It’s been one year and nine months since I changed my phone number. And I know you still get messages and phone calls from people expecting to find me at the other end. I know this, because you’ve asked them–if they find me–to tell me that there are a lot of people looking for me at that number, which now belongs to you.
It just happened last week. I was at a conference and someone with your number, which used to be my number, texted you to let you know that I should meet them on the 22nd floor instead of the hotel lobby. You probably didn’t respond. You probably already knew it was for me.
There are many facts of life and one of them is that people change jobs.
There are a few reasons that people change jobs–they move, they get laid off, they get a better job–but there’s one constant to the act of job changing, and that is that people are always sad to leave.
I never watched the final season of “The Office” when it aired but I suppose that’s just as well because over the last two weeks it has been my dinner table companion. If you haven’t seen the final season of “The Office” I won’t spoil too much for you. But I will say that in wrapping up the show that final season, every reason you would ever leave an office happens: some move, others get laid off and still others get a better job. And there’s crying into cake, goodbye dance parties, promises to stay in touch…the usual components that come along with the act of leaving.
We all know that sometimes it is our friends leaving and sometimes it is us who will leave, but when it comes right down to it, it’s part of our shared human experience that transitions will happen.
So why–when we know this is coming be it tomorrow or next month or next year–why do we struggle to balance the sadness of leaving something behind with the excitement of starting something new?
I’m leaving National Journal. My first real job out of college, where I succeeded and stumbled, figuring out who I was and what I was capable of. I started out on the health care beat, where after a month and a half on the job, HealthCare.gov debuted and crashed and I spent the rest of the fall covering what would become the 2013 AP News Story of the Year.
From there I transitioned to covering Congress, studying the faces of lawmakers on the long metro commute to Capitol Hill only to realize that they’re all much older now than when their directory photos were taken. I quickly took to the foreign policy beat, writing about the one issue that will keep on going even when the political parties can’t agree on how deal with it. And it’s been a busy summer too; between the advances of ISIS in Iraq, Russia’s encroachment (invasion?) of Ukraine and the spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa, each story that it feels like I was there for from the start will keep on going until it morphs into the next chapter.
It’s been a good run. I walk away having learned who’s the friendliest face in the Senate, why the U.S. can’t keep its boots off the ground in the Middle East, and how to challenge charges from my health insurance company. I’ll miss my friends, my colleagues, my editors, and Rosita, the woman makes sure there’s coffee waiting for our tired souls as we start each day. I won’t miss the never-ending PR emails or the vitriolic commenters.
I’m headed to Green Buzz Agency. My second real job and I can’t keep my face from lighting up when people ask me about it. I’m going to be the new Assistant Producer, working on corporate client videos and expanding our film work into original documentaries. I’ll be doing everything from researching to interviewing to script writing to working on set to editing, but I’ll also be writing the blog, public speaking, managing the intern program and planning events. It’s a start-up, so I get to wear a lot of hats, and with such a small team, my input will really shape the direction and the success of our work. And it’s going to be a lot of work. But multimedia storytelling is where my heart has always been, and I’m so thrilled about the chance to build my creative visual skills. I’ll still be in the D.C. area, so despite the fact that I’m leaving, it’s not really goodbye.
It still feels like it though. It’s a strange limbo, knowing you are closing the door, knowing what you’re saying goodbye to, but not having the familiar comfort of knowing what comes next.
In the final season of “The Office,” people who had left come back. They weren’t gone forever, they were just doing something else, having their own adjacent narrative.
A new adventure.
And you can see it in their eyes. They’re really happy.
You know who I am talking about. Those people. The people in public. Waiting for the metro. Pressed against your shoulder blade in the elevator. Standing behind you in line at the grocery store. Those people who talk. You don’t realize it until it has happened and suddenly they’re having a full blown conversation not with you, but at you. You stand there, politely, because you’re taken by surprise and you’re not quick enough to figure out an escape plan. It’s not the right time of day for this, you think. You’re sweaty from your walk to wherever you’re going and you’d rather no one acknowledge that you look like this, you think. You’re running errands in peace, running through the day ahead of you in your mind, until you can’t ignore that someone else desperately needs you to acknowledge that they exist.
And they talk like they know you. Or maybe it’s that they talk like they want to know you. But actually it’s more like they want you to want to know them. To validate them. To let them know that their problems are your problems too. That we’re all in this world together and it’s going to be okay. Together we will make it through. Their eyes plead for you to utter words of acceptance. They want you to hug them with your words. Probably they wouldn’t mind if you reached out and hugged them too. Because now you’re best friends. And you’d go to coffee right this very second so you can continue to share in this human experience together but you’re in the middle of going to work and they’re in the middle of… Do they work? you wonder. No, probably not. Or maybe they do and it’s in a place with lollipops and rainbows and no clocks to alert their bosses that they’re late. You’re late. You look at them again and think, yes, that must be it because it is 7:45 in the morning and no one can talk with this much enthusiasm unless they’ve had too much sugar and cheer in their life. Right? People aren’t like this, right? It’s just those people, right?
