Last Woman Standing by Heidi Kohz

Losing her job during the pandemic opens new doors for one writer on a revived, post-divorce career path.

It felt like the world was coming off the rails as pandemic anxiety set in. I had just started working for a company that did two different things: corporate event production and association management. The latter was added for survival after the 2008 recession. This new gig was a way for me to get back on my feet post-divorce and parental caretaking. I was on my own again for the first time in many years and I needed to take a dip back in the corporate pool.

“I’ll be working from home today,” I told my boss. I hadn’t been at my job even two months, and here I was, calling the shots. I knew I was taking a risk, but the bigger risk felt like coming into the office. Office, a term normally reserved for companies in tall buildings with other offices, kitchen areas and bathrooms a great distance down the hall requiring a key code for entry. Sure, my new office had a kitchen area, but it was an actual kitchen because the office was a one-bedroom apartment in a downtown highrise, where other occupants of the building lived. While I liked my coworkers and some of the work I was doing, it became evident that the owners, a husband and wife duo, were running things on a shoestring budget and it was starting to feel like it wasn’t a good fit after all.

While my co-workers were staying safe at home working remotely, I was the only employee still commuting, and stuck in a room less than three feet from my boss who would not be receiving a “Best Personal Hygiene” award. He was a kind and well-meaning middle-aged father of two, who had just offered the use of a vehicle to one of his employees whose car had suddenly died. His wardrobe consisted of worn, ill-fitting jeans and a rumpled flannel shirt, and when it was cold, a Mr. Rogers-style sweater, usually covered in cat hair.

The day before I stood my ground, I asked to borrow a work laptop so that when the official shutdown came (which happened just three days later), I could work from home, like everyone else. That morning, I held my breath as I wandered through the small lobby of the building. It was a polling place for the primary election, and most of the residents were elderly, an already known higher-risk group. So, coming to work was an unnecessary risk, one I wasn’t keen on taking in this new era of so many unknowns.

I made my proclamation by email, because I took the easy way out, and also because my eight co-workers would know I had been assertive. My boss was stunned by my actions. He told me this wouldn’t work because I still needed a lot of training that, in his opinion, couldn’t be done remotely. For example, he felt it necessary to demonstrate even the most rudimentary of tasks like how to deposit a check by a mobile app.

By week’s end, as the official lockdown began, it came as no surprise to me when my boss said my working remotely wouldn’t work out, that I’d really have to be with him in person to continue my job. I honestly think he expected me to continue despite the stay-at-home order, that because it was just the two of us in that small space, it would be no problem.

This was the last remaining of all my gigs; the others having evaporated in the cold Midwestern winds of early March as viral panic set in. While I was sad to see it go, and was unsure what the future would hold, I was relieved to not be under a micromanager’s thumb. Now I was free to shelter in place without the fear of being sneezed on by anyone but my cat.


Heidi Kohz

Heidi Kohz is a photographer, dancer, musician and closeted writer. She lives in Chicago with her cat and several houseplants. This is her first published essay. She can be found at @heidikohz.

Author photo by Doug Hanson

*Feature image by Heidi Kohz