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Some days just don’t go the way you expect them to. I woke up on that Tuesday morning at 5:02am and fought the New York traffic in my small, red car that I had owned since I was a teenager. I expected my day to be just like any other! At work, I knew before I even got there what I would be doing. I would sit in my cramped cubical with a rather large man named Jimmy. He smelled of donuts and/or blueberries, depending on the day, and every day I would stare at my small computer screen and type away to something that I didn’t even know the meaning of.
At 5:45AM, I walked into one of the tallest building pairs in New York and said “Hello” to the security guard, Chad, not expecting an answer from him, then pressed the button for the elevator. I stepped into the elevator and two other women got in with me. They started giggling quietly like little girls in a school yard. They were chatting about ‘what Susan said in the breakroom’. I ignored them until I finally got off at the twenty-third floor.
I got off, greeted Rebecca at the front desk, and straightened my tie. “Good morning, Gordon! How are you?” Rebecca asked.
“I’m just fine and dandy!” I replied. I made my way to get coffee from the breakroom. As I sipped my scalding drink, I went to sit down at my desk, biting into a donut. I stopped in my tracks when I saw another, younger, man sitting in my chair, laughing at a joke that Jimmy must have just made.
I watched as the man continued to laugh, but then turning to type on my computer. Then I noticed that none of my belongings were there. There were no pictures of my cat and there were no empty coffee cups that I had left there the morning before. There were no pictures of my daughter, who lives in Ohio with Kathrine, her mother. There were no dead plants that sat around my desk, determined to keep alive. Everything was gone; it was like I had never been there in the first place.
I turned around quickly, almost spilling my coffee on my boss, Larry, who stood behind me with two other men with the same expressions and same haircuts. He must have been watching silently, watching me examine the situation. His grey hair shone in the florescent lights as his moustache turned into a frown. “Larry-,”
I was cut off by him holding a hand in front of my face, silencing me. “Gordon, you’ve been downsized.” I was shocked. I could feel the anger rising, but I pressed to keep it down. I started to walk away, then turned back to him.
“For almost fifteen years now, I’ve worked the same day, at the same place, wearing the same shoes, with the same haircut, and have done nothing but help this company grow. This is how you repay me?” I responded. Larry had no emotion, it was like he was talking to a wall.
“Gordon, please step into Linda’s office,” Larry said with a sigh. “She will give you your things and tell you where you’ve been relocated. I wish you the best of luck,”. He walked way in the other direction, probably to go ruin someone else’s life.
I still stood there as the swarm of grey coats and the sounds of phones ringing moved around me. I took a breath, tightened the grip on my briefcase, and walked into Linda Ward’s office. A cigarette hung off her lips as she typed slowly at her computer with her chipped, red, nail polish-stained fingernails. “Hello, Gordon. Quite a surprise?” She croaked, not even looking up from the screen.
“You knew?” I asked, sitting down on one of her zebra-print chairs.
“Not a pleasant surprise?” She snickered at this, probably because she knew that she would stay in that huge office, with a view of the whole city, and sit in that huge, leather, blue chair until she died. “Well anyway, your box is in the corner.” Linda said, slowly reaching her wrinkled and bony arm and pointing behind her, her many bracelets rattled as she did so. She turned back to her computer where you could see the game of solitaire reflecting off her glasses.
I walked over and picked up a surprisingly light box with my name on it. There were many boxes along with mine, so I knew I wasn’t the only one who had been ‘downsized’ today. I started to open the door to leave, but I turned back to her once more. “Linda, where am I being sent to?”
She laughed again, glaring up at me with her glassy eyes, then reaching down under her desk where she pulled out a very full binder. The flipped through a few pages then ran her finger down a list of names. “Andrews…Oh yes. The basement,” she said slowly, her mouth finally curving into an evil smile.
I felt my stomach drop like I was on a scary roller coaster ride. The basement? Me? This couldn’t be happening. The basement was one of the most terrifying places I’ve ever been. I had been down there one time to drop off a package when I had first started working there and I had never gone back. The basement was full of smelly, thirty-year-old, high school dropouts who started drinking at two in the afternoon and didn’t stop until six in the morning.
I pushed up my aviator glasses. Linda continued to watch me, waiting for a good reaction that she could laugh about, tell all her weekend bingo friends about it. “Gordon,” she finally started.