And then as you depart–because finally, finally it is time to go your separate ways–you are left to wonder whether it is not those people but instead you, a lonely shell of a person, unable to connect with the strangers around you, those people who have stories to tell and experiences to share and you, you’re too self-important to share with them.
Have you ever looked another creature in the eyes and contemplated her death?
I have. I hesitated. But her life wasn’t mine to take anyway.
Let’s backtrack. It’s 8:30 on a Thursday, I’m sitting in bed eating dinner and watching TV because YOLO, and my phone lights up with a text.
“We have a mouse,” my roommate writes from the second floor living room. “Yup. A little guy in the living room. Kind of cute, but I’m going to my room now.”
I weigh the possibilities. Do we have a mouse problem? Can I be bothered to deal with a mouse problem?
Then I hear the door open. Another roommate is home. The door closes. I hear grocery bags.
Oh great, I think. Isn’t she in for a treat.
Her feet trudge up the stairs and past the living room into the kitchen. Then I hear her squeal.
Yes, I can be bothered for a mouse problem, I conclude. Begrudgingly I put on shoes–I will not fall victim to droppings–and climb upstairs.
When I get there, I hear the first roommate in her room and the second now in the shower. I traipse around the kitchen. No sign of the mouse. Then I sneak around the living room in search of a mouse hole. No holes, either.
The second roommate hears me.
“Can you leave the front door unlocked?” she calls down. “Owen’s coming over.”
“Sure, no problem,” I reply, making my way back downstairs to the comfort of my bed. I unlock the door on the way.
Guy Fieri is now babbling from my TV. I sit down and start Googling: “how do you know if you have a mice problem.” Next search: “why do I have mice.” Next search: “how to get rid of mice.” I pick up my phone and text back the first roommate.
“We should check all the cabinets and pantries for droppings,” I write, “and I think it’d be good to make a kitchen and trash clean up schedule just so we can make sure this doesn’t get worse.”
At this point, my web browser looks like the WebMD of mice problems. “There’s never just one,” a blogger tells me. “Don’t buy regular mouse traps,” says another advice column. “Then you’ll have a blood problem. Instead, string a tin can with cheese inside across a barrel of water so that you drown it.”
It’s all so confusing and contradictory. So I text the knower of all things: my mom.
“APPARENTLY WE HAVE MICE.”
Five minutes pass while I watch Guy Fieri tell me why I should go Missouri for battered fries.
Impatient, I pick up the phone. My mom answers on the third ring. She explains that she’s busy making dinner.
I cut her off. “We have a mice problem,” I tell her. “What do I do?”
She stops what she’s doing and starts in with an explanation that is basically about as helpful as the websites. Something about the cost of an exterminator, telling our landlords and buying airtight containers for my food in the pantry. “Sounds expensive,” I inform her.
I hear the door open. Aha, I think, roommate’s boyfriend! Abruptly I hang up with my mom–but not until I’ve let her know how unhelpful she has been, because I have an urgent mice problem–and I follow the boyfriend upstairs.
“Hi Owen,” I greet him with a false cheer. Both roommates have now arrived in the kitchen. “So about this mice problem,” I tell the other two, “should we make a cleaning schedule?”
We noncommittally make plans to reconsider the cleaning schedule next week, after the holiday weekend, but not before I remind the roommates that dishes in the sink = mouse heaven.
Boyfriend opts to do the dishes. Mildly satisfied, I return to my room.
It’s now 10:00, so I start getting ready for bed. A new episode of Chopped has begun, which I listen to absentmindedly as I brush my teeth.
I hear a scratching sound. I turn off the water, suspicious. The noise continues. I tiptoe over to my TV and turn the volume down. Now it sounds like paper rustling. But it’s not upstairs…it’s in my hallway.
I snatch my tennis racquet and quickly text the roommates. “It’s down stairs,” I tap into my iPhone hurriedly. “It playing with roach trap by the front door.”
I open my door and spot it on the bottom stair. My heart races. It’s a little, gray, cotton-ball-sized mouse. I creep closer, clutching my tennis racquet, but not determined to use it. Owen starts coming down the stairs to help.
Now it’s on. The mouse scurries toward the guest room and we rush to trap it with a cardboard box in a corner by the door. Somehow, we manage to corner the mouse.
Owen looks over at me expectantly.
“Open the door,” he instructs, “in case I can chase it outside.”
I look down at the mouse. She’s stuck inside her roach trap. I look at him. But what if it runs down to my room, my eyes plead.
It is possible that in that moment I gave him permission to kill it.
Next thing I know he flings away the box and stomps on her. I whimper and look away, tennis racquet now uselessly cradled in my arms.
A moment passes and I look back over at Owen.
“It’s stuck to my shoe,” he shrugs. I open the door and he hobbles outside. I take a deep breath and make my way back into my room. I hear him come back inside. I sit down on my bed and text my mom.
“Oh my god we killed it,” I write. “It got caught in the roach trap and we killed it.”
And then I put my phone down, turned off the light, and went to sleep.