined the ranks of yet another statistic: unemployed Americans experiencing the effects of an overloaded system. With no benefits in sight, it was time to move down the list of major expenses. But what came next in line was something we both held too dear to imagine parting with. What came next was food. Not just the stuff you shovel down your gullet to live another day, but Good Food. Real Food. Fancy cheeses, organic milk, seafood and sushi and pastries and all the delicious things that make our hearts go aflutter. Now it was time to make a true sacrifice.
For weeks we ate pasta, hot dogs, and chicken. Thursday was Pizza Night, but fresh pies from Valentino’s Pizzeria turned into the Frisbee-esque variety from Stop & Shop’s freezer. Later, we gave it up altogether. Afraid to leave the house out of fear I might accidentally buy a cup of coffee or use up unnecessary gas, I spent my days trolling job boards in my bathrobe, taking breaks at lunch-time to slurp my Ramen noodle soup.
And then it came, a beacon of light in a series of cold, dark months: I received my first unemployment check, and the very same week I was offered a part-time contract job. It wouldn’t return us to the quality of life we’d enjoyed before I was laid off; in fact, it would barely allow us to pay the bills. But it was something. And damn it, we were going to celebrate.
Sitting at the counter of one of our favorite New England restaurants, we lifted our matching sushi rolls into the air with our chopsticks and touched them lightly together. “Clink,” we whispered, our eyes glittering. As we tasted the first bite and felt our noses twitch with the hit of wasabi, we forgot about the frigid house and the twenty-nine-and-a-half years left before it would even be ours. I forgot about the career that had been chugging dead ahead before it suddenly evaporated into thin air. I looked at my husband grinning ear to ear over such a simple thing, and I thought, “What a life.”
The North Shore’s Best Sushi:
250 Cabot Street
Beverly, MA 01915