It’s February 13th, yes the day before that holiday. My eyes are swollen, I have a piercing headache and everything smells like Jose Cuervo. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill plays in the background as I spend my morning swiping through an app, looking for a replacement and perhaps even revenge.
We were together for about eight months – we met online. Even though I had been having some doubts about our relationship’s future, it was fine for the time being. I wasn’t going to look for something new in the middle of a pandemic.
I think we both knew that the relationship had been on autopilot for a long time. There was no passion anymore, and the energy we started with was completely gone. We got used to waking up every day and drifting through to pass the time. It became the norm, a routine – whether we truly enjoyed each other’s company or not.
But drifting through to pass the time is no way to live.
I knew that I did not love her and she did not love me back. Some might have even called our relationship toxic or mentally and emotionally draining. But I was too scared to call it quits, worried I wouldn’t find anything better, especially in this economy when I didn’t have much experience. We were self-consciously stuck together like a sweaty cotton shirt on the hottest day of summer. Regardless, I was comfortable living this way and I thought she was too.
It happened on a regular Friday afternoon (well, as regular as a Friday can be during a pandemic). My Slack notifications were oddly quiet for a weekday but I didn’t think too much about it. I went on with my usual work. But as the day went on, no one was answering my questions. Why were my co-workers ghosting me?
Suddenly, at 1:57 pm I get my first message of the day: “Elizabeth, can you join my Zoom at 2 pm?”
I think nothing of it as it’s typical for me to have to attend last-minute work meetings so I quickly respond, “Okay, will do!”
I work remotely because of the pandemic, but most of my coworkers are still in the office. I think that maybe something is going on and they need to fill me in. I join the call, happily, maybe even excited that my co-workers are finally acknowledging me after a long day of being ignored.
I’m greeted by my supervisor and the office manager who is sitting behind her. “Hi, how are you?” I say, as they look down and glumly respond that they’re doing just fine. Okay, I think to myself, maybe they’re just in a bad mood today. Everyone has those days, right?
When this all began I was 22, fresh out of college, and eager to work. Full of energy, I woke up early with my coffee in hand and prepared myself for my nine-to-five every day. I was dynamic in every meeting, the first one there and the last one to leave. I thought I was one of the lucky ones, able to get a job the summer after graduating college.
As months passed by and my responsibilities piled on, I started working overtime and even on weekends. I was receiving Slack messages as late as midnight and as early as 6 am. But there’s a pandemic going on and I was grateful that I even had a job right now. So I kept working, even if I was exhausted and my eyes were in pain from staring at a screen all day. I also had just started graduate school as a part-time student. With both work and school, I rarely had time for myself. My friends didn’t see me unless it was for a quick Facetime, but even then my focus was on work and who knows if they’d want to hear my automated responses anyway. In class too, I was bombarded with Slack messages. I’d reply, “I’m in class, I’ll be out soon.” But they were not happy with that. I’d sneakily open a new tab and finish what they asked for, praying my professors didn’t call my name. Even when I left my house, I still thought about work. I found myself checking my emails on the subway and in the grocery store. Obsessed, I couldn’t keep a conversation going without looking down to check my Slack notifications. My anxiety rang every time my phone buzzed. This relationship had taken over my life and I had forgotten who I was before the job.
To say I was blindsided and heartbroken is a grand understatement. I had never felt so betrayed before. I thought I wasted the past eight months, day and night, for this job just to be hit with the “it’s not you, it’s me” line. “We can’t afford to keep you on,” they said. I wanted to yell at the top of my lungs “YOU’RE NEVER GOING TO FIND SOMEONE AS GOOD AS ME!” But even if they did, it didn’t matter because our relationship was over. I held back my tears, turned on my fake smile, and said “thank you.”
The breakup hurt. I cried, I screamed, I drank to forget. But I also have to be honest here. The minute that Zoom call was over and I was let go, I took a deep breath in and it was as if a great weight had been lifted off my shoulders.
I didn’t realize how much of a robot I had become, mechanized to produce only my job and nothing else. With no energy to do the things I once enjoyed, my creativity was hindered. But now I am prioritizing myself, freelancing, taking commissions, writing, drawing, and making things again. I’m more focused in class and I’m sure my professors have noticed as well. Finally, I’ve been able to reconnect with my friends and give them my full attention so we can have real conversations with no distractions. Sure, freelancing isn’t the most financially stable option but I’m discovering myself again. I’m excited to wake up every day and create something new - something for me, no coffee needed.
Thank you, I am finally free and capable of being human again.