The Empty Office
The old guy’s wife announced his retirement 26 months ago. Even threw a party. None of the firm’s employees and independent contractors like me were invited. Thirty-six years working for him and the party went on without me.
Maybe because he wasn’t part of it. His own party and he was on the periphery. Although 78-years-old, he wasn’t ready to hang up his legal career. He didn’t participate in the party planning at all. It was her party, not his.
And, he didn’t retire. Slowed down a little. Three days a week in the office, two working from home. Far from retirement. His busiest client was busier than ever, so he was too.
A prosperous and hectic year passed. His wife wasn’t happy. Trips to their mountain vacation home were cut short due to work demands.
2020 started off the same — work scheduled for months in the future. Then, the pandemic struck and our state locked down for a month. But, not that office. Lawyers are essential workers.
The firm’s managing partner told his mentor to stay home. “Why risk getting Covid at your age?” he said.
The old guy did stay home more, but he brought work from the office, stopping by once or twice a week to fill a box and a briefcase.
The client that generated 80% of his work slowed down, took a wait-and-see-attitude about the economy, not wanting to risk real estate investments that might languish in a pandemic.
The old guy had more time to do other things. He’s not one of those my-work-is-my-life sorts. He’s a gourmet cook and a master gardener. He walks miles every day for his health. He’s an avid reader and a golfer. And, there’s that mountain home.
He was always a hard worker but not a workaholic. He practiced balance.
But, the pandemic showed him how life could be without the pressure of real estate negotiations, contracts, and closings. Without overhead and payroll to worry about. Without those $2,000 business suits.
In December 2020, he announced his retirement — again — without a party, without regret.
I wondered if he’d really do it. The managing partner and I figured the old guy would drag it out. Maybe by the end of summer 2021 he’d leave the office for the last time. Maybe not.
I’m working evenings and weekends now as my personal method of virus mitigation. I haven’t seen the old guy in months. We communicate by handwritten notes because he reads emails but doesn’t answer them.
Last weekend, I went to put something on his desk. I walked in the door and gasped. Yes, audibly gasped. Everything personal was gone from his space. Not one family photo or community award remained.
It’s real this time.
This past Wednesday night, I walked by his office and the door was closed. His door is never closed unless he’s inside meeting with clients. He hasn’t done that for months and certainly not at 9 pm on a Wednesday.
Curious, I opened the door and flipped the switch. Most of the furniture — the very special pieces that the old guy loves— were gone. The remaining pieces were draped in drop-cloths. The scent of paint lingered. The walls were a different color for the first time in more than 10 years.
He was truly gone.
I was surprised when a tear rolled down my cheek.
Was it because I’d miss him? Because it was the end of an era? Because I was jealous that he retired before me?
Although our social and political opinions differed greatly, I once admired his intelligence, honesty, and integrity. That admiration evaporated the day in 2017 when he stood in my office trying to convince me that Trump would be an excellent president, bragging that Trump was saving him thousands of dollars in taxes, saying that Trump’s constant lying was not of importance. I asked him to leave my office. We haven’t had a personal conversation since. I’ll think of him occasionally but won’t miss him.
The era? Well, that ended with the pandemic. Nothing’s the same, even before his exit. I have a sense of sad regarding that.
Jealous of his retirement? Definitely. My semi-retirement is proving not to be enough for me.
But, there’s something else, too. An almost 38-year business relationship will end with little to show for it — emotionally, speaking. It’s possible I may never see him again.
And, sadly, that’s okay.