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Guest Post: Born Ready

(This post comes to us from Chicago writer Simon A. Smith, a contestant in our Soul Shelter First-Person Essay Award. Enjoy.)

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• These Things Happen by Simon A. Smith fortune_cookie_fired_pshrink50.JPG

Right before the President called me into his office and told me to leave, I was getting ready to send another one of those long e-mails I’d become famous for around the office. I have a tendency to over explain myself and edit the living hell out of every last word before pressing send. Let’s see… should I point out that I already touched on this during previous correspondence or would that be too harsh… Delete. Noooo… hmmm… delete. Start over.

“Mr. K would like to speak with you in his office.” I’m not sure when he had arrived, but suddenly there my manager was standing over my shoulder. His legs and hips were all twitchy, like Elvis dancing, and I thought he might lose his bladder if I asked any questions, so I just got up and left without finishing the e-mail.

President K was seated at the head of a large conference table in his office. He looked so lonesome and bewildered sitting there by himself. I wasn’t used to seeing him like that. “We’re waiting for Pete,” he said, poking his glasses up higher onto his nose. Pete was our HR guy. That’s when I knew something serious was going on. I knew Robbie and Norm and Heather and Liza had all been let go earlier in the week, but I just didn’t think they were going to get rid of me. I was the only one in my department. After a long pause, K pointed to a clock on the wall and told me how he had gotten the thing custom made for himself in France, his own last name painted on it and everything. I lied and told him it was nice. Everything about the exchange was clumsy and rehearsed.

Get ready. That’s what I told myself. You’re getting canned today and you’ve never experienced this before. Today you’re going to feel things and think things you’ve never known, and I want you to soak them up. This is part of the human experience. You’re a writer. You might use this.

Pete came in and before he could join us at the table, K was already starting in. “You know there has been a lot of restructuring going on at the corporate level,” he was saying, “and there’s going to be a lot of changes…” And that’s when I lost my concentration. I tried focusing on Pete’s mouth as he followed up, but all I heard was a long series of hums, hushed motor noises, some wet tongue clicks, more mumbling and then… “These things happen. It’s nothing personal.” When he stopped talking I felt like I had woken from a dream. I think I actuallylayoff_box_pshrink30.JPG said thank you. Why would anyone say that? Pete handed me a box and told me to collect what I needed and take off. How odd that they had a box all ready for me, sitting there like a grocery basket beside the door.

“Everyone should go through this once in their life.” I said that as I carried the box over to my desk and began loading things into it. One of my close friends stood up from behind her cube and hugged me. She wouldn’t stop crying. I told her not to worry about me.

At first I started cleaning everything on top of my desk and inside it and then I stopped. I dropped everything in a heap in the middle of the table. “What the hell am I doing?” I asked. “I don’t work here anymore.” I couldn’t think straight. I felt like I had to keep checking my pockets for my wallet and car keys. As I closed the box I told myself, Remember this. For the rest of your life you’ll know what it’s like to fill one of those cardboard boxes with all of your belongings. Before this, you only saw it in movies or read about it in books.

I took the train to Lincoln Square and ordered lunch at Costello’s. While I was waiting at the table for my number to be called, I realized that I couldn’t even remember what sandwich I had ordered. I looked down at the soda in my hand on the table and wondered what in the world I had filled the damn thing with. Had I even taken a sip yet? I was sitting in a pit of Jello up to my neck.

That’s when I heard something slap down hard onto the floor. “Oh God!” I heard a man exclaim. And then there was crying. Little baby crying and lots of it. The man’s son, maybe nine months old, had somehow managed to tumble from the stroller onto the floor and was lying face down, kicking and screaming in agony. It was clear the man was flustered. He had to first run to the closest table and set down his drink and sandwich and napkins and forks that had all been wedged under his chin before he could reach for his child, and you could tell how awful that made him feel, like he was choosing his silverware over his son, but I understood what he was going through. He picked him up and cradled him to his chest, but before he could sit down he tripped over the wheel of the stroller and nearly fell to the ground himself. He made it to the chair and hoisted his son to his shoulder and just as he was about to comfort the poor soul and all eyes were on him, the man from behind the counter came up and handed him the boy’s bottle, a blanket and some toys he had left by the cash register. “You forgot these,” he said.

All the air went out of the room. I thought the dad was going to cry. I wouldn’t have blamed him. But instead he stood up, thanked the man, folded everything under his arm, put the baby back in the stroller and battled his way out the door.

I empathized with that man. If I had had a child with me today, that’s exactly what wouldeuropean_roadsigns_blank_pshrink30.JPG have happened to me. And I wondered what could have happened to him to make him feel so dizzy and helpless, so lost and confounded. Anything. Maybe he had been fired last week or maybe his mother had cancer. Maybe his wife was upset at him and threatened to leave.

Remember these thoughts. Go home and write about them. Write a story about him and the way he reminded you of yourself. Analyze things. That’s what you do. Use it to your advantage, and in the morning, look up job ads that read “NOW HIRING: LONG-WINDED, EMPATHETIC, DAY-DREAMING, SHOE GAZER WHO WANTS TO WRITE ABOUT EVERY DAY LIFE.” Go wherever it says to go and tell whoever greets you that you are ready. You were born ready. Ask them what took so long.

You might also enjoy:

High Anxiety & Happiness

Time for Everything

Opting Out of the Deferred Life Plan

3 Comments to Guest Post: Born Ready

On Jun 23, 2008, Zachary P. commented:

This is a tremendous story! I can totally relate. Outstanding writing, Simon. The piece was very descriptive and the voice just pulled me right in. Nice work!

-Zach

On Jun 23, 2008, Sara commented:

“…tell whoever greets you that you are ready.” Perfect blend of optimism and determination.

On Jun 24, 2008, Bunny Jones commented:

Such precision and great storytelling! Feels very honest.

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