“I really can’t afford to be terminated,” he says, rubbing his sweaty forehead. “My daughter’s getting married next month. That would sort of ruin the whole mood, and I don’t want to put my daughter through that.”
I nod and try to bury my nose even further into the book I’m reading, “The Tibetan Book of the Dead.” They say these are the words which are chanted by monks over a dying or dead person which leads them to enlightenment. I figure it’s something worth knowing.
“What do you think your chances are?” the guys asks me, not getting the hint.
“I don’t know how you can be so cool about it. You must be confident.”
I put my book down with my finger saving the page. “Yeah, confident I won’t be here tomorrow.”
“That bad, huh?” he says, with an almost twisted satisfaction in his voice. Misery loves company, but right now, I just want to be alone. I want to gather my thoughts and be prepared. It’s not like this will be easy. I always sensed I was going to be let go. I haven’t been pulling my weight for some time, and I’m just not worth the resources anymore. I’ve resigned myself to it, with the help of my therapist and Xanax.
“You know, I could put in a good word for you,” he says. I guess he feels like he has to say something to try to help.
“You don’t even know me,” I say.
“It’s not like they know that. You and me, oh sure, we go way back. Real stand up guy.”
“No, it’s just that time. Like when Eskimos used to send their elderly out on an ice flow because they’re more trouble than they’re worth.”
“What?” I ask.
“They prefer to be called Inuits.”
I laugh. “Well, you learn something new every day.”
“Hey, if you start cramming now,” he says with a smile, “maybe you can fool them into thinking you’re worth keeping around.”
The door opens and one of the suits steps out, staring down at his clipboard. “George Anderson,” he says.
“Well, wish me luck,” the man who is apparently named George says.
“Good luck, and all my best for your daughter and her special day.”
“Here’s hoping,” George says, straightening his tie as the door closes.
I’m alone in the room. I showed up early because I already had all my affairs in order, and I had nothing left to do. I’m fairly confident I’ll be checking out today, so I just unburdened myself of my usual duties.
It was tough, honestly, not doing the usual routine. I’ve been doing it for 38 years. Now that change is coming, I’m at a loss. I don’t even know what to do with myself. I feel so cliché, turning to religion in my situation. Grasping out for every scrap of meaning I can find, hoping there’s something deeper I missed that might make it all easier.
When I was growing up, I was so sure I was going to be somebody. I was different, I would be important. People would wait with baited breath, hanging on my every word. I would be so famous I would retreat from the publicity, and get sick of being asked for autographs at urinals. Then I would have a tasteful come back. I had it all figured out…
Ah, to be young again and know everything. There was nothing I couldn’t solve in my imagination when I was in my 20s. Then, at some point, I became cynical and believed none of my own bullshit, or anyone else’s bullshit for that matter.
Of course, you don’t have to believe in something in order for it to affect you. I guess that’s been the case with me these last few years. I don’t like where we’ve ended up as a society, but it’s bigger than me. What can I do to change it? I’m already busy enough being obsolete.
It’s odd how the only people with the time to fix things are the people who already have more than they could ever need. It’s no wonder we as a culture are in no rush to correct our mistakes: everyone either can’t find the time to fix it or they’re too busy enjoying their undeserved success.
And here I was, positive that I would just find myself at the top. There was never a plan, I just relied on the hope that I was exceptional. I guess, in retrospect, I should have looked at how pedestrian my parents were. Then, it might have occurred to me that I wasn’t going to grab the world by the tail.
The door opens and the suit calls my name. I set my book down in the room on the table, alongside fashion and sports magazines. Hopefully the next person takes something more from it than I did.
We go through a long hallway lit with bright fluorescent bulbs. The walls are lined with typical motivational posters, with majestic pictures and inspirational quotes beneath. One says “Teamwork / When we all work together, we all win together.” The picture shows skydivers in a circle formation, plummeting towards the Earth.
I have a seat in the chair across from the interviewer and I eye the security guard as he positions himself in front of the door behind me, which he closes.
“Do you know what I’m going to say to you?” the interviewer asks, peaking out over the frames of his glasses.
I nod, fidgeting with my tie. I straighten my hair with the palm of my hand.
“So you’re aware of your impending termination?”
I nod again.
“Am I to understand you’ve sorted out all the necessary loose ends?”
I nod one more, wordless. There’s no big scene, there’s no angry exchange.
“Alright then. The guard will escort you to the room where you’ll fill out the exit forms and we can finalize your termination.”
He says this last bit while typing furiously at his keyboard, making no eye contact with me. I half expect him to shoo me off with a wave, but pretty soon the guard has his hand on my shoulder and the interviewer is still typing.
The forms take no time at all to complete. I look at the guard, who stares back at me, unflinching. He’s a big guy, maybe six foot six, football player type. I guess this is all normal for him, considering he does this all day, every day. I put my forms into the large brown envelope on the table.
“Just leave it there, you can proceed to the next room,” the guard says.
The guard pushes a button and the airlock opens. I step inside. Seconds after the door is shut behind me, the gas begins filling the chamber. I lay down in the fetal position and think about my wife.