- - -
I started picking up weekends at work this fall to catch up with my reports and my accounts. Ever since the separation with my wife and kids, I did not like to spend a lot of time at our old house, not alone. I was more than happy to take on more responsibilities at work when we lost someone from our accounts team, whose name I can’t recall, being a recluse as such. I was depressed but willfully alone at work and outside of work, I wanted to wallow in my loneliness at first, that is, until I met the man in the office.
Mostly, I was alone on the weekends, except for people who forgot their phones or needed to finish up a project. Regardless, they never stayed for long which was fine since I was not very talkative in the past few months anyways. Most of the people were in a hurry to get home and watch sports or movies or whatever else they did; nothing that I really participated in anymore anyways; nothing that could distract me enough to get out of my own head.
This Saturday was not unlike any other. I drove down to the parking ramp and walked to the office. It was nearing the end of fall, so it was pretty dark outside until around 9:45 AM on a good day that is. It was 8:30 AM currently and quite a bit brisker than I had dressed for. I hurried to the door and saw the security light was green instead of red, someone must have scanned their security badge to get in a few moments before and it was still unlocked. Great, that means I have to interact with someone, more small talk that I was never very good at.
I pulled the door open and walked into the lobby. It was cold, dark, and empty inside. The security clearance lock was also lit green indicting that it was unlocked. I decided to wait a few moments to let whoever was inside to get where they were going. I didn’t want to sit in an elevator with some stranger awkwardly trying to make the situation more comfortable. I never was good with words and I was not going to start my morning with that exchange. I just wanted to be alone.
After about 2 minutes of pretending to check my emails on my phone, the light was red again and I scanned my badge and opened the door. The door was cold to the touch; it felt as if the heat was off for the weekend. The executives were cutting corners everywhere that they can since the CEO was fired and it was not surprising to have no climate control on the weekends. I had a heater at my desk that I could use for days like today anyways.
I clicked the button to go up when I entered the elevator lobby. It seems that the other person was on the floor my desk was at since the elevator sign indicated that it was coming down from the 4th floor. It is a large office and I had my own office room so I figured I would not have to talk to whoever it was if I got to my desk quick enough. I stepped out of the elevator and felt how cold it was on the floor. I zipped my sweatshirt up more and headed towards my door in the dark, as even the minimum emergency lights were not lit in the hallways for some reason. It was always kind of haunting walking through the office in the dark, a place that is bustling with people throughout the day with their lattes and their lunches, talking about football and the weather. I never really left my office room anymore to join them. Perhaps now they just talk about how reclusive I am. I wouldn’t know since I am usually the first to get here in the morning and the last to leave.
As I got to my office door, I realized that I had forgotten my key. That wasn’t really a problem, since the network allowed me to work at one of the standing desks in the main room and still have access to my accounts and files. But on the other hand, I did not have the comfort of my own enclosed space. My eyes were sensitive to light, so I typically worked in my office with just the light from the windows and the computer screen on a dim setting. So I was glad that the light was dim on the floor still. I had just seen a computer in the corner giving off some light; it must have been that other employee
I had forgotten that someone else was in the building when I walked to the set of standing desks, but it didn’t really matter as long as he left me alone. They were part of the program to help us be healthier, that hardly anyone used anyways; but today, it will save me from having to drive all the way back home again. It was always obnoxious to go through the parking ramp gate and back again, it didn’t clock the time right on the weekends without a guard there so I ended up having to pay extra for going in and back out. Whoever this person was, he clearly didn’t mind the dim lighting in the room either which was good. I always hated when people would come in to pick something up from their desk and turn on all the florescent lights on the floor as they went about their business. It was worse still when they stood by my door and talked to me about their weekend plans while I was trying to work. This person seemed to be likeminded in my shared desire to not be bothered as he was in the furthest corner from me. I was glad for that at least, but I still hoped he wouldn’t be here for too much longer
I turned the computer on and stood there while it booted up. I felt strange standing in the middle of the office, almost like I was at attention for some kind of formal event; it reminded me of my court hearing recently. It felt even stranger that someone was in a cubical on the other side of the room. I didn’t see his face or any of his features. I just averted my gaze when I saw him looking at me from that distance. I figured I must have looked strange standing there in the middle of the office, not saying anything or doing anything, but staring at my computer. Not like I had much to do but wait, but I still felt on the spot, judged even.
I decided to turn the desk so that I would not see him in the corner of my eyes. I didn’t want to have to think about anything else but my work. I didn’t want to think about other people today; even if that person was a recluse like me.
He never seemed to stir much. I hear typing, clicking, and the occasional print; but I never heard him get up from his cubical. I stopped remembering that he was there; the sound began to drown out as a white noise. I stopped thinking about it and just focused on my own keystrokes for almost an hour if not longer. There was a little light coming from the break room window which was always open. I’m glad it didn’t let too much sun in, as that can be pretty blinding this early in the morning. It all felt peaceful to me at first, but I also remembered why I was here on the weekends by myself and why I was alone. I stopped finding solace in my loneliness and started to just feel empty inside. I figured a pot of coffee might help fill the void in me so I turned to the break room, but stopped when I heard an email come in. It had been quite until then and it startled me.
