Two rejection letters arrived on a recent Tuesday afternoon at Jerry Beard's house in Timonium -- making it three for the week.
The electrical engineer read them with resignation, took his place at his computer, and scrolled by rote through dozens of job-search files. Then he retreated to the couch, laid his head in his wife's lap, and stared blankly at the television.
"I had expectations that I would be working by now," said Mr. Beard, 38, who had worked at Westinghouse for more than nine years. "It boggles my mind sometimes to think that I'm not out there working. You grow up and think, 'My job is my life. I am my job.' Well, now what am I?"
Mr. Beard has been unemployed since Dec. 30 -- one of the 2,500 people laid off last year from Westinghouse in Maryland, and one of the 1.3 million people across the country who lost jobs due to the unrelenting recession.
When he was laid off, Mr. Beard lost not only his paycheck but the part of himself that anchored his position in his family. And the underpinnings of his identity and confidence have been badly shaken.
He now takes life a day at a time, in search of any beams of hope and encouragement. The Sun shared several of those days with him and his family.
'I feel frustrated'
Recessions are not supposed to affect people like Jerry Beard. A lanky man proud of his unfashionable sideburns, he is an earnest worker who served in the Navy, married a girl from his hometown of Lancaster, Pa., and went to college so that he could get a white-collar job -- the key to security.
His wife, Donna, 36, is most comfortable wearing little make-up and casual pants. She never wanted to be rich. But she worked to help her husband through college so that he could get a good job and she could stay home and raise the kids.
Their dream was only to have a nice house. Mrs. Beard wanted a bedroom for each child because when she was growing up, she had to share a room and bed with her sister. Mr. Beard wanted a room where he could work on his wood crafts and a porch big enough for a swing.
After nine years at Westinghouse, with a salary of about $53,000 a year, the Beards and their three daughters were living that dream. He planned to work at Westinghouse until he retired. His family's life had settled into a series of gentle peaks and valleys.
But their stability was swept away Oct. 30. On that Wednesday, he was called into his supervisor's office and told that his work was appreciated, but no longer needed.
"Sometimes I wonder why God is doing this to me," he said. "Why me? Why is he punishing me?"
"I just have to remember that God doesn't give you more than you can handle."
Mrs. Beard looks around her home of antiques and country oak furniture, and shudders at memories of the days when she and her husband rented an apartment that was furnished with an old purple sofa and green and blue chairs. A part-time nurse, she has doubled her hours at work in anticipation that she will become the major bread-winner when her husband's unemployment and severance payments expire this summer.
"I feel bad when I go to work because I know he wishes he could be going," she said, tears streaming from her blue eyes. "I feel frustrated because I don't know how to make it better for him."
The couple's 13-year-old daughter, Christina, has nightmares that her parents will have to send her to her aunt's house because they won't have enough money to keep the family together. Eight-year-old Amanda says she misses having her mother at home. Diana, a chatty 6-year-old, leaves her mother notes because she wants her to feel better.
"Dear Mommy, I love you very much," Diana writes in different-colored markers. "I hope daddy gets a job soon."
A recruiter calls
A smile flashed onto Mr. Beard's face when he came home from the meat market and found a message on his answering machine from a corporate recruiter.
He dropped in the kitchen an ice chest filled with pork chops and beef. Then he dialed the telephone and for 15 minutes sat in the adjoining family room, explaining his professional background and goals.
"It's taking a long time," his wife said nervously, as she packaged the meats and loaded them into the kitchen freezer. "I guess that could be a good sign."
When he walked back into the kitchen, his smile seemed forced.
"Well?" Mrs. Beard asked, her voice shaking.
"They need someone with a top-secret security clearance and I only have a secret clearance," he said, adjusting his wide blue suspenders, "but they wanted to talk to me in case there is an opening in the future."
As if she had been holding her breath for minutes, his wife released a heavy sigh.
They told me I don't match exactly what they are looking for," Mr. Beard said.
"It makes me wonder what he is perfectly qualified for," Mrs. Beard said, turning to a visitor. "He worked at Westinghouse all those years and went all that way and still they are always looking for someone more qualified."
She said pleadingly: "What is it that he needs?"