Updated: Jul 15
Early on in the quarantine, maybe the second or third day, Ria wanted to go outside to watch the trash and recycling trucks rumble past. It was raining, but Ria was undeterred. The sight of a hissing two-story vehicle hoisting bins into its back with a mechanical lift was too exciting to pass up. I didn’t have the heart to tell Ria that it wasn’t trash day.
So we geared up in rain pants and waterproof jackets and stomped out into the incessant March drizzle. We stood on the front deck, the memory of trucks taking wide turns onto our street still raw from the day before, when it was actually trash day. Ria was ever hopeful. She allowed me to pick her up, and she pointed to the street below. “Trash truck coming.”
But it wasn’t. At least not for six more days. Even as this was happening, I sensed how my own situation was just like Ria’s. Earlier that week, I’d been in the office, helping to put to bed the April edition of Alaska Beyond magazine. The temporary hiatus from work felt like a vacation. We’d be back in the office in a couple weeks. Putting together the May issue on a condensed schedule would be hectic, but it’d be doable. We figured we’d cut so much material from April, we practically had enough for another edition on the editing room floor.
I didn’t know yet that the April issue we’d scrambled to finish would never print or that the decision to furlough the entire staff was only hours away. I was just like Ria, awaiting a truck that would never come.
This week, I learned officially that my truck isn’t on its way. On Monday, July 6, I was officially laid off as an associate editor at Alaska Beyond. While the owners are leaving the door slightly ajar for a return in the summer of 2021, for all intents and purposes, Paradigm Communications Group, a small publishing company that’s as old as I am, is no more. The roughly 25 employees—some of whom have spent more than three decades there—are now all out of work.
Nothing about this is surprising, but that doesn’t make it any easier to take. In many ways, my career had built up to my position at Alaska Beyond, with my year as a reporter in Alaska helping me stand out amid other applicants when the Paradigm editing job was posted four years ago. I’ve worked a lot of jobs considering I have only been out of college 11 years, but each move was logical, an advancement. Sure, there were lots of leaps of faith, but I always saw an overarching arc.
I don’t see this any longer. There isn’t a pot of gold under the rainbow. This virus has caused so much to come crashing down. The reality of it is impossible to ignore, try as some have.
I know that fresh starts are possible, and I will do my best to remain optimistic. After all, even if I had no immediate plans to leave, I never imagined myself staying at Alaska Beyond forever. But I always thought the departure would be on my terms.
My fear now is that too many people at once are being forced to start anew. We’ll overwhelm the system, the way hospitals have been pushed to capacity. Though I suppose even hospitals that were stretched to the brink managed to get through it. ICU beds cleared, patients recovered. The mounting death toll can’t be forgotten, but neither can the stories of triumph.
I don’t recall how I managed to coax Ria back into the house on that March morning. Maybe she was too cold or too wet. Or maybe she just wanted to eat some gummies. But she did go back inside.
She still gets giddy at the sight of trash trucks circling our neighborhood, and if she thinks she hears one she races to our big window and presses her nose and fingers to the glass. This is a fairly common occurrence, actually. After all, trash day is never more than a week away. —Andrew Waite