Mwangi: Valentine’s tales of an unemployed Wildcat

Duncan Mwangi, Columnist

Feb 14, 2023

Dear Diary,

It was a gloomy lover’s day afternoon. I was dressed in my Sunday best, wearing Chanel Platinum Égoïste. I was definitely too cute to get fired from my job at Northwestern Recreation. But I did anyway.

It was my first ever in-person job, and I was making about $13 an hour (before taxes). The loss of this kind of cash has dealt a huge blow to my budget.

Rather than utter the F-word, my bosses told me they were taking me off the schedule and the payroll. It took me a second to figure out what they meant.

An hour before my termination, my therapist and I were talking about emotional vulnerability. He advised me to open up to my bosses about my struggle with drugs, depression and anxiety, even though there was no guarantee I would be granted clemency for my consistent lateness. That’s the thing with vulnerability — it’s about relinquishing control over the outcome.

Right after I was booted, I went to use the bathroom at Henry Crown Sports Pavilion one last time, something I used to do at the end of every shift. My best friend thinks I should’ve taken a massive dump, just to be petty.

An employee and a security guard followed me shortly after … I don’t know how I’m expected to feel about that, so I’ll take it up with my therapist. I wish I’d nicked the toilet paper, at least.

The feeling of impending failure was clouding my mind as I exited the building. The failure to consistently clock in on time and spend three hours on alert in the likelihood that a dumbbell flies off the rack and hits someone in the face. The failure to be “conversational in a number of settings.” The failure to become a supervisor or keep a job that would allow me to send money back home.

I headed straight to D&D Finer Foods for a new Elfbar, despite my vow to quit vaping. I was feeling tender, and in those moments, the urge to shut down and self sabotage is usually at its peak. I took a few hits and floated home in sadness, past the buzzing trees and the red manila paper hearts trembling on their twigs.

Over lunch, I contemplated what to make of my day now that I was out of a job. Should I miss my Tuesday lit class on James Joyce’s “Ulysses”? Our assigned chapter was written in Middle English, and I had barely made heads or tails of it. Meanwhile, I was still about 1,000 words short on a paper for the same class, so I figured I could use my time to patch it up before my extended deadline. Something about this pattern of trying to figure s–t out by myself felt familiar, so I remembered my therapist’s advice on vulnerability and went to class instead.

The only funny thing that happened all day was me being taken off the workplace GroupMe before I even got home. As a neurotic first-generation twenty-something gay person of color, I strangely admire pettiness in unconventional settings.

At the end of the day, my best friend bought me some Indian food and Insomnia Cookies to celebrate our Galentine’s. We walked side by side, staring at the lovers who had taken over Sherman Avenue, and we made sardonic jokes about how they would eventually part ways.

My night ended at the Technological Institute, finally getting to write the essay I’d taken so long to come up with. I contemplated Stephen Dedalus and Buck Mulligan’s antagonistic yet codependent friendship, whose value I’d initially dismissed. I was struck by the sincerity of Mulligan’s teasing in the face of Dedalus’s self-loathing. It was easy to see myself in Stephen, a mind haunted by past failures and uncertain futures, and Buck Mulligan as my best friend whose jokes kept me above water.

Eventually, I concluded that unpleasant experiences, such as a friend’s teasing or a termination of employment, are not meant to break us but to help us define ourselves.

Duncan Mwangi is a Medill junior. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.