In April 2020, I was working part-time in a clothing store in my hometown of Atlanta, Georgia. After working there since 2018, I was preparing to move 700 miles away to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for college in August 2020.
But I didn’t want to leave my job just yet.
I had a love-hate relationship with work. I loved helping kind customers and seeing my coworkers, but I hated the difficult customer who made my job 10 times harder.
Still, letting go of my job wouldn’t be easy. I knew I would miss driving to work every day, bantering with my coworkers and complaining about bad customer experiences.
Then, last spring, the schools and businesses in Fulton County were the first in the state to shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I initially continued going into work, unphased by the rapidly increasing number of COVID-19 cases in my area.
But on April 2, 2020, the company I worked for closed down all its stores. Our entire staff was furloughed, and the time I thought I had to say goodbye to my coworkers was cut short.
At first, I was happy with the break and the rest it gave me from working almost every other day and every weekend. By the second week, however, I was bored and unmotivated.
Without the structure of my job, my days became more and more repetitive. But what I missed most were my coworkers. I missed pestering our managers together to see who would be working that day and cracking jokes through walkie-talkies from across the store.
In June 2020, my job opened back up, and I worked more hours to make up for the lost time.
But the reopening only made me more stressed. The pandemic changed the store dynamic entirely, as we were trying to boost sales and customer loyalty while enforcing social distancing and mask-wearing protocols to customers who didn’t particularly care for them.
The fitting rooms, which were closed for the first two months, gradually reopened. But customers were only allowed to go in by themselves and bring a couple items at a time.
At the register, we were required to wipe down everything in between each customer. On the sales floor, we had to follow customers around and shop for them. On one hand, this may have been more convenient, but on the other hand, it felt suffocating.
On top of all of the changes, not everyone from our team returned, and my shifts never seemed to align with my favorite coworkers.
As planned, I left for college in August 2020. Since then, trying to find another job in Philadelphia has been exhausting. After months of searching for fitting work-study, restaurant and retail positions, I’ve had zero luck.
Filling out countless applications and going to a multitude of interviews just to be turned down again has been frustrating, not only because it’s so time-consuming, but because getting my hopes up and being rejected is disappointing.
I became so tired of the process that I gave up and accepted that I’d have to wait until I went home for the summer to look for work.
It’s clear to me now that my job back home was not just something I did to keep busy or earn money. It helped me make new friends, better interact with people and maintain structure in my life.
With the money I had saved, I thought I’d make countless memories this year at concerts and traveling around the world. Since being unemployed, however, my post-pandemic plans have changed significantly.
As the semester comes to a close and I prepare to move back home, I’m not sure what’s more frightening: the pandemic still being at large or the tedious job hunt awaiting me in Atlanta.
With the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, the fear of being unemployed this whole summer is another unknown I’m not ready to face.