We had a layoff this spring.

It was awful.

When we bought our shop, three years ago this summer, we wanted to hire someone as our office manager. I was working full-time, somewhere else, in another life it seems.

I don’t have many friends. It’s the nature of the business of being a writer. You can’t ask people awkward questions during an interview and expect them to stick around for a friendship.  The ones who do sometimes qualify their conversations with, “I hope this isn’t going to show up in the newspaper.”

If I had a quarter for every time that happened …

But I had this friend.

I admired her. She was strong and held her family together when her husband left her and her children.

She went through hell. For those who knew her, it broke our hearts to see her go through such a hard time.

When BB and I finally agreed we needed someone to help out at the shop, I asked Ali if she was working. She said no. Nervously I broached the subject with BB. We discussed hiring her, at length.

I think I did most of the convincing. BB didn’t want to hire anyone we knew. “It’ll be hard if things turn bad,” he said.

But how could things turn bad? We were growing and doing so well. How could things go bad?

Famous last words

So it was decided. We would hire the friend I had known for more than a few years. We trusted her. And she trusted us.

For the longest time, things were great. We had terrific stories.

For the longest time, things were great. We had terrific stories. Laughing all the time. Sometimes the customers weren’t pleasant. Most of the time they were.

And we plugged on. Busy, happy, prosperous times.

And then it happened. Things slowed down to a crawl.

We waited, hoping it would get better. We borrowed money to pay our bills, to pay our staff. And we kept borrowing until we couldn’t borrow anymore. No help from the government. Who wants it anyway? Too many strings. Too many ultimatums. Too much red tape. Too much arse kissing.

No way out

Then one day, after many, many hours of discussions with our business consultant and many days of denying what was inevitable, we finally admitted defeat.

We finally admitted we had no other choice but to lay off our sweet, kind, wonderful friend.

The night before, neither BB or I could sleep. We talked about it into the wee hours of the morning. Finally, around 4 a.m., sleep crept into the room and stayed long enough to brush our eyelids with a few grains of sand.

I just plunged in, like I always do, feet first, hoping I didn’t break a leg when I hit bottom.

It was a snow day. Everything was closed. We told our crew to stay off the roads. The last thing we wanted was someone who worked for us getting into an accident on their way to the office.

It was like a scene from The Exorcist. The priest shows up on the doorway with his briefcase, hat in hand. We showed up, on my friend’s doorway, proverbial hat in hand. She invited us in. We accepted and walked into her cheery living room.

BB didn’t know how to start so I just plunged in, like I always do, feet first, hoping I didn’t break a leg when I hit bottom.

A cold, dark winter

And before I knew it, the deal was done. My friend was laid off and we were leaving her house.

Safe from the prying eyes of her neighbors, I burst into tears. “It wasn’t supposed to be like this,” I hiccupped.

“I know. I know,” was all BB could say.

“No one said it was going to be easy,” our objective business consultant said later.

He was right. There’s nothing easy about laying someone off, let alone a friend. It’s like admitting you’ve failed on a bunch of different levels. The recovery is slow in coming. Everyone we’ve talked to in the industry is saying the same thing.

It was a quiet winter.

Yes, a quiet winter indeed. The winter of our discontent. Where friends part and jobs melt away with the spring thaw. Of all the difficult things I’ve had to do and sacrifice to work for myself, this was probably the worst.

I just hope she can forgive us.