I wake up this morning at 6:00 sharp, the predawn darkness enveloping me in a cocoon, thick and heavy. My stomach gives a little lurch as I realize that today is The Day. 6 years, 4 months, and 22 days ago I walked through the front doors of KNA as an employee. Today, I will leave there jobless, forced to say goodbye to a bevy of friends and coworkers, and step out into a cloudy future. I would like to skip this part, just stay in bed, warm and toasty beneath the covers. As long as I am there, I am safe and secure. I am still employed. But of course, I can’t.
I stop at Starbucks for a latte. It is packed inside, full of people with destinations. They are all going somewhere. To work, to school. I envy them. Already, I feel like I am a separate entity, adrift on a sea of uncertainty. The coffee shop is my lifeline, my tether.
Sink or swim. Must keep moving.
I pull into the parking lot. Back into a space, of course, because that is what I do. Bag slung over my shoulder, coffee in my hand. Through the door, swipe my timecard, climb the stairs. This is the last time, I keep thinking. The last time I walk past the conference room. The last time I log onto my computer. The last time I stick my lunch in the refrigerator. Thinking of the lasts makes me think of the firsts. There was such an air of excitement then; the world was fresh and new. And different. I’d left a job I despised, on my own terms, to come work for KNA. It felt sort of like destiny; I’d once worked across the street from them in Portland, and was curious enough to research the company. Then they moved to Camas, five minutes from my house. I interviewed there, in 2002, but the timing wasn’t right. Two years later, it was. I am not a believer in astrology, but the day of my interview, I check my horoscope. This day is flavored with that most unusual spice, deja vu. This revisiting of the past gives you a chance to do better. You’re now more mature, after all, and have the self-possession required to calmly finish any incomplete business. I cut it out of the newspaper even before it turns out to be true. Post it on my cubicle wall as a reminder: things that are meant to be, will be.
Even if they aren’t meant to be forever…
I boot up my e-mail. Immediately, there are problems. Incoming messages bounce back to their senders as undeliverable. My outgoing messages disappear into the ether. I attempt to print a document. I have access to none of my printers. My files are unreachable, the paths to them cut. Unlinked links. I am here on my last day, completely willing to work…and completely unable to do so.
It doesn’t matter. There are doughnuts in the warehouse, courtesy of my good friends in the Print Shop. They have gone out of their way for me these past few weeks, and remain true to the very end. There is an impromptu get-together, a gathering of folks from various departments. They are all optimistic that I’ll land on my feet and end up better off somewhere else. I think I have been feeding off this confidence for weeks, and it has made me stronger. The business of business aside, I ask how I can go out in a blaze of glory. “Streak through the warehouse,” somebody suggests, and I laugh. I have to do this delicately, without burning any bridges. I have been thinking about the intercom. It can be, and once was, a source of hilarity, until management clamped down on that years ago. But on this, my final day, can’t the good times be resurrected once more? Someone comes up with the brilliant idea of paging employees who are no longer with the company. It’s a gem of a plan, and I am on board. Harmless, inoffensive, and funny. Perhaps annoying to some, but I see it as the perfect sayonara.
I page the ghosts of employees past periodically through the morning. Brad, once in IT. Chuck, our long-departed purchasing guy. Rick, the man who hired me and later moved on. My coworkers laugh every time a new old name is mentioned. This, it appears, has been a great plan.
The HR Manager meets me at my cubicle. She apologizes for “jumping the gun” and inadvertently turning off my access to everything a day early. Instead of meeting at 1:30 to go over final paperwork, she suggests 10:30. “Then you can go home.” I say that I want to be paid for the entire day. “Of course,” she replies. This sounds like a pretty good deal to me. We meet, and it feels surreal, signing my name to my Notification Of Position Elimination paperwork. She hugs me, a nice gesture that feels more Personal than Corporate. I am given time to make my rounds and say my final goodbyes. There are more hugs and handshakes. People liked me, I realize. Even people that I barely knew. They all think I got a raw deal. I am both humbled and strengthened by this show of solidarity.
All too soon, I have run out of goodbyes. I couldn’t squeeze everybody in – some were gone, some were on the phones, some (a few) I just didn’t want to bother with.
I pick up the phone. Page one last person over the intercom. Andy, our former CEO. I never did receive a memo announcing his departure, come to think of it…
I walk into the warehouse. Down the stairs. Glance back once. The hustle and bustle are in full swing. Will I never really see the inside of this place again?
I am outside. The fall air is crisp, the sun peeking out from behind the clouds.
I start my car. The CD that had been playing on my way in picks up from where it left off earlier. A band called The Cinematics. “A Strange Education.” The lyrics are frighteningly apt.
I’ll walk this long road ’til I find my way home; to somewhere familiar, to lay down my bones.
As KNA dwindles to a speck in my rearview mirror, I think, that is exactly what I am doing…