I always arrived very early, when it was quiet. I preferred that to the noisy, busy time of day. In those first 2 hours before the rest of the working world at our company arrived I could achieve a far higher level of productivity than once phones began ringing and people wanted to hang out and talk.
I stopped in the kitchen, put my lunch in the fridge and started the coffee. Once it began to brew I made my way through the dark cubical farm to the other side of the floor where my desk was located. Once there I turned on my computer, stashed my purse and grabbed my coffee cup, heading back to the other side of the wing to fill it up. The coffee maker was one of those industrial types that puts out a full, thermos style pot in about 2 minutes. Plenty of time for it to be ready when I returned. I pulled that pot out, and started another, because I was the coffee fairy as one coworker called me. He also would arrive early and that was his great joy each day, finding fresh coffee waiting for his empty cup. Those who arrived very early kept the lights off and only used our under cabinet lights on our desks to see. This created a quiet environment and seemed to help with the focus, as if you were the only one really there slaving away.
Back at my desk I pulled out my breakfast and logged on to my computer. I had a few minutes before my official starting time so I pulled up the online edition of the local news paper to see if anything important had happened over night. I vaguely recall hearing the door from the stairwell open and close, but since it was over by the kitchen I could not see who it was, and assumed it was one of the other early birds. I had just pulled out what I was going to work on first when motion in the little review mirror I had fixed to the monitor caught my eye. Turning around I saw my boss in the empty workstation behind me taking hold of a chair and wheeling it toward my area. In his hand was a large white envelope.
To this day I am not sure how I knew what was coming. Maybe because the company was once again in that stage of downsizing, but I always had kept my job in the past. I did a lot of work and knew that what I did would be difficult to handle by another person who was already busy, so never would I think I might be on the chopping block. They say when you are about to die your life passes before your eyes, and while I was not about to depart this world, events of the past few years were going through my minds eye in fast forward. The rapid recollection of certain events no doubt were the real reason behind my being selected after such a long time with the company, yet I still could not wrap my head around what I knew was about to happen. I was always early, stayed over if needed, rarely actually took lunch but instead ate at my desk while working. AND I actually worked!
My heart was in my throat and I started shaking. I could NOT afford to lose my job right now. I had student loans, a mortgage and a kid in college. I hadn’t finished the college at night because we had taken in 4 foster kids and our finances were so depleted, we were butt deep in debt from it even though they were back with their daddy, and my not having a job in an economy that was circling the toilet bowl was not going to be good.
But that was exactly what was happening, at 6:30am on a Friday. The boss talked on about how he was sorry he had to do it but cuts had to be made, and some other nonsense I wasn’t processing. I was fighting to just breathe, not cry, and not pass out. When he said I could maybe pursue the sign language interpreting I had been in school for, it was evident he was shocked when I said I had not been able to finish and could not afford to return, especially without a job. He then said we could transfer to the husband’s medical with the fire department, and again I could see the surprise when I informed him that my spouse did not have a full time position, so no, we would not have medical, but that we did have a daughter in college and she was required by the university to have insurance. I did open my mouth and ask, “why me?”. He told me that there were other admins in the department so he had to make a cut. I bit my tongue, wanting to say “really, so why not YOUR direct admin? You know, the one who shows up 45 minutes late, takes 2 hour lunches, and is always standing at someone else’s desk talking” but I knew it was not worth it. I wanted to part with some dignity.
He left my cube, telling me he did it early before the rest of the crew arrived so I had time to compose myself and pack my things. For that I was grateful. I began the process of emptying my desk and file cabinets of what was mine to take. 26 years worth of accumulated stuff that I now wondered why I had kept at all.
You learn quickly who your friends are, and who really has your back when something like this happens. I picked up the phone while I packed, and dialed my husband at the fire house…..
…to be continued