Friday, April 17, 2009

He Was That Guy

When I was downsized out of the company, I left without saying goodbye to most of my coworkers. I called a few that I was close with when I got home, but while I was still there everyone else was getting ready for a staff meeting and setting up for an outdoor barbecue (in February, I’m really not sure what that was all about) and I was so giddy at having been let go of the one last thing that was really anchoring me in misery that I pretty much forgot about everyone else. I waved halfheartedly as I carted my boxes of stuff out to my car and then drove off, not really concerned about anything.

I kind of had this picture in my head of everyone showing up and going about their daily routines indefinitely, as if I’d never existed, the only thing different in the office being me not slouched at my desk. I imagined my departure being clean and precise and the hole I’d left behind me being stitched up rather quickly and painlessly.

Perhaps the company did get over me quickly. I’m not sure either way and I can’t say I even care to know. I talked to a couple of old coworkers this morning though and as far as other people’s lives are concerned there’s at least one person I used to know who doesn’t exist anywhere in the world anymore.

He was That Guy, you know the one. There’s actually more than one of Those Guys and you always know (or are buddies with) at least one of them. I’ve known several, actually. This one was thirty-five and exclusively dated women at least ten years younger. He was divorced and played in some kind of garage band and acted like he was a rock star. It seemed he had a new live-in girlfriend every couple of months and he’d brag about it to me (and the rest of the office) like I was supposed to be impressed by him. He’d tell me to come to one of his shows. When he talked he had that kind of fake casual air about him that guys who are pretending they care about things less than they actually do have. He was kind of obnoxious, though in an unusually humorous way. He wasn’t the kind of guy I’d find myself wanting to date but at the same time he wasn’t what I would consider a horrible person. Despite the fact that he annoyed the hell out of everyone else, for various reasons (calling off, working slowly and lying about napping, having an excuse for everything, not accepting criticism or disciplinary actions on the part of management), we were always cool with each other. There were nights when I honestly enjoyed talking to him, even if only for a few minutes. I used to send him ridiculous text messages about mudkips and Pokemans back before he had my number in his cell phone. I spent an hour once doing that, and he couldn’t figure out who I was or what I wanted. It was the highlight of my night that night.

His issues at work started, or seemed to start, shortly after his brother (or half-brother, I can’t remember) died overseas last year. He was younger and was in the military. After he came back from bereavement leave my coworker had a bit more of an attitude than he used to. The calling off and excuses for poor performance became more frequent. He’d have loud arguments with both of my supervisors and would storm out and go home to cool off and come in the next day like nothing had happened. It was a vicious cycle, and he was constantly on the brink of being fired, but for one reason or another it never came to pass, not while I was still there. We either didn’t have an extra person to be trained on his route or whatever he was doing that day wasn’t fire-worthy. But he was always in the crosshairs.

According to the old coworkers I spoke with this morning, management eventually had enough of him, and when he was disciplined for the last time there was a huge blowout in the office. I’m rather relieved I wasn’t there to witness it. He was fired, but not without threatening a few people, and I guess the building was on lockdown for a few days afterwards. This is all hearsay, keep in mind.

At some point after he left the company his girlfriend moved out. I don’t know the details of all of this, only the end result, so I can’t state any facts or even do much speculating beyond this point.

I know most of my writing, from the short stories to the novels, indulges rather heavily in self-sacrifice and self-destruction as both theme and plot device. I’ve had all manner of characters end their lives in all manner of bizarre and/or disturbing ways. There’s something about the mental image and the drama it lends to plotting that has me a bit addicted, and it bothers me once in a while when I think about it too much. But as long as it keeps fitting so well into the projects I’m working on I’ll continue to do it.

In real life the idea of somebody you know tying a noose around their neck and hanging themselves carries not a single vestige of the drama, mystique or romance of fictional suicide. Not one bit. Instead it has me feeling very nauseated. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since I heard the news this morning. As soon as his name was brought up I started to laugh, thinking he’d gotten into trouble or had done something outrageous and pissed the bosses off again. For a moment, when I heard his name, I thought perhaps he’d been fired. He certainly would have deserved it. It wasn’t until they actually said “killed himself” that I stopped chuckling. It was one of those moments where your thought processes just stop mid-task and you stand there, dazed, as they rewind and replay the information that’s just been presented. Your mind actually has to verify that what you’ve just heard really is what you’ve just heard. It’s a very out there kind of feeling.

I kind of wish I’d stuck around that last day at work, just to see everyone come in for their routes and say proper goodbyes, instead of flying out of there like a self-obsessed snob.

He left behind at least two children of his own and another child he was raising for a relative. I’m not sure what became of them. I’ve been searching for his obituary all day and still haven’t managed to find it.

I still have a hard time accepting the fact that a person who appeared to enjoy arguing that much, while at the same time playing everything off like he just didn’t care, killed himself. People really must be layered like onions, leaving only the tough skin visible. I’d never have imagined he would react in this way. How well do we know the people we are only friendly, but not very close, with? Sometimes I think most of the details I have about people are nothing but my assumptions of them. Reality doesn’t always measure up perfectly.

No comments: