I don’t even know why I am writing this since you will never be able to see this. Maybe the message will get through to you somehow, wherever you may be.
We shared a cubicle wall at work. We didn’t really know each other, even though we worked for the same company for years.
You probably remember me from my old position. I was on the team that was dismantled. I am one of the unfortunate people reassigned to an entry-level position after my old work team was dissolved.
I remember seeing you eating your lunch of chicken fingers, French fries and a coke in front of the big television in the break room. I knew something was wrong, Julie. But I just couldn’t put my finger on it.
You see, I was upset about what happened with my job. I was pretty much only thinking about how unfair life had been to me. And, anyway, I didn’t really know you. So why would I stop and ask you if you were doing okay?
Did you ever hear me on the other side of the cubicle wall? I often heard you talk to your co-workers about struggling with the unmanageable work performance expectations. Yet, I never took the time to help you to stop worrying about them. I never took the time to reassure you that doing your best was enough. I never let you know that you were more important than any stinking job.
I was struggling too, Julie. Especially since I didn’t want to do this new job position. It all seemed so unfair.
I found out later that you have an adult son with a disability that you support. I guess that’s why you were so stressed out about work.
Someone told me that you were working on your Master’s degree so that you could get a better job. Maybe that’s why you had to buy your lunch in the toxic cafeteria. I guess you didn’t have time to bring a healthier lunch from home. I just thought you were just being lazy and making bad food choices.
Do you remember that one morning I walked by you on the way to the break room, and I gasped? You saw the shocked look on my face because I am really bad about hiding my thoughts and feelings. You had lost so much weight and your face was ashen.
We locked eyes at that moment. It was my last opportunity to reach out to you.
And yet, I didn’t or couldn’t.
I didn’t ask you how you were doing. I didn’t ask you if you thought about quitting smoking or going to see a doctor.
You see, I chose to just go back to my desk and obsess about my own unfair work predicament instead.
Co-workers gossiped about how you continued to smoke even though you looked sick and had lost so much weight so fast.
Why was it was so much easier to talk about you than to you?
One day, we all got an email announcement about how you had gone to the doctor and they found a tumor.
We all knew you wouldn’t be coming back to the office although nobody said it out loud.
Of course, the office “Get Well” card was circulated so that everyone could sign it with their own rendition of “I’ll keep you in my prayers.” Only nobody ever really does, Julie. I didn’t even sign your card because I don’t really even know you.
Later, one woman was taking donations from everyone to buy gift cards to send to you. I wondered if you would have rather had a co-worker just honestly ask you how you were doing instead of receiving a bunch of crappy gift cards.
And now three months later, you’re dead. I read your tiny obituary in the paper and was shocked to see you are my exact age.
I’m not sure that I could have changed what happened to you, Julie.
I guess I’ll always wonder and regret.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: Gisela Giardino via Flickr