It is 4:30 in the morning and I have spent the last two hours reciting my memoirs in my head, the last half hour going through my buddy list and asking everyone without an away message: “Are you up?”
Apparently, I am not the only one to remain logged on without an away message as the 10 people I have asked are either not up or a little scared of me.
I always thought that whole first-day-of-the-rest-of-your-life thing was one of the lamer clichés. But this is it. And I don’t think sleepless and swollen-eyed is exactly the way it was intended to be interpreted.
Today is supposed to be my last day at the Chicago Tribune. But does anyone finish out their shift after being laid off? Actually, I guess I did. My first thought after being given the news in a phone call yesterday morning was to hang up and think, damn, I had two good story ideas I was working on. One interview I did that won’t see the light of day.
And so I wrote. Not because I needed to finish a shift but because that is what we do. In nearly all of life’s circumstances. Sometimes it takes a little while to gather it up. But it always ends here, in front of the keyboard, a writer’s best friend regardless of where his words end up.
I want to be angry. But right now I am merely sad and sentimental after 19 years and four months at the Tribune. I keep flashing back to that day in mid-January, 1990, standing inside the lobby of the Tower, looking up at all of the famous quotations inscribed in the marble of the walls above me, awe-inspiring and frightening, as chills washed over me.
I remember at age 28, walking outside and seeing my childhood friend Mark, who worked across the street at the Wrigley Building at the time, waiting for me to see if I got the job. And I remember us hugging and crying and him swinging me around like Mary Tyler Moore without the hat.
I am remembering a lot of things, which pleases me since I often have trouble remembering if I put on deodorant each morning.
I will continue writing because that is what we do and because it makes me feel better, like I have not been robbed of the love of my life. But I do wonder how I will ever adjust to identifying myself as anyone but “Melissa Isaacson from the Chicago Tribune.” It is who I am, with or without my employee ID card. It is my identity. It was not a job.
Who am I without that? Am I still a sportswriter? A journalist? Being “Melissa Isaacson from the Chicago Tribune,” gave me the confidence I did not always possess on my own, a veneer of credibility I had not yet earned. And I wonder, rather pathetically, I suppose, after 26 years in the business, if my name can stand up on its own.
I never changed it when I got married, a week past my 30th birthday, because my editor at the time said he didn’t want any of those ridiculous long hyphenated bylines and because I thought it would break my father’s heart not to see our name in the paper any more.
So I agonized over the decision and cried to my husband that I did not want a different last name from him and my future children but that I felt I had to keep it. He laughed and never gave it a second thought, or if he did, he never let on.
I am Melissa Isaacson in the paper and on airline tickets and hotel registries so people who have to, can find me. I am Missy Mawrence everywhere else and Missy Mawrence is really who I am. A mother with two beautiful children, both of whom cried for me yesterday. A wife with a husband so wonderful I do not deserve him.
That’s what I need to remember.