It was sent to my personal work address and not the main inbox for the account team I was working with. It came from a strange address that I didn’t recognize the name of at all. It was clearly a work address and from the office here. It was email@example.com and it had a subject line that read: “RE: Why did you turn around?”
What the hell? When that popped up on my screen it sent a shiver up my spine and I stood back at my desk, facing the screen. He was still watching me, why was he talking to me in emails, in fact, why was he talking to me at all? The body of the email said, “What are you hiding from John?” but I didn’t want to acknowledge that I read it. I tried to regain composure and shuffled some papers around. If I was at my own desk I could have just ignored it. Now that I was in the same room as him, it just made it that much harder to pretend that I was not aware of it. I figured he was looking at me again and I was afraid to turn around. I stopped shuffling reports around and just stood there, paralyzed in place. Who was this person? I figured he wouldn’t know that I didn’t see the email, but then again he would assume I had eventually if I was sitting here with my email page open on my desktop. What a strange person, whoever he was. I thought of him staring at me from across the room and it made me want to run out the doors. It made me want to scream at him to leave me alone, it made me want to jump off the roof of the building, which I felt at work pretty often since the separation. But, I didn’t move, I just stood there, unproductively and afraid.
He had moved closer, I heard the typing and the clicking from a desk just several feet away. If I hadn’t already been on guard I was even more concerned. I decided that I needed to go home and get my keys so I could get out of this spot and away from this co-worker. It was dark in the room, but I could see the light from our screens reflecting off the glass. I saw his shoulders and mine over our monitors as we looked towards our screens, still clicking and typing away, or at least, he was still.
If I was to move, it had to be soon, as his cube was only a few away from the standing desks and I did not want to speak to him or be confronted in any way, I hated confrontation. I slowly packed up my things when I heard the telltale “ping” of my email. When I looked up, it was another email from this strange email address, a continuation of the same email conversation. “What are you afraid of? You’re not able to face reality if you cannot face yourself.” This email contained an attachment; it looked like an image file. I glanced at it but I did not download it. The preview of it looked like it was a clipping from a newspaper. The headline read:
Unity Credit CEO Found In Financial Scandal
This happened awhile ago here. Why had he brought this up? This is when everything went downhill for the company and for all of us here, but especially me. I worked directly under the CEO for the major accounts and was in question during the court hearings quite a bit. They thought I had been embezzling money with him as well and had wondered why I didn’t turn him in. I did not want to have to remember how this ruined my life right now, I still wanted to scream.
I felt less concerned about this person remembering the incident, and the dissolution of my family, and more focused on my own sadness. I remembered how it felt to be alone at work and at home; I was a social outcast even after I was acquitted of the charges, I couldn’t face my co-workers or my family after it happened. My personal emails were scoured for information and my wife found out about my dating website accounts and everything that I kept secret from the outside world. It was traumatizing to have my life on display like that in front of all the strangers in the courtroom.
Another email came in, this time with one of the notes I sent myself, about contemplating suicide, I have no idea how he would have found this, since it was in my own email address and not sent to anyone else. I read it anyways, even though I remembered the words:
To whom this concerns, to whoever still cares.
I don’t know if anyone will read this, or if anyone will even be at my funeral. I have made mistakes in the past, but I never anticipated the outcome of my actions…
It goes on, but I didn’t need to read this again. I didn’t look up from my desk, but I heard the computer next to me start typing, he had moved to the standing desk directly to my right, probably typing another response to me.
I’m not sure what compelled me in that moment, but I opened a reply to the email and started typing a response to this, Adam Jensen person:
I am hiding from the world as a way to hide from myself. This place reminds me of my mistakes and the family that I lost, the family that I haven’t spoken to in months.
After I hit send, there is a moment of silence, then the clicking of the keyboard started again and a “ping” was heard with another email, just saying,
“Go to them, it’s not too late to get your life back.”
Before I had even finished opening the email and reading it, I heard the person get up from his desk and walk out of the office and I heard the elevator descend.
I sat there for a moment, taking in what he said and without any other thought I logged off the computer and grabbed my things, I walked to the elevator and pressed the downwards arrow. I needed to leave. I went home after that and decided not to come back in until Wednesday the following week; it was time for me to take some vacation. I felt like I needed some time to myself and to try to get in touch with my kids again and apologize to my wife.
It wasn’t until I got home that I looked in the employee directory from my work laptop at home to see who Adam Jensen is; or rather, who he was. He wasn’t in the system anymore, which I thought might have just been an HR oversight at first. I decided to look into it further and I called the HR number and asked about him.
“HR, how can I help you?”
“Hi Nancy, it’s John in accounting; am just calling to do employment verification on Adam Jensen.”
“Oh, he no longer is with the company.”
“Oh really, that’s pretty strange; what happened to him?”“Well, he passed away, John. His funeral is on Friday if you want the service times and addresses.”