June 27, 2005
Good To Go

It didn't take long to pack on Friday.  

Most of my personal belongings had already been boxed and stashed away in the coat closet next to the front desk, weeks earlier.  As soon as things had started going sour around The Dirt Company, earlier in the year -- as soon as it had started to look like my days there might be numbered -- I'd quietly begun packing away books and photos and Mystic Spirit CDs, a few at a time, into empty copier-paper boxes, labeled "TLR PERSONAL." On Friday morning, when JoAnne and I decided that this was going to be my last day, all I had to do was unplug my electric fan, empty my private hanging files and pull the last of the Tot Photos from my cubicle walls.

"I hate this," JoAnne sniffled, as she stood in the doorway watching me drop the groovy red stapler into a box marked "Desktop Essentials."

I hated it too. This wasn't the way I wanted to leave The Dirt Company. After four years  (and countless Soil Density Reports), I was hoping to leave my job with a little more  ... I dunno ...  ceremony, I guess.  A little hoopla. A little fanfare. A little recognition for all the years of hard work and personal contribution and blah blah blah blah blah.  Cake and balloons in the Conference Room, maybe. A farewell lunch. An insincere Hallmark signed by all the nerdy geotechs, at the very least. But this was the hand that Fate had dealt me --  this secretive last-minute exit from Goodbye, Dirt Companya job I have alternately loved and loathed for nearly four years -- and I was just going to have to make the best of it.  Although I submitted my official resignation letter to JoAnne forty minutes after I got into the office in the morning, she and I both agreed to keep things on the down-low, at least until the end of the day.  She wouldn't be faxing a copy of my letter to the corporate office until late in the afternoon ... primarily so I wouldn't have to deal with any sort of unpleasant last-minute confrontation with Bob, aka Mr. "Depression-Is-All-In-Your-Head" Temporary Office Manager Guy.

Until then: mum was the word.

"Go away," I ordered my weepy boss, finally, as she stood there blotting her eyes with a battered Kleenex. "You're just making things worse." And I gave her the last two Rocky Road Miniatures from my middle desk drawer -- who will supply her with her favorite candy, after I'm gone? -- plus half a Valium from my dwindling stash. Then I banished her down the hall to her office, where she closeted herself away behind closed doors
.  For the rest of the morning, we communicated solely through i.m. and e-mail. ("Do you need me to submit a time sheet before I leave?" "Yes please." "OK, thanks." "You're welcome.") The day passed in a blur of frenzied, secretive activity, as I feverishly updated extension lists and deleted old voicemail messages.  I'd been hoping for two weeks' notice, at least -- time enough to update the front desk reference manual, to clean out all useless computer files, to put in a final office supply order, to make the front desk as user-friendly as possible for my successor, whoever she may turn out to be (especially if 'she' turned out to be JOANNE). But with a mere eight hours' notice, there was no time for such luxuries.

So I settled for deleting my personal e-mail and clearing out my cache, in hopes that that would be good enough.

At one point, one of the nerdier of the nerdy geotech guys obliviously approached me with a report that needed formatting/reproducing/scanning/PDFing/faxing/mailing/shipping RIGHT THIS VERY MINUTE. It was plastered with the usual crazy-quilt of Post-It notes: Double-sided!  Look for staples! Copy onto SF letterhead!  Ordinarily that kind of condescension drives me batty -- after twenty-something years of doing this stuff, you sort of already KNOW to look for staples and double-sided pages, OK? -- plus there was the last-minuteness of the project, coupled with the 'Drop everything and do it right now' mindset of the typical engineer. But on this day, the usual annoyances barely registered.

This is the last time I'm going to have to do this,
whispered the shaky voice of Impending Freedom in my heart. The thought filled me with a weird mix of terror and exhilaration.

I finished his report in less than an hour. Plus I made him an extra copy for his personal file, without him asking for it, and I put a little Post-It note of my own on the front page. Here you go!  it said. Let me know if you need anything else.  

