The last day of my first office job began with an invitation to a mysterious staff meeting and ended at Brick Store because in between we were all laid off.
The last day of my second job, which I often forget about, I’ve also forgotten.
On the last day of my third job I left early, carried a box of my windowsill plants to the car, then zoomed off to claim the shelter dog I’d soul-bonded with over hotdog slices two days earlier.
The last day of my fourth job was technically two Thursdays ago, and I spent the day as I’ve spent every day for the last six months, mostly doing baby things with a baby, only at some point, off in some HR software somewhere, off in some server room, something went beep boop and I became marked as terminated in the system.
A job is a cover, financially and existentially, and leaving a job has always made me feel weird and naked like a hermit crab scuttling between shells. Before I went on maternity leave in October, I knew my life was about to change, and I knew that being away for so long — to say nothing of having a baby — would necessarily prompt some sort of renegotiation with my relationship to work, but I guess I figured I’d end up where I started. Of course I would! Who would I be without a job? What shape would my life take without a job? What else would I do?
It was strange to realize that these questions could be something other than rhetorical. It was strange to realize that I didn’t want to go back to work, that I wanted to quit and take care of the baby, and that quitting to take care of the baby might somehow make more time for my writing; strange to realize that we could afford it; strange to make such a big change so quickly after years of desire trapped in sludge. It was strange to leave while I was still on leave and equally strange to realize all the ways I’d been leaving for a while already, all the days that felt like the last of something before the actual end.
Before the Thursday three weeks ago there was the Friday in October when I set my autoresponders, shoved my laptop into a drawer, then waddled around my house in a daze, overwhelmed by the months rolling out before me, blank but spoken for, less than I wanted and more than I thought I’d need.
And then the week after when I met my team for lunch, and they gave me flowers and gifts for the baby, and we laughed at my swallowed-a-watermelon physique Zoom had been concealing for months.
And before that was the Wednesday last February when I went to the office for the first time in two years to clean out my desk, when I stuffed my tote bags full of six years’ worth of notebooks and doo-dads and felt like I was plundering some recently-unearthed archeological wonder, some lost world found perfectly preserved: the stale cache of pseudo-healthy snacks, the single withered miniature cactus, the dusty post-it note of 2020 goals.
And before that was the Friday in March two years earlier when I packed up my spider plants so they wouldn’t wilt over the next two weeks while we worked at home, and then the next afternoon when I went back to grab a handful of forgotten cords and dongles, holding my breath in the empty elevator, wondering if this dumb errand was why I would die.
And in between was the day in September when I read about the sale online, twelve hours after it posted, same as anyone else, and the day in November when the deal closed and we all became employees of the other place, day one all over again.
Beginning to end, I was there — whatever “there” means — for nine years, one month, and nine days. I was employee number three-hundred-something of I don’t know how many thousand. And now it’s done. There will be a last day of this, too, of course; I’ll get stir-crazy, or I’ll get itchy about money, or the baby won’t be a baby anymore (I hear that happens), and I will long for the shelter of some other calcium carbonate swirl. Until then, I scuttle along. What else would I do?
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The image is Eadweard Muybridge’s Animal Locomotion (Plate 535).
I was so surprised by how ambivalent I was about leaving my job after I had my first baby. Something that consumed almost every waking moment pre-baby just drifted into the background of my consciousness.