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OCTOBER 27, 2009 11:00AM

January 12, 2009

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Last January I was laid off from my job as a pharmaceutical copywriter.

While we all knew there were impending layoffs, I was confident my job was safe. After all, I was the sole writer on the largest account in the building. I was necessary.

(The pitfalls of employing logic in business situations.) 

The day of the big announcement, I stupidly arrived at work early, prepared to console and support my friends. I even posted a smartass status on my facebook page, something about practicing saying, "Would you like fries with your order?"

What a riot, right?

Like a scene from bad reality television, we all received meeting invites. But surprise! There were two simultaneous meetings. When I realized that all of my teammates were in the "other" meeting room, I remember a dull, frozen shock. And half-hearted reassurances we all knew were bullshit.

They got a golden ticket that day. Mine was more decidedly pink.

I stumbled blindly to my assigned meeting room, trying not to meet the gaze of any other doomed coworkers.

It can't be true. It can't be, can't be, can't be true.

Walked into the room. Was stunned at how full it was. Certainly there's some mistake. They can't let all of us go. Who will do the work?

Then I noticed people crying quietly. Consoling each other. And that seated among the shell-shocked faces were several other coworkers whose sole contributions to the company had been occupying a cubicle and transferring coffee from the machine to the toilet.

This is what it feels like to be laid off.

Then the HR director walked into the room followed by a bunch of somber-faced strangers in expensive dark suits. Definitely the people you'd hire to deliver bad news. They spoke in low monotone voices, like funeral directors or oncology doctors.

 I was at the front of the room. No one would make eye contact with me.

From that point on, I just remember crying. A lot. Knowing I should be paying attention, but it was like Charlie Brown's teacher with only occasional words sinking in.

Severance. COBRA. Thanks for the memories. Pack up and get out.

My head was screaming. I can't be laid off. I'm a single mom! And my son's birthday is tomorrow. And I just put down a big deposit on a trip to Disney World for Spring Break.

More apologies. A stack of paperwork was thrust in my arms. We were told where to pick up moving boxes and tape, then dismissed. The clock started ticking-- 2 hours to pack up 3 years' worth of memories. I staggered to my desk.

The other half of the employees--the ones who were still actual employees, that is--had been sent from the building to give us time to pack up and get out without an audience.

That made me angry. Like I was skulking out of the building in shame. I didn't get to say goodbye to so many people.

I slid everything on the surface of my desk into the trash. Took down my kids' drawings and school pictures. Sat there staring dumbly into space.

A young coworker (who had been a bit more savvy about the writing on the wall) had carried most of her personal belongings home the previous day. Losing her job had to be the culmination of several months of hell for her. After moving home to live with her father, nursing him through a transplant and burying him right when it had looked as if he would make it, she had been through so much. And now to lose her job, too?

But perhaps that gave her more perspective than me.

She's such a great kid. This was her first job out of college. I'd been her editor. Now she was the teacher.

Like a child, I stood there while she directed me. Open your file cabinet. Don't you think you want to take those personal files?

Be sure to email home any pictures or documents from your computer.

Can I pack that up for you?

Somehow we got it done. She flagged someone down to carry my heavy box. She all but put me behind the wheel of my car.

And I drove away.

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