I was caught off-guard last week by a quick email from a retiring co-worker:
Thank you for your kind words and I am looking forward to a “rocking chair on the veranda” rather than an office chair at a desk.
It’s been a pleasure working with you and seeing you grow from a young single person and receptionist to an outstanding Senior Administrative Assistant and mother of truly lovely children.
I wish you great success and happiness.
I think I’ve successfully fooled them all!
In all seriousness though, with that one sentence from her, I found myself crying. I found myself reflecting on how long I’ve been working here and how many chapters of life have opened and closed during my stay.
How many chapters we’ve all been through as we have been coming in, day after day, Monday after Monday, for all these years.
How many people have come and gone. There have been so many. Plenty left a heavy impression. People have had their first day and their last day. They’ve been let go and they’ve retired. People have had babies and people have died. These people I never would have met had I not been sitting where I’m sitting.
And I’ve been sitting here for almost 14 years. In this exact same spot. Well, sometimes under the desk, but you get the idea. Never moved. Never fired. Never quit. YET. Whoa.
Fast forward to yesterday as I am cleaning out my desk next to my adorable new co-worker (BECAUSE WE MOVE IN TWO WEEKS PEOPLE) and I say to her, I say “I am finding all kinds of stuff from 2004 because we had to print everything back then” and she says to me, she says, “I was in 6th grade in 2004.”
I started here in 2002, not yet a year sober and in the aftermath of 9/11, so work was hard to come by. I was 29 years old. I will be 43 on my next birthday. A part-time Receptionist job was open and my dad had a connection with this firm, so I jumped on it. A few months later, my boss happened to be looking for a new Assistant and decided to give me a chance. I suited up and showed up. I continue to suit up and show up. The rest is history.
But the real story is how much of my life has happened here. If you think of your life as BS and AS (before sobriety and after sobriety), the way I do, it seems that the most unbelievable, gratitude inspiring things have happened since I began working here.
A relationship ended. A re-kindled relationship with my now husband began.
I started writing and sharing that writing with the world.
We got married. We decided we wanted a family. We tried to start a family, only it wasn’t so easy. This company afforded me help and time to go through what I needed to medically in order to get pregnant and then have these babies and then take maternity leave to spend a good deal of time with them. I still get to spend a good deal of time with them with my work schedule of 3 days in the office and 2 days working from home. I am so thankful.
The truth is, we couldn’t have these kids, this life, without this job and all it’s provided.
We are moving floors in the Tower, so all our desks must be packed up and moved to this new floor. However, there will be less storage space and more efficiency, so everybody needs to toss/recycle all their stuff.
This whole exercise is SCREWING WITH MY SERENITY.
You know those videos that surface showing the remains of an abandoned hotel or ship or city even? Where everything is eerily in tact, but of a different time long forgotten? That’s what my desk area feels like. As I dig deeper, I realize I don’t use 95% of what I have in these drawers, and yet, it’s all still here. All the things I had stuffed away to not think about for the time being.
Close the drawer, don’t look at it and you won’t have to think about it. Except then weeks turn to years turn to decades and you forget what it was like. Until you are forced to confront it all.
I am looking at it all and letting it have a moment and then I am pitching it all. Keeping only what is really necessary. I’ve written what I want to remember and the few mementos that I keep will mean something.
Into the dumpster they go:
The breast pump – OH YES BROKEN DOWN BREAST PUMP – I thank you for your loyal service. I am thankful nobody ever walked in the video conferencing room while I was pumping. I am thankful the video conferencing equipment didn’t receive a call while I was pumping. I am thankful for the nourishment you helped to provide my babes BUT WE ARE DONE. THROUGH. You’ve seen things. Unspeakable things. I always wanted to take a baseball bat a la Office Space to you, but I will let you have some dignity and go out in a dumpster, AS IT SHOULD BE WITH MY STORY. MY DUMPSTER FAMILY IS COMPLETE.
The old message books – I shouldn’t say old as we still use these. Flipping through the handwritten words and marveling that we just don’t hand write anything that much anymore. Except these. May we always use these.
The FLIP PHONES. My first Blackberry! The places gone in the past that are no longer a part of me but exist somewhere deep in the cracks. The squealing joy at the new pink phone case.
My VIP pass from Lollapalooza all those years ago.
Traces of that young angry woman I don’t recognize anymore.
There is make up in one drawer WITH GLITTER.
The cringe worthy relationship memories – I mean, do you have chills the way I do? And not the good kind either. GONE. BUH BYE.
The shoes. OH MY GOD THE SHOES.
Cartons of smokes from years ago that I can’t seem to part with. This one really screwed with me. I quit years ago and I knew those were in my drawer all this time. Like a safety net. But I’m done. I am done. I buried them deep before I could get a picture. And so I wasn’t tempted to dive in the dumpster and retrieve them. Although……
A stack of much loved and page worn Grapevines.
So many items from years ago scream of rebellion. Of defiance. Of contempt prior to investigation. It makes me incredibly grateful to be older. A bit wiser. But also it gave me some time to let that shit go. In all ways. No regrets.
I cry all the damn time. I cry when I clean out my kids clothes, making way for the next size. I thought I had passed the point of ugly crying at work, like the old days. APPARENTLY NOT. Thanks a lot, life.
The things I will keep: acceptance and compliance and wisdom and loyalty and gratitude.
Am I better off than I was all those years ago? The answer to that question is without a moment’s pause, YES. A thousand times yes. That’s part of why this is all messing with me so much. I also have had a huge realization that I am so much more confident in who I am and what I do than I was all those years ago. As I flip through evaluations and read the words about a younger, less sure of herself person, I am thankful that I’ve sat here long enough to know what the hell I’m doing. Or at least act like I do much more convincingly.
As I keep fighting to regain my composure wondering just where that young woman who left all this stuff went, I look at the few remaining items on my desk and I realize, I have everything I ever wanted and could ever need right in front of me.
I hope one day I’ll be able to leave someplace as an old broad and leave kind words behind to those still coming up. But not for quite a while. For now I try to spread kindness and laughter around to help get us through the day to day and hope it helps. The next time we do a big move, it may be me riding out in that dumpster. How fitting would that be?
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