I blithely ignored the first sign of trouble — a rare early morning phone call from a colleague as I walked to the subway. Had I checked my bank account? she asked. It seems the direct deposits hadn’t shown up, and the rest of the staff was freaking out. The previous night had been a late one, and frankly, I didn’t feel so hot. “Oh, come on. It’s not even 10 a.m.,” I told her wearily. “You guys need to chill out. I’m sure it’s fine.”
By this point, I’d been reassuring people for so long — patiently explaining to various staffers that what appeared from certain angles to be a falling sky was actually just an optical illusion — that I had myself convinced, too. But a few minutes later, after discovering my monthly subway pass had expired, I found myself hesitating to replace it. Was this my last commute?
I stared at the vending machine. The line of straphangers behind me was getting testy. For two years, I’d put everything I had into this job. It was a startup. Chaos and upheaval were part of the gig. I couldn’t go wobbly now.
I selected the monthly pass and handed the MTA my $81. When I stepped out of the subway, my cell was buzzing again. This time it was the boss. “Get over here as soon as you can,” he was saying. And then, gravely: “We’re in the conference room.”
My counterintuitive but extremely effective hangover remedy goes like this: Wake up early. Go to the gym. Consume three glasses of water, four Aleve, and two slices of pizza. Given the urgency in the boss’s voice, though, I skipped the pizza. Fifteen minutes later, when my company was effectively dissolved and my life upended for the foreseeable future, it was clear that was the wrong move.
To an uncanny degree, nearly everyone who’s been laid off tells essentially the same story of how it went down. That’s because your company already has a plan for this eventuality; a file just waiting to be pulled, containing a series of legally vetted steps. Whatever the enterprise’s personality or mission, the implacable logic of the human resources department — cold-bloodedly efficient, and tactically sweetened with doses of “understanding” — wins the day.
That morning, with the entire staff crowded into the conference room, someone naively asked the HR consultant, a hired gun, if we could at least have the weekend to pull our things together. After a pause, he replied simply, “I’m sorry. We’ve got to move to closure.” And then he offered up a curious anecdote. It seems that when his mother died, not long ago, his siblings started squabbling over her house and belongings before her body had even cooled. After the funeral, he recalled, in a theatrical, lip-biting whisper, he was sitting in his mother’s living room when he realized that what really made the place special… was her. “And I guess that’s really my message to you folks, is that, you know, what made this place special was all of you.”
What I thought at the time, head throbbing, a sort of vibrating rage creeping up my spine, was this: “So glad your mom’s death could at least be put to practical use on behalf of our evil billionaire owner.”
Later, I came to see his point. No need to prolong the agony. Don’t be maudlin. Let go. Besides, maybe his mom really did pass.
I walked back to my desk — wait, not my desk anymore… their desk — in a daze. Everything looked the same, but not really. The inbox full of work that would now wait forever, the whiteboard covered with ideas, instantly obsolete. There were crumbs everywhere. Was it always this disgusting? I grabbed a box and a roll of tape and started packing.