Speak the truth, even if your voice trembles

Back when I was laid off in December, I couldn’t get a Record of Employment from my previous employers. Told me I was a contractor, then that contractors don’t receive them, which I knew was wrong for a number of reasons, not least of which being that I’ve received them in the past as a contractor, at jobs where I’ve actually, you know, signed a contract. “It’s just a ticky-box at the top,” I said. “Oh, uh, well, we forgot to get you the paper,” said they. Awkward. I went in again to the same excuse, then finally, after growing tired of pestering and running out of time to apply for EI, I went in to the Employment Insurance offices. “Hello, here’s all the paperwork I have, I would have brought more, but my employers are withholding. Am I eligible?” The lady behind the counter was very sympathetic. She asked me some questions, had me fill out a form. Of course I was, she said, “it will be fine.” The Ministry would request my ROE for me and all would be well. Right? Wrong.

The Ministry requested it only to be refused, so the quest for my ROE was turned over to the Canadian Revenue Agency, the Canadian equivalent of the IRS, and my claim was suspended while they investigated, leaving me again without any income. Once their decision was made, I was meant to receive a phone call and a copy of all the paperwork involved, including my missing ROE. That, however, is not how things went down. I never got a phone call from either the CRA or EI or any of my case papers in the mail. Instead the only thing I received was a bill of collections notice from EI stating that I owe them back every penny they paid me. Calling the office got me nowhere. All their operators could tell me is that my account was “under investigation, decision pending”, no matter that a decision had obviously been made, given the improbable, terrible bill in my hand. Calling the CRA proved equally useless. (“I can tell you nothing of the case in question, except that given your lack of income, you may defer the debt until August. The best news is that because this debt is in no way your fault, you do not have to pay interest.”) And yet I still don’t have an ROE. Or an income. And now I’m in far worse debt.

Which brings me to this week. Given my precarious financial situation, where I’m not making enough to cover food and shelter, essentials in the bottom tier of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, I’ve caved and signed up for the dole. From here on in, I’ll be receiving rent $75 a month from the government, as well as enrolling in JobWave, their outsourced employment program. It might not be enough to live on once the EI debt starts collecting off the top, but it’s the only option I seem to have left. I signed up yesterday, answering simple questions, sitting in a cubicle under a giant canvas printed poster of a pop art John Lennon, a copy of one of the Twilight books on the desk. The staff seemed nice, but even so the place seemed painfully stereotypical, a community center rec room, beaten chairs and cheap computers, walls tiled with brightly coloured print-outs and stacks of photocopies so degraded from endless duplication they could have been printed by a soot blower. Even the other clients, the word they use for us, seemed to be stamped out of some sad, run down machine, all first nations people with cheap red and faded blue tattoos, obviously poor and missing some teeth, or teenagers in death metal t-shirts and rebellious high top boots, their manifest frustration shimmering off tiny pentagram necklaces, too annoyed by living for life. I’m not sure what I expected, but somehow it seems that wasn’t it. I’m not sure yet how I fit in.

All such details aside, however, it sounds like I’m being signed up for some good programs. The woman who processed me into the system gave me two packets of bus-tickets before I left to make sure I could get to my classes and an application form for a year long Vancouver Parks Leisure Access Card, which grants access to free swimming and half off the Community Fitness Centers, so I can try and fix my broken body a little more on my own and get back into better shape. Tomorrow I have a four hour course called Tools For Work, and then on Friday I have another one called Setting The Stage. Not sure what the second one is about yet, but I imagine it will be a sort of an education overview introduction course to the program. (Next week is a week long course called Job Club, from 9 am – 4 pm. There goes my mornings. Ouch.)

Honestly, I was meant to start today, but my upcoming GED tests are crushing me with stress and I couldn’t bring myself to sleep a wink last night, so I called them this morning and moved it to Friday. Scary, sort of, because Friday is when my exams start, so now I have my JobWave course from 9am – 12 pm, my math test from 5:45 – 7:15 and then my science test from 7:30 pm – 8:50, but I’m hoping that filling up my day with employment issues will distract my despair, like waving a shiny string in front of a cat to keep it away from a wounded mouse.

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