I didn't bother to add that if he DID need 'something else,' he was going to have to ask 'someone else' to do it for him.

Still, in spite of all the secrecy and subterfuge and packing-when-nobody-was-looking, by mid-afternoon the cat had finally begun clawing its way out of the bag. Once or twice, during the course of the day, I'd given in to a quick sneaky attack of The Weepies, whenever I remembered that I was quitting my job. My eyes were swollen and Maybelline-smeared as a result. Plus I'd actually broken down and told a couple of the women what was going on.  

"This is my last day," I whispered to Dawn at lunch. She's leaving the company herself, next month -- her last day is July 8th -- and I think there was a part of me that just wanted to align myself with her, as a member of The Short-Timers Club. (Actually, there are three women, besides me, who are leaving the company within the next couple of weeks.  It's one of those mass exodus situations.)  Dawn told two friends, and they told two friends ... and so on, and so on.  By the end of the afternoon, you could tell who *knew* I was leaving -- and who didn't know -- by the expression on their faces. The people who knew looked sad and sympathetic and encouraging.

The people who didn't know looked straight through me, as though I were invisible.

"I think it's probably OK to go ahead and fax my resignation letter to Corporate now," I told JoAnne at 4:00.  By this point, what could they do?  FIRE me? Plus it meant I was now officially free to wander around the office and say a few proper goodbyes to the people who have populated my life, for better or for worse, for the past four years. I sent out the same all-company 'goodbye' e-mail that I'd sent when I left the Totem Pole Company, a few years earlier  ... the one that ends with the
ancient Tibetan blessing  
(May you be filled with loving kindness. May you be well. May you be peaceful and at ease. May you be happy.)  Then I walked around the office with my cell phone in one hand and a notebook and pen in the other hand, snapping camera photos of co-workers and scribbling down personal e-mail addresses.  

When I was finished with the goodbyes, I returned to the front desk to wait out my last half hour. I spent the final thirty minutes of my Dirt Company career surrounded by the women who have loved and supported and encouraged me, from Day One: the lovely Jane (who has promised to serve as a professional reference, once my job-search efforts begin in earnest)   ...  Dawn and Becky, the sweet young engineers who have served as surrogate daughters  ... Carolyn, the gorgeous geological scientist who I treated very badly, the first few months she worked here ("I'm sorry for that," I told her, and we hugged each other in reconciliation) ... Sheryl, the Marketing Coordinator, who added to my snowman collection last Christmas ... everyone, in fact, except for JoAnne, who found the whole thing too excruciatingly sad and left the office early, after a quick teary hug goodbye.  My female co-workers -- none of the men were there, not a single one -- stood clustered around the front desk and kept me company for that final half hour, while I waited for David to come and pick me up. 

"What are your plans?" they asked me.

I told them that I "plan" to spend the next couple of weeks sitting around in my Happy Pants, downloading porn off the Internet. The truth is a lot less interesting: I "plan" to go see my nice lady doctor and see what we can do about chemical help for my depression. I also plan to sleep, write, walk, do laundry, catch up on e-mail, listen to music, eat peanut butter on wheat toast, clean out my underwear drawer, organize my photo albums, ride my bike, finish updating the old journals in my archives,  and basically putter around the apartment in aimless and unhurried fashion. In a couple of weeks, I'll dust off the résumé and begin the search for another job ... but in the meantime, it's going to be nothing but rest and rehabilitation for this very frazzled, very depressed (and it's NOT all in my head, Mr. Temporary Office Manager Guy, you big ignorant intolerant SHMUCK).

David showed up promptly at 5:00. I switched the phones over to Night Bell, hugged my co-workers goodbye, loaded the boxes of my personal belongings onto a handcart and walked out the door of The Dirt Company for the very last time.

It was professional. It was calm. It was dignified.  And It left me feeling as though maybe these last four years of my life weren't such a waste, after all.

Still  ...  a couple of balloons would have been nice.


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don't tell tom cruise about the antidepressants, ok?