Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Crossing the Withered Crag

Retaining an Appearance of Professionalism While Getting Fired
A Short Narrative by Michael W. Haynes
Note: In March of 2012 I was "let go" at my place of employment. In May of 2012 I found new employment. Those two months were a roller-coaster of emotions for my wife and I. The following narrative is an artistic and embellished account of my experience at the beginning of this life changing experience. Stay tuned...
Part One: Mantra
I’m not quite sure how to describe it. I suppose it’s like standing under the metaphorical black cloud, knowing that lightning is going to strike at any moment, but not knowing when. And when it finally does strike, it’s no surprise, but the shock is just as powerful and devastating.
I arrived at the office, looking forward to my first cup of coffee. D_____ and I were chatting and I had just picked up my empty “Marvin Martian” coffee mug from my desk when the phone rang. A_____’s name lit up on the phone’s caller ID panel.
The lightning had just struck. A_____ was the HR Legal Counsel, and as far as my job was concerned, Death had just rung the front door bell.
I answered with my usual professional tone, “Good morning. This is Mike,” as the carpeting on the floor shriveled away and cracks formed beneath my shaking feet.
“Hi Mike. Could you come down to the second floor HR office for a moment? We need to speak with you.”
“Sure. I’ll be right down.” I kept my tone pleasant, upbeat and professional. My feet were numb, and my heart was trying to burst out of my chest. I put down the receiver slowly. “Well D_____, this is my last cup of coffee here.”
“What do you mean?” D_____ was a contractor who hadn’t been around long enough to understand what a call from A_____ meant to a regular employee.
“The HR Legal Rep wants to talk to me.”
“Yup. My job here is over. A_____ is the unfortunate person who has to be involved in anyone’s dismissal,” I explained as we headed toward the coffee pot. My voice was still steady, and I was “matter-of-fact.” My composure was rock solid, but the room was shaking, the cracks in the floor under my feet were growing wider, and it was all I could do to hold on to my coffee mug.
“Maybe it’s something else.” He offered hopefully.
“Nope,” I poured my last cup of coffee as calmly as I could. “If it was something else, she would have told me what the ‘something else’ was. I’d better get going. I don’t want to keep them waiting.” I set the coffee pot down gently.
“What? They’re about to let you go, and you’re worried about keeping them waiting?” He asked incredulously.
I laughed at that. “Yeah, just simple human courtesy, I suppose. I can’t imagine that they’re actually looking forward to this any more than I am.”
“You’re a bigger man than me.”
“Don’t be so sure!” I joked, “I haven’t faced them yet!” The floor was falling out from under me now, and the walls had begun crumbling away by the time I had reached the elevator.
I stepped inside the elevator and turned. The doors slowly closed in solemn silence, and I felt oddly safe and secure in that small, confined space. “Nothing can touch me here.” In that brief moment of serenity a mantra formed and started echoing in my head, “professional; upbeat; no sob story; no complaining; no yelling; no tears.”
Part Two: Attitude
Breathe.” I reminded myself as the doors opened onto the second floor. Only there was no floor; no walls; just darkness. All that was left by now was a withered, narrow crag that led to a lonely, stone bunker in the distance. The harsh, cold, buffeting wind nearly knocked me down, but I strove forward. “The only way out is through,” I told myself, “Breathe!”
The door to the cramped bunker opened with a sad, whimpering sigh. The damp, stone walls glistened in the primitive torchlight. G_____, our CIO, looked up at me with a somber look on his face. The pale, flickering light accented the lines of dread that crossed his brow, and A_____ stood just to my right with her hands folded in front of her... She glanced at me and managed a weak smile.
“Ah!” I exclaimed in mock surprise, “I’m glad I grabbed some coffee first!”
G_____ replied with a sad half smile, “Yes Mike. I guess you know why we asked you here.”
“Yes, I assumed as much.” I replied softly, sitting down and taking a sip of coffee.
The torchlight dimmed as the air became heavier. I could feel the entire room quaking uneasily. I was hoping that the “honest-sincere-and-professional” mask that I had put on just before I entered was doing its job, because my feet had just melted to the floor, and my hands had become shackled to the table in front of me. I was paralyzed. Then as G_____ spoke, everything else around me blurred, and all I could hear was the rushing of my own blood flowing through my ears.
(Oh shit! This is really happening!)
I kept my mask on, nodding my head politely as if I could actually hear and comprehend what he was saying to me.
(Breathe! Breathe Damn it! Look him in the eyes! Keep that goddamn mask on! No fucking tears now! Damn it!)
“…So I’m sorry it has to be this way,” he concluded. “A_____ will cover the details of your transition and will have some papers for you to sign before you go.”
(“Transition!” Is that what they fucking call this now?)
He stood up and started briskly for the door.
(Get up! Get on your feet man! Say something positive, and shake his hand! Damn it! Let that son of a bitch know that he just fired a real professional! )
I felt my body stand and step toward him. (Did he just flinch?) I saw my hand reach out and grasp his in a firm handshake. My lips started moving, “I’m grateful for the time I have worked here, and I’m proud to have been a part of such a talented team that has contributed so much to the company’s growth.” (Wow! This is pouring out of me like syrup!) “I wish you all the best and look forward to reading great things about the company in the future!”
He blinked. His mouth opened. Then it closed again. Then it opened and he stammered, “Wow! You have a great attitude!” He then turned and hurried out the door.
Part Three: Things I Need to Do
I sat down again as A_____ began explaining what would be happening next, severance package terms and continued insurance coverage, etc. Reality began to slowly fade back in. First the carpeted floor reappeared beneath my feet. The stone walls were replaced with finely finished drywall, some nice prints adorned the room, and lastly, the primitive torches were replaced with soft, fluorescent lighting.
My feet became unglued from the floor, the shackles had fallen from my hands, and I could speak again. A sense of purpose and resolve rushed over me. My job was gone, but I was still here. I was still a professional, and I could still accomplish any goal I set my mind to.
(Holy shit! What a trip that was!)
I looked excitedly over at A_____, “So, can I get my stuff from my desk now? I’ve just lost my job and I’ve got things I need to do!”