Baby's First Ghosting

Photo by Tandem X Visuals on Unsplash

In the spirit of Halloween, I'd like to share the story of a man who vanished. He disappeared Labor Day weekend and still hasn’t been found. 

It’s really my son’s tale to tell, so I asked his permission to share it here, and he said, “Sure, go ahead. I don’t think anybody reads your blog, right?” (Thanks, honey!)

Anyway, here’s how it began: 

My son, 18, was supposed to start college this fall but opted to take a gap year, recognizing that the on-campus experience would be vastly different from the one he'd imagined. 

Like many of us during the pandemic, he’d fallen into bad patterns—indulging in excessive screen time, cooking frozen pizzas at midnight (occasionally neglecting to turn off the oven), and sleeping ’til noon.

I let things slide for a bit—allowing him to enjoy some post-graduation downtime. But after weeks of me standing in his doorway at 11 a.m. bellowing, “Get out of bed!!” so he could do a mere 90 minutes of Door Dash-ing, he got a job as a carpenter’s helper. 

Suddenly, he was putting in 12-hour days. Selfishly, I was thrilled with his new career. He was learning a trade and, more importantly, he was exhausted by 9 p.m., which meant no more sitting on the couch watching Impractical Joker marathons at ear-splitting volumes while eating eight bowls of cereal in rapid succession. 

He was out of the house before sunrise some mornings. I couldn't have been more pleased—even as he adopted a new habit of walking through our home, pointing out places our molding had cracked or our paint jobs were sub-par, doing an imitation of his boss’s nasally whine, “You think that looks good? I wouldn’t pay a penny for that!”

And he was getting paid weekly—-in cash! (If you listen closely, you can hear my accountant brother slapping his forehead and screaming, “Don’t put something like that in writing!” Surely, my son would tell him IRS agents aren’t reading my blog either.)

Things had been going well for six, maybe seven, weeks right up until the Friday of Labor Day weekend. His boss paid him in full that evening and said, “I’ll text you Sunday night and let you know if we’re working Monday.”

When no text came on Sunday night, my son figured they weren’t working due to the holiday. Still, he reached out just to be sure. He didn’t hear back. He waited until the following evening before he texted again asking where and when he should show up Tuesday morning. Crickets.

Tuesday came and went. No text, no call. My son left a few voicemails.

“He must've lost his phone,” said my boy, confused, but happy to sleep in and try to boost his Rocket League ranking. “He always texts back right away.”

The week stretched on without word. My son texted a co-worker and asked him to have the boss get in touch. It didn’t help.

“Did you break anything? Did something go wrong at one of the sites? Did your boss hear you doing that imitation of him??? You can tell me!!” I pleaded, curiosity getting the better of me.

“No,” my son said, “He even thanked me for working late on Friday. I really think he just lost his phone.”

“But it’s still ringing, right? It would be dead by now—unless the person who found it is charging it for him.” I did my best to keep my eye-rolling to a minimum. “Also, he needs it for work. He would’ve replaced it immediately, don't you think?”

“No.” My son shook his head. 

Looking at him in total denial, I was catapulted back in time. He was three years old again, insisting that the people in the Red Lobster commercials couldn’t possibly be eating the crustaceans he loved visiting at our local supermarket. 

“Honey, he's ghosting you,” I told him. 

What? No!”

It's been a week, you need to move on—find another job.”

He looked shaken, as did my middle son, who’d just started a part-time gig as a grocery store cashier. 

“Wait, he lost his job too?” he asked, as if our family lives under a black cloud filled with pink slips. 

I saw the wheels turning behind his blue eyes and knew what he was wondering: Like good bones or bad teeth, is unemployment a genetic predisposition? In our family, it feels like a definite possibility.

I was recently ghosted by a recruiter who reached out about a writing position. After a few emails, we set up a time to talk. Maybe she sensed that I was losing enthusiasm when she hit me with this statement: “It’s 40 hours a week, but no benefits. It’s, like, a contract position. But I’m sure there’ll be opportunities for full-time work down the road.” 

Then, I tried not to sigh audibly when she told me the company was determined to be “the next Buzzfeed meets Nerd Wallet.” (If I had a nickel for every time I heard that Buzzfeed bit, I could buy Nerd Wallet.)

I didn’t say anything like, “Speak up, dearie!” “Make it snappy! ‘Judge Judy’s starting soon!” or “Give me one minute to put my teeth back in!” yet she went out of her way to state that I’d be writing for a “millennial audience” at least a half-dozen times. 

Maybe I sound old and tired, which would be reasonable—because I am. Anyway, she told me she’d be in touch shortly with an email listing what she’d need from me—resume, writing samples, etc.—to move forward. 

I never heard from her again. 

Though I knew that, just like my son, I was being ghosted, when you’re in the middle of a pandemic, there’s a moment in which you  imagine that your ghost-er has fallen ill. 

Irritation at being willfully ignored turns to compassion as you envision them reaching for their phones, wanting to contact you even as they’re getting wheeled away to be intubated.  

Of course, that’s most likely not the case. Rather, these people lack the courtesy or professionalism to simply state,“This isn’t working out. Best of luck,” as we wish they might. 

It might be hard to hear, but at least it would save us time wasted checking our phones, wondering what went wrong.

Fortunately, my son starts a new gig Monday with a carpenter who seems to run a more well-established company. Fingers crossed!

And, despite what he would tell you, I’ve heard from two lovely, new readers in the past couple of weeks. Their kind words and commiseration at the current state of the job market meant the world. 

So thank you for reading, and if you’ve found me because you are between jobs, I wish you all the best. 

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Unknown said…
Hi Elizabeth, I'm impressed that your 18yo thought of taking a gap year and learn carpeting! I would be a proud mommy if my son would make such a responsible choice when he's that age. =)
And you can tell your son that people do read you, not just the blog, but also your articles published in various magazines~
Liz Alterman said…
Thanks so much for your kind words and for reading! (I'll be sure to show my son!) Best, Liz
Avni said…
Good post.

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