She turned back to her computer, puffing smoke out of her mouth. “Get out of my office.” She told me. “Yes, ma’am!” I said, opening the door to her office and leaving.
As I stepped out, a crowd of people had gathered around her door, the whole office was silent as an anxious look spread over their faces while they looked at me and my cardboard box. I cleared my throat and looked at the ground. The crowd immediately started to move and talk again, just like it was any other day.
I went to the elevator and hit the button with the arrow pointing down. Rebecca didn’t say anything while I waited; she just looked down at papers behind her desk. I looked back at her and sighed, stepping onto the elevator. I was finally alone in that small box, the first time I had been alone since earlier this morning. I looked down at the many rows of numbers. My finger reached for the very bottom number titled ‘B’. I was almost touching it, but I froze. Why should I live the life I don’t want to live? Why am I following along to what everyone else wants me to do? I’m still young, why can’t I do what I want to do? I thought to myself. Instead, I hit the ‘G’ button and I rode the elevator down to the lobby.
I walked through the lobby confidently, not caring what anyone else thought of me. As I walked, I dropped my cardboard box in the trash along with my briefcase. I loosened my tie and ran through the glass doors. Once outside, I kept running. I ran into the street in between the yellow taxi cabs and pumped my fists in the air. “I’m free!” I screamed at the top of my lungs. A few people stopped to stare, but I didn’t care. The cars honked at me and I finally got out of the way. I ran to the parking garage that was located around the corner. The September wind blew through my hair, but I didn’t mind. The smile never left my face.
Once in my car, I stopped to breathe for the first time since I can remember. I couldn’t believe I just did that, Gordon Andrews, the good guy who never breaks the rules just got his first breath of freedom. I started to laugh. I was laughing so much that I had to take my glasses off and wipe away my tears. I turned on my car and the time lit up on the console. 6:58 AM, it read. I pounded my fists on the steering wheel like a drum and pulled out of the parking garage.
I drove. I wasn’t sure where I was going, but I was getting out of this wretched city for good. I never looked back as I passed the ‘You are now leaving New York’ sign. I headed south. I drove all the way in complete silence since my radio had been busted for years. No pit-stops and no sleeping. I went all the way to North Carolina, the closest state that I could think of where no family lives. I drove until I felt like I was far enough away from ‘home’.
I stopped at the nearest diner, it was 7:30 PM. The sun had begun to set over the quiet city and for the first time in thirty-eight years, I could hear the crickets. I felt calmed. I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off of my shoulders and I could now be myself.
The restaurant was called Pat’s Diner. There were three other people in there; a husband and wife and an old man who sat in the corner eating soup. The man and woman talked silently, casually flirting with each other and drinking coffee. The woman was dressed in a tight, red dress with sparkles that shone in the light and the man was in a pressed, black suit.
I walked in silently, a bell ringing over the door as I did so. I could hear the faint sound of Alicia Keys playing over the radio in the background. I sat down at the bar on a black stool, watching as the old man behind the counter cleaned a glass with a white rag, a cigarette in his mouth. I tapped my finger along with the beat of the sound until he came over to me.
“What’ll you have?” The man asked, wiping his hands on his apron then he pulled out a notebook and waited for my order.
I checked the menu above him quickly, “Just a burger, please” I told him, he nodded and started to walk away. “And a large coffee please!” I stopped him.
The man turned back around and chuckled. “Yes, sir”.
I sat in silence, picking at the black and white tile that covered the counters, alone with my thoughts. I sipped my coffee and started to regret everything I had done. What if the basement wasn’t so bad? How will I start a life here? I don’t own anything anymore other than my car and this white shirt and tie! What was I thinking? I watched the man flip the patty on the grill and hum quietly. I spotted a small television in the corner which was turned off. “Sir, could you turn on the T.V?” I asked, causing all three of the other customers to look at me. “We only get three channels, but go ahead” he told me, sliding the boxy remote down the counter.
I held it tightly, eager for any noise, and turned it on. The channel that it was on was Fox News. “Breaking news-,” The reporter said, the three customers came and surrounded the television slowly. “Terrorist attack in New York City. Both Twin Tower World Trade Center buildings are now destroyed-,” “God help us,” the woman whispered beside me.
My eyes were glued to the screen as I watched the building, that I had left only a few hours ago, fall to the ground in a fiery pit of ash.