Dead Man Walking

You are not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet.

~ Tyler Durden, Fight Club

When you are losing your job, I’ve discovered that people are nice to you. Like really, really nice.  Going-out-of-their-way-to-be-there-for-you kind of nice. Everywhere I turn, I see sympathy in the eyes of my coworkers.  It’s almost uncomfortable.  I want to tell them “I’m fine!” so they’ll feel better and maybe just look at me normally.  Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate their concern, and I’m glad that so many of them are upset by my impending departure.  It makes me feel liked.  But, the sidelong glances as I walk by, and the conversations floating around the office behind my back, make me feel like Dead Man Walking.  In case you aren’t familiar with the phrase, it was coined by prisoners to indicate a person who is condemned to death. Whenever guards would lead a man sentenced to death down the prison hallway, other convicts would shout out, “Dead man walking!”  Granted, I don’t have a date with the executioner lined up (the possibility of errant Mach trucks drifting into my lane of traffic on the commute home notwithstanding), but my fate with the company has already been decided, and I’m not long for this (corporate) world.

Tuesday morning, as soon as I clocked in, I stopped by Pam’s cubicle to deliver the news in a delicate whisper.  “I know, I heard already,” she replied.  My, how news travels fast!  I’ve always marveled at the efficiency of the office rumor mill.  It’s better than Twitter.  At least it made my job easier.  My job of letting people know, I should clarify.  I didn’t get any actual work done that day, I was so busy recounting my story to coworkers. Every time I took three or four steps, I was bombarded with attention.  I spent maybe 30 minutes at my desk, and 7.5 hours in other parts of the building – upstairs, downstairs, warehouse, lunch room, conference room – talking.  After an initial and well-meaning burst of outrage, the question everybody asked was, “Who’s going to do {insert task of mine in question}?” Like, who’s going to process the marketing credits? and who’s going to order the printing jobs? and who can take a sunrise, sprinkle it with dew, cover it with chocolate and a miracle or two? The answer to that last one, at least, is The Candy Man.  Oh, The Candy Man can.  To the other questions, I just shrug my shoulders and say, “Beats me.”  I do not know, and truth be told, I do not care.  That’s for the higher-ups to decide.  The ones who came up with the brilliant plan of downsizing me right out of a job in the first place.

'Cause he mixes it with love and makes the world taste good. (Image courtesy of

Wednesday, the dust had settled and things felt more normal.  I wasn’t constantly making the rounds, and actually got some work done.  HR Manager came over to my cubicle in the morning and asked me how I was holding up.  “I’m doing fine,” I said.  And assured her that I harbor no ill will towards her or my boss.  “How should I be feeling?”

“Well,” she replied.  “It’s a process.”

“Like the Five Stages Of Grief?” I asked.

“Exactly.  You might be feeling angry, or scared.”

I reiterated again how okay I was, and she said to feel free to let her know if I needed anything or had any questions.  Other than “my job back” and “how can I have my job back?” I had nothing, so I let her leave.

The thing is, I really am okay.  My friends and family and coworkers keep marveling at how alright I am with things.  They’re expecting that same anger or fear, but I just can’t seem to muster either emotion.  Other than a vague sense of disquiet borne from not knowing where, exactly, I’ll be six months from now, I don’t feel much of anything.  In fact, I’m looking at this unexpected turn of events almost as a gift.  It’s a chance to reevaluate my career plans.  It just may be the kick in the ass I needed in order to get out there and do something that truly makes me feel happy for a change, rather than showing up Monday through Friday to collect a paycheck.  I did not dislike my job, but it wasn’t challenging enough for me.  I know there are better opportunities out there, and now, I get a chance to go out and find them.  I’m feeling very liberated.  The future is wide open, and I am considering many different possibilities.  Sure, I’ll probably end up behind a desk at some other faceless corporation – but then again, maybe I won’t. Now’s the time to change things up and do something about that, if I’m brave (or desperate) enough.  A writing career is my biggest goal.  I could try freelancing for a while, even while searching for a steadier income.  There’s the food cart I wrote about.  Hell, maybe even culinary school.

I didn’t ask for this, and wouldn’t wish it upon anybody, but since it happened anyway and nothing can change that, I might as well dream a little.  Right?


Published by Mark Petruska

I'm a professional writer and editor living my best life in south central Wisconsin.

4 thoughts on “Dead Man Walking

  1. LOL – you literally had me cracking up with the candy man reference. I can just imagine all the questions you’ve gotten about who’s going to do what… NOT YOUR PROBLEM! 🙂 That’s gotta feel a little good, anyway. All those things you’re worried about, suddenly they don’t matter as much. Sure you have another list of things to worry about in their place – but still, it’s a fresh start.


    1. You know what else feels good? Suddenly not having to worry about dealing with physical inventory. Or that pesky upcoming rep meeting I would’ve been stuck with. I’ll take sympathy and pity over those tasks any day!


  2. There are indeed a lot of opportunities hiding in the unknown, whereas before it was known, and known to be unexciting. That’s tough to remember when the rent bill comes (just cashed my last paycheck myself…), but with your snozzleberry attitude, I think you’re going to make the best of it.


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