Friday, 1 January 2010

Artistic Importance


I look across my open plan office floor. Not the kind of open plan office you see in magazines. Not the cool kind open plan office. Just the kind of office where they were too cheap to put up partitions. I never knew there were so many shades of beige. Ceiling panels stretch into the distance meeting carpet tiles on the horizon.

I remember when I got here. They had a fridge full of brand-name soft drinks. The full canon of Kellogg’s cereals laid out in the kitchen. This is it, I thought, I’ve arrived. Now I can’t believe I sold out so cheaply. It’s not even 30 pieces of silver. Have I become a warning sign for younger people? What not to do.

So I sit here and I pray. I pray for an earthquake. A tsunami. A whirlwind. Anything. Something to tear through this place and rip me from it.

At first it was just when I’d had a bad day. I’d picture a slow rumble building to a roar. I’d imagine the ceiling tiles crumbling, snapping in the metal framework. I’d see the windows shatter and the guys screaming just as much as the girls, especially that dick, Gavin, from HR. Work would be closed for at least a month. It’d be brilliant.

But recently I’ve been doing it all the time. Every time I get off the phone, I’ll think about it. Every time I finish a report, I’ll reward myself with some earthquake visualization.

So I sit here praying for an earthquake.

And then one came.

It was exactly like I’d imagined. Only way, way more terrifying.

Coworkers and colleagues screamed and scattered. And I just sat there. My mind flooded with a single though: shit, shit, shit, I did this, this is what I wanted, I did this. This single idea just kept growing and growing until it grew so big it forced any reasonable thought. I sat there panicking. Mentally flailing. Luckily my brain was jumping about so fast that none of it registered on my face. I just sat there looking vacant.

That dick, Gavin, from HR leapt to his feet. Told everyone to be calm. To get under their desks. And then when it was over, he started ushering people out. I meekly followed his direction. Filing out the emergency exit. Outside the gossiping started pretty much immediately. All I could think is: what had I done?

After the earthquake it was nothing like I imagined. We got like two days off then were back in some temporary offices they’d set up. Then I found out two women I didn’t know from some other company I hadn’t heard of that had offices across the street had died when some shelves fell on them. My guilt grew.

There was a survivors group at the community centre but I couldn’t face it. The guilt was too much. I just started drinking instead.

I apologized to my boss on our first day back. It was 10:37 and I was already three vodkas deep. She didn’t really understand what I was on about. Instead she just asked if I was drunk.

“Well in the morning I’ll be sober.” I riposted.

Which I thought would be really cutting, like that Winston Churchill quote. But then I remembered I forgot to say that in the morning she’d still be ugly. Which would have been the cutting bit. She told me I needed to see someone. Next thing I knew that dick, Gavin, from HR was giving me some forced time off and a referral to see a psychiatrist on our work health insurance.

So I went to the doctor. Told him how guilty I felt because of the earthquake. He explained to me that what I had was known as “survivor’s guilt”. That this was a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder. That what I was feeling was normal.

I tried to explain to him that actually the guilt was nothing to do with surviving the earthquake and was it fact to do with causing it. But he didn’t seem to be able to understand that. So with him being no use I just drank more.

All along there was a rational voice somewhere that told me it wasn’t me. But I managed to convince myself that this rational voice was just, in fact, me just trying to rationalize away the guilt. I figured the only way I could really face up to it was if I went to the survivors group. Faced the families of the bereaved.

So I went to the survivors’ group. Only I propped myself up with a liquid foundation. From what I remember, I ended up apologizing. Apologizing and crying. With my nose running. Big salty tears rolling down my cheeks while I told them all how sorry I was. Then the finger pointing started. A lot of finger pointing. Some big guy jabbing his finger into my chest. Telling me to go home. Sleep it off. Stop upsetting him. Stop upsetting these people. So I did the only thing that occurred to my booze addled brain. I started jabbing my finger back into his chest. Telling him, he didn’t understand. That I was sorry, I was apologizing, had he not heard me? Then I was lying on the floor. The side of my face was hot and stinging. Some people seemed to be trying to defend me. Others were joining the big guy. The fight seemed to be spreading so I crawled out on my hands and knees unnoticed.

Tell you what; getting punched sobers you right up. I hadn’t been hit since like ‘98. Suddenly everything felt much clearer, as I sat there in the rain on the community centre steps. What the fuck was I thinking? I didn’t cause the earthquake. I’m just an idiot who hates his job.

With any luck I’ll get fired for insulting that dead girl’s dad and starting a fight.

Maybe then I can start a band.


Courtesy of Niazipan

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