The COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged the United States. More than 140,000 people have died, and tens of millions have lost their jobs.
Lakrescia Thompson – a wife, mother, grandmother and former truck driver – is one of the suddenly unemployed. She said she never thought her life could fall apart so quickly and without anyone to blame.
March was supposed to be a fun month for Thompson and her husband Marlon. The two truck drivers had planned to take a couple days off for her birthday. Nothing crazy, just an extra couple of days to rest and catch up. The pair had both recently delivered freight to cities in far South Texas and thought the time off would be no big deal.
“We had been out on March 12,” Thompson said. “When we got back into the area, we just stayed home for a day or two.”
Thompson said, normally, someone from the office calls one of them if they’re gone more than a day. They’re reliable, she said, so they get called in to work all the time. But not this time.
So, Lakrescia and Marlon decided to call their employer to get their upcoming work schedule. This was around the same time that Tarrant County officials were announcing stay-at-home orders.
“We called and they started telling us that one of the major suppliers that we work with had closed down for eight weeks,” Thompson said. “I asked my employer, ‘How does that affect us?’ And well, this is how it affects us – we’re out of work.”
Soon after, Thompson said, Marlon started complaining about his eyesight, so she took him to the hospital. The doctor diagnosed Marlon with Type-2 diabetes and told him he was losing his vision.
“His blood sugar was well over 600,” she said. "The doctor told him to prepare for unemployment."
Now, Thompson’s the lone breadwinner in her family. She said she's trying to stay positive, but this is a first for her. Thompson’s been able to provide for her family throughout parenthood. She raised seven kids. But now, she’s facing eviction. She said she's concerned because she’s got her two-year-old grandson and her elderly father living with her and her husband.
“It’s like a blow to your ego,” she said. “It really is. Because, you know, I’ve worked all these years to make sure my family has a roof over their head. And all of a sudden, we’re facing eviction. It’s scary, because we don’t know what the outcome is going to be. I have people looking up to me, because I am the only one who can work. But I can’t. I can’t find anything.”
Johnson started truck driving in 2013. During that time, she’s been able to wear a lot of hats in the industry. She’s been a freight hauler, a commercial driver’s license instructor and over-the-road instructor who rides across state lines with new drivers.
“Working as a truck driver is fun,” she said. “You get to learn a lot of things. You get to travel a lot.”
Johnson said she has found the drives calming. She really enjoyed some trips more than others because she saw places she’d never seen before.
“I saw a lot of nice places like California,” she said. “I really loved seeing Pennsylvania. And Colorado was my favorite. I had a designated route to Colorado, and I loved it. It’s so beautiful.”
Now that she’s no longer behind the wheel, Johnson said she’s missing the road. She’s also missing the feeling she felt inside herself at the end of a long haul.
“The food everybody eats, you know, the coffee that we’re drinking, the furniture that we’re sitting on, you know, a lot of that is on the back of a truck,” Johnson said. “It does make me happy to think some of this stuff could have been in the back of my truck, especially right now.”
Still, despite her passion for truck driving, Johnson has struggled to find a new job.
“I recently filled out an application,” she said. “I had been calling, you know, trying to figure out what was going on. They decided to not move forward with me.”
She said the decision really bothered her.
“I know there’s nothing to stop me from getting a job. I was even told that I was ‘overqualified.’ How am I ‘overqualified’ to drive a truck? Give me the application and do your research. Let me go to work,” she said.
Johnson said she thought truck driving was a job she and her husband could have for the rest of their lives.
“It’s a career! It really is. It’s like being on the police force or being a doctor or being a journalist,” she said. “It’s something that can take you through your life. So long as you’re a safe and courteous driver…or as long as nothing like COVID-19 happens.”
“I have aches in places I didn’t even know was supposed to hurt,” Johnson said. “But all anyone can tell me is that it’s just stress.”
In the months since being laid off, Johnson has been applying for new jobs and unemployment benefits. She's also trying to get food stamps to help put food into the refrigerator. All the while, she said, parts of her body have started to break down.
“I’m wearing the struggle in my body,” she said. “I hurt in all sorts of different places. One day it’s my knee. Another day, it’s my hip. Yesterday, my shoulders hurt.”
Recently, Thompson said, she was asleep and Marlon woke her up and tried to give her pain medicine. She said she was sort of taken aback because she didn’t know why. Then, Marlon explained to her that she had been screaming in her sleep.
“I try to not let my husband know that I am feeling all the pressure that comes from this situation,” she said. “But sometimes a whole side of my body will hurt. I just can’t do anything.”
Johnson said she’s angry about what has happened to her and her family. She finds the entire situation troubling. She said she can’t understand how someone works their whole life and then has everything taken away just because of a few bad months.
“I haven’t really been taking care of myself,” Johnson said. “Some mornings, I just get up and I scream. And I say, ‘Lord! Why?’”
Johnson is ready for this period in her life to be over. She’s ready to go back to work. She’s ready to take care of her family. She’s ready to stop crying.
“I’m not going to say I don’t know why I am crying all the time. I know. I am crying because I am sad for my family. I am sad they’re having to go through this,” she said. “I don’t fault anyone. You know, this is something that happens. It happens to a lot of us. It’s sad, but very, very true. It’s happening. It’s tearing us apart."
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