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July 25, 2002: This is how my morning happened

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I suppose I should have guessed the minute I walked through the door and nearly ran into the security guard who was seated directly in front of it. He looked at me nervously and I cocked one eyebrow, but he remained silent - this young man barely old enough to shave - and I made my way to my desk.

Even then it took me a few moments to process what was happening. At first the signs taped to every monitor warning us not to log in because our accounts had been frozen made me wonder if something had happened - some horrible security breach. But there was a letter on my chair - the same letter I saw gracing all the chairs of those who had not yet arrived, and I picked it up and read it. And then I read it again, trying to make sense of the words.

The office was a silent tomb. We all stood, or paced, waiting for our turn to receive the news we already knew was coming. I cracked a few jokes with one of the QA people - a woman who had only been working at The Company To Be Nicknamed Never a few months. She and her husband just broke ground on their new house. My manager was just about to close on purchasing her home. A bit later another of my team walked in - the pregnant woman due in a few months. Each read the letter, and the shock on their face I knew would have mirrored what was on mine.

"Is this a joke?" one woman asked, but even as the words left her mouth it was obvious she knew it was far too serious.

The company has been losing money, I was told once it was finally my turn to sit on the opposite side of the desk from the humorless man who headed the development department. They'll be relocating the company headquarters to the other side of the country. He was sorry but my position was no longer needed. He slid papers across the desk to me, one by one, giving a dry explanation for each. The letter explaining what was happening. The forms for Cobra insurance coverage. A copy of the company's nondisclosure policy. My final paycheck. He asked if I had any questions. I shook my head. Any questions I had he would have been unwilling to answer anyway.

My manager walked me back to my cube and watched silently as I packed my things into a box. She seemed uncomfortable with the role that she had been forced into, of having to watch me as I cleared away the few things that had marked this cube as my own. Those of us still there traded business cards with non-office contact information. I hastily scribbled my email address on the back of one and paper-clipped it to a scrap of paper to leave on the chair of someone who had not yet come in. I hugged coworkers and then my manager walked me out of the building. The security guard half-rose from his seat, but she shook her head at him and he let us pass. We shook hands awkwardly in the hall and wished each other luck. Then I opened the door and stepped out into the sun and took my box to the car and drove home, for the first time in my adult life, unemployed.

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