“A Douche Named Gary” is a piece I wrote for my fiction class at Portland Community College. Feel free to send me any critiques or suggestions. I really had fun writing this piece; I hope you enjoy!*
Perhaps there’s a disembodied soul twin up there in the great unknown, designing my next plot twist—an effort to create an arc from the cause and effect that flows through my narrative like salmon hurling themselves up the fish ladder to reach something they can’t see but know is their destiny. I feel like I’ve been hurling myself towards something for years, but I’ve never been able to precisely pinpoint the end game. I was dragged around in the same whirlpool for ages with the same fish, and then the universe abdicated that program quite abruptly. No effort on my part; no disassembly required; no cessation guide.
Sometimes I wish She really was up there doing the heavy lifting, writing my destiny for me, but that would take away the roller coaster of fun that is free will, now wouldn’t it? I imagine the author’s swiftly scribbled notes of my narrative arc, metaphysical coffee at Her side. Maybe a spiritual parrot or something as Her muse. And so, Her Cliffs Notes.
Cause: In a most formal manner, I was fired from the job I had held for over a decade. The act itself was the very definition of ceremonious and dignified: robotic, clean, unemotional, and professional, down to the silent perp-walk-style escort to the elevator and the fact that I was not allowed to clear out my desk. The desk I had earned—the one by the window I had fought for. Fourteen fucking years at that company and they wouldn’t even give me the courtesy of closure. Add to that the random IT heavy sitting outside the Conference Room of Doom like one of those Easter Island statues, waiting for each of the seven Disposables to depart. Why? Because he had big muscles and could man-handle me, should I attempt to run away from this scenario? Little old me, with my backpack and sensible walking shoes fleeing down the hallway towards what? Where would I go? Were they afraid I’d race around shrieking and weaving my way between cubicles and offices, yelling at the top of my lungs the corporate world version of “The British are coming! The British are coming! Protect yourselves and back up your personal files now!” Was it because they figured they needed to take extra precautions with the woman who is known for smiling through conflict, for her excellent communication skills, and for her continuous positive interactions with colleagues, vendors, and upper management?
Effect: Tears. Not just roll-down-your-cheek driblets. Ones that are akin to the water feature at the park, with salty, chlorinated bursts firing in all directions from my blue-green eyes (they look more green than blue when they are wet) adding gasps for air that feel as though the shock itself is clutching my chest, my neck, my esophagus. That day there was a ripping apart of a work-family built on over a decade of lessons, laughs, and learning, a displacement of the love and respect and journeying. Yes, anger and drama and tumult as well. All of those came out in a forceful spillway of emotion.
Cause: I decided I would take on this life change like a boss. I was going to be positive and productive and create the life of my dreams! My counselor told me I should take this opportunity to create a new and improved structure for my days. At first, I optimistically told myself I would leap out of bed every morning, perky and full of gumption, making my coffee, and setting about my day, which would include extensive job searching, pensive writing, a hearty workout, and healthy cooking. I would field phone calls from rabid recruiters and have my pick of top corporate positions by the end of the month. My LinkedIn feed would scream YOU ARE AMONG WINNERS!
Effect: They call the corporate version of organizational metamorphosis Change Management. There are books, Ted Talks, thought leaders, all which spew out how best to move forward and in what order, but I didn’t have an infographic or manual to explain what I was supposed to do with all of my recent instability. Rather than the independent, bouncy woman I expected to be, I soon discovered that I struggled to get motivated and had no use for this newfangled routine-in-a-box method my counselor proposed. I wanted to sleep in every day. I wanted to eschew all things corporate. I wanted to make time for cooking and dancing and singing and tv marathons. I rediscovered a whole set of friends that didn’t work the 9-5. Everyone seemed to understand that I needed some time to get myself back together. I’d been working since I was 17! But in no time at all, feelings of guilt about being slothful poked up out of the weeds. Why didn’t I have a plan worked out by now? Maybe I needed to pray. Speak with a career consultant. Use essential oils. Get a whiteboard. I started with applying for unemployment, but I screwed even that up at first. This, of course, was followed by a flurry of letters from the unemployment office stating that I was a dumbass and to restart my claim next week, thereby leaving me without income for several weeks in a row.
Cause: I had experienced a trauma. My grief was ambidextrous. During the most inopportune of times, my grief showed up to say hello. It blazed a path towards anguish, then took a sharp turn in the direction of the briny depths of sorrow, a true buzzkill at a party, which is, of course, where it manifested itself one breezy evening around the campfire. How can you be sad around a campfire? Take one part hard cider, one part homespun guitar trio playing songs of love and loss, and one part grief stage four: depression, and you get tears of the traumatized. But it’s all about the process, right?
Effect: At first it didn’t seem like healing at all. It was horrifying. Fuck the five stages. Soon I began socially drinking much more often, because how else do you stay connected with your old coworkers when you can’t just walk down the hall? What better way to connected than over a vodka soda? So I found myself a little more than tipsy at a group happy hour with a bunch of old work buddies on a Thursday. How many times can you earnestly say, “Yeah I’m great! Taking some time to figure out what I really want to do!” Sipping drinks took time away from having to speak.
Cause: This is where I met Gary. The man was a strange combination of archetypes—nerd and jock in one. He had a very straight-laced look, complete with computer backpack and scooter at his side. But then, muscles growing out of muscles. Generally, I prefer an intellectually strong man over one who can pick me up and throw me onto the bed, but I could not tear my eyes away from those muscles. When I looked up into his bespeckled face, dark eyes, and his teeny tiny black mohawk, I felt a surge of liquid courage fight its way from my gut to my lips. I put on what I thought was a sexy smirk and asked him if I could take a ride on his scooter. He responded by ordering two shots of whiskey and telling me, “Only nice girls are allowed to ride my scooter.”
I grabbed both shots and tipped them down my throat, double fisted. “That’s too bad.”
Staying true to his word, he did not let me ride the scooter that night, but I ended up riding him all night.
Effect: At first I didn’t even know he worked with my old employer. I had thought he was just a random guy at the bar that night. No one that I knew was talking to him, and he wasn’t socializing with my previous floor-mates. I figured out later it was because everyone was furious that he (and six others) had hopped into our old seats so easily, without acknowledgment (or really, knowledge) of the culling that had occurred the week before he started. A former colleague told me that a douche named Gary was sitting at my old desk by the window, but it didn’t even occur to me that he could be the new me. Two weeks—fourteen days—after our one night stand, I found out he was my replacement. He was performing my job. He was perched at my desk, kicking his feet up on my storage ottoman. Maybe watering my succulent that had never been returned. The new me had been inside me. And, just like my job of fourteen years, there was no further contact.
*While this piece is based on actual events, it is a work of fiction.