If you find yourself in my position, where a company tells you to return to the office a few days after terminating you to pick up your severance, you have to look good. We were let go on a Wednesday. By Monday rumors were circulating. It’s expected. Everyone wants to know if you took it well or if there were some fireworks. The last thing you want is for your former coworkers to think you are down and out. That was going to be easy. After the wedding, I felt great and made sure my attire matched my mood.
You don’t want to look to professional. You don’t work for them and you don’t need to impress anyone. What says, “I don’t give a darn”? Denim! That’s right. Now not just any jeans would work. I slipped on those skinny jeans I purchased on a rainy day in Paris last year. You have to let them know you are still a professional; my Benetton blazer please. (I am far from a label whore, but this was a special occasion). You want to show just a little bit of sexy. Something you would never wear to work. I stepped into my leopard stilettos.
Of course I needed my war paint. I pulled out my arsenal of cosmetics. This event required my favorite lip color Cranberry Kiss. I was glad I bought four tubes when Carol’s Daughter discontinued the line this summer. My hair was still freshly done in an up do from the wedding. I was ready.
Almost any way! I needed my business cards. The ones I printed years a few years ago with my company and title, but rarely gave out. That’s right I still had a company. Before I started working for the Organization I made money on my own. I would do that again only better this time.
The elevator door opened. I was greeted by the cold air that always filled the office. It matched the cold blue institutional walls that made it hard to work some days. I kept a small heater by my leg to keep me warm, but there was a slight side effect. I got a tan on the right side of my leg. It took me a week to figure out why I had a dark spotted patch on my brown leg. That’s another reason to be grateful. I don’t have to cook myself! The heater was passed down from a former colleague after her position was eliminated a year ago. She was a ghost of the organization's past, as I called them, and now so was I.
I was disappointed to see the receptionist desk empty, though I was not surprised. This was Cynthia’s lunch time. I was fashionably late for my noon appointment. My comrades and I were scheduled for separate severance appointments 10, 12 and 2. The Organization hoped we didn’t meet talk, or discuss our separate packages. We planned otherwise. I wanted to pass my coveted heater down to Cynthia. She was one of the few people I cared about in left at the Organization. Seeing her warm smile each day was comforting during the most difficult days.
“I’ll be down stairs.” A voice cried out. It was Jonathan. I looked at him and nodded. He disappeared as soon as I acknowledged him. Like everyone working on the executive side, He was on pins and needles. He worked closely with the executives and could not be seen away from his desk chatting away with a former coworker. I would meet him down stairs away from the prying eyes.
The doors to the executive suit opened. Kareem the new program director walked into the lobby.
“Hello”, that was one of three words he said to me since he took over a month earlier. His lack of interest in his staff should have been the first indication something wrong. At the Organization, it is typical for a new director to terminate staff and build a new team.
“How are you? I am here to see HR.” I shook his hand diffusing any fear.
“I’ll get her.” He said. As his short round physique disappeared behind the double doors, another appeared in low hanging jeans with slightly matted lock.
“Miss I heard what happened” It was a former client. The one I would see on 125th Street selling water and other items on the weekends.
“Why? What?“ He asked. Others joined him. There was outrage. There were more questions.
“All three of you?”
“Miss you want me to do something to them. Because I‘ll…”
“No! No! That is not necessary!” I said. It sounded like a joke, but I wouldn’t put anything past some of my clients. I smiled and in my most comforting voice. “It happens. It’s ok.”
“Come on Miss. There are some people who want to see you.” He said practically dragging me to the doors.
“I can’t.” I started explaining to him.
“She’s ready to see you.” Kareem said breaking up the commotion.
I walked back. My escorts didn’t leave my side.
“I’ll be right back. I told them.”
This was it. They told us our severance would be based on years of service. It was time to find out what the long hours, the money I brought into the Organization when I lead the company in placements. However, for some reason I wasn’t expecting much.
I looked into the remorseful eyes of the human resources director.
“Here we are again a year later.” It was an inside joke referencing the last time my position was eliminated. I took a pay cut. I had to. I just bought my condominium and I returned after traveling Europe. I was broke.
“Yeah!” She remembered the incident. I didn’t budge when she told me “you will receive two weeks pay.” I predicted it. It was standard.
I cleared my desk and said my goodbyes sliding my business card into the hands of a select few. “Did you find a new gig already?” My former manager asked looking down at my glossy card. I was going for that effect.
“It’s for my business. I always had a business.” He just lent me his copy of What color is your Parachute. (I know that was a sign.) He’s not getting it back now. I need it more. He still has a job.
As I took my final walk through the lobby I heard. “Miss, Miss!”
I turned to see the same client. “What about my resume?” he said with panic in his voice. “You have to ask management. I can’t do it now.”
“Miss! You were the best” I gave him a thumbs up. It was a small gesture in exchange for what he gave me, confirmation of a job well done. With a little more pep in my step. I exited and walked into my new life.
In the days that followed, I received calls from my former coworkers. Each called with concerns about my general well being. I assured them I would be fine. Then the most interesting call came from Carol a fellow ghost of the Organization’s past. She was experiencing a particularly difficult time, having been terminated. The organization said she was unprofessional. She never received a warning or a write up. Her unemployment issuance was denied. It was another example of an employee being discarded. It was always our fault when there was a problem at the organization and the solution was always to get rid of them.
“Did you hear?” She asked.
“Who?” It was early in the quarter. I assumed there were more layoffs or terminations. “The organization lost the Center.
“What?” There are times when reality is better than fiction. This was one of them. The Center was the Organization’s biggest contract.
In December, 30 employees of the Organization would join me on the same unemployment lines we once ran. I will pray for each one of them. I know they will all find better opportunities, but as for the Organization, I have to say, had it coming.
“God don’t like ugly” Carol said. I agreed.
We lost a job and now they would lose something that would jeopardize the well being of the entire organization. I considered how the conditions would worsen in the months that would follow. The Organization would have to make up for the loss in revenue. There would be salary cuts, less staff, longer hours. I couldn't help but think some how I was spared.
Was it God protecting me and pushing me forward? Was it Karma coming back to the Organization? I believe it’s both, but for our purposes let’s call it… severance!