“You have a good day now,” he said, and left.
I rejoined the kids and teachers, and when the kids went down for rest time, I called the staff into the common room and told them.
“You all have been the best teachers and aides, and you have loved these kids and looked out for them and for each other. I couldn’t have asked for a better work family. And this is a difficult time for us all. I’d appreciate if you all stay on for the remaining eight weeks if possible. I’ll do anything in my power to help you. I’ll give you a reference, make calls, get your shift covered so you can interview. In eight weeks, when the factory shuts down, our business will be done. We have no hope of remaining open and would lose money in the attempt. I’ve arranged for you each to get a month’s severance pay in addition to your wages. And I thank you from the bottom of my heart,” I said.
“You don’t have that kind of money,” Kim whispered to me later. “Everything you have just about is tied up in this place.”
“I’ve got this covered,” I said.
“Did you sell your car or empty your 401K?” she demanded.
“I’m young. I can save more money once I get another job. I’ve got some stuff printed out that I’m going to post in the kitchen tomorrow, job openings nearby that you should try for. I did a little hunting around for us.”
“We want to work for you, and you know it.”
“I wish we could make that happen,” I told her.
Then I went in my office, torn between crying and breaking things. I felt furious and powerless and felt something like grief as well. I wanted to call Jeremiah and tell him I hated him, that I hoped he fell off a skyscraper in the city. But I knew there was no point, and even if there was, I’d cry when I heard his voice. I wanted to scream and cry and smash my computer, and I was furious most of all at myself for thinking I had the power to stop this from happening. My arrogance had gotten me exactly nothing. The factory was still shutting down. Jeremiah still chose his job over me. He still left town. We were all in the same boat here, and I had helped drill holes in it.
So I sat at my desk and composed an email to all our parents and guardians, assuring them that we’d stay open throughout the transition, and I gave the tentative date for the final day. All programs would continue except for the newer after school care program I’d begun. It would be discontinued starting next week. It wasn’t turning a profit, and it didn’t make sense to drain my savings for two more months just to keep four kids. A swell of sadness came over me at the fact that I’d let these people down. I tried to end on a cheerful note, but it was pretty useless. Which was exactly how I felt at the moment.
I called her. I knew I had to. The order had come down to close the processing plant, and I knew she’d know by now. I had to hear how she was taking it, even if it meant more of her yelling at me. Craven, I yearned to hear her voice. I had to make sure she was okay. So I dialed the number.
“Fun Factory, this is Maggie speaking,” she said.
“Maggie, it’s me,” I said.
“What do you want Jeremiah?” She sounded exhausted and not at all happy to hear from me.
This wasn’t going to be easy. “They told me about the order to shut the plant down. I wanted to see how you are.”
“I’m exactly how you’d think I am. I’m mad as hell. I’m out of a job, just like everybody else is or will be after this is over. When the dust settles, there won’t be anything left but the gas station and the grocery store the way I figure it. Everything from the dry cleaners to the flower shop depends on that factory. So you can’t call me and ask me how I am after you did this. You made this happen,” she burst out in one breath, her voice ferocious and tight.
“It wouldn’t have mattered what I put in my report, Maggie. There’s an oversight committee that would’ve checked the numbers, shut the place down and fired me for dereliction of duty. Would that have made you happy?” I said.
“Maybe!” she shot back. “You took everything.”
Her voice sounded a little bit sad. I told myself it was sadness over the fate of her community, not sadness over us.
“Would you have wanted a man who compromised his integrity, who didn’t go to the trouble to be honest even if it was painful? Do you think I wanted to close that place down? Those are good people, Maggie. I know those people, because of you. I know that Ron can’t take his wife on a fucking cruise for their anniversary now, and I’m part of the reason for that. You made it all human for me, not just numbers. But I wasn’t going to lie, give up what I know about myself, that I’m honest to a fault. That I did the right thing even when it hurt like hell. If the numbers had been there, the report would’ve looked different. But I didn’t commit fraud and tamper with spreadsheets. But I know as loyal as you are to everyone you care for, you wouldn’t have wanted me to do that to myself, to compromise my integrity and for an outcome I couldn’t even promise. I’m worth more than that—and you showed me that. That I’m more. So hear my explanation or not, but know this: I didn’t set out to hurt you, and I didn’t go into this thinking I’d—” I broke off. “That I’d care for you the way I do. Or that at the end of the day that wouldn’t matter to you at all.”