As I headed into the office one final time, the older security guard greeted me as on any other morning. I didn't love that job, or that company, but the people . . . I knew I would miss them, this security guard included.
"My last day," I informed him.
He uttered an expletive, then asked, "Wait, you mean 'last day,' like you're going overseas on assignment? Or you mean 'last day'?"
I clarified that it was the latter. He swore again, before asking, "So what are you gonna do?"
I had anticipated the question. It's the first thing everybody wonders. On the other hand, nobody asks why you're leaving, probably because everybody understands wanting to get away. They just can't see a way out for themselves, so, when you get out, what they want to know is how you did it.
And so I had given great consideration to all my options . . . for how to respond to that question, I mean. People are always stressing the importance of first impressions. Now, here at the other end, far too late to worry about that, I at least wanted people's final impressions of me to be good ones.
Wanting to sound cool, I ran through assorted cliches in my mind:
"What I always do--my best."
"What I always do--survive."
"My best to survive."
Eventually, I just kept things simple with the truth: "I'm not sure yet."
"Well, you're single, right?"
"You should get out there, see the world, try everything. Hell, I wish I were young and single like you."
I felt as though we'd had this conversation many times over the last five years . . . because indeed we had.
"So, you're married?" I asked him.
"Thirty years," he said.
He reflected, apparently wanting to send me off with a thoughtful and honest response this time.
"Well, I got married because I needed to change my lifestyle," he began. "When I was young, I used to go to those orgy houses and all that. Those were the herpe-free days. Then, when stuff started going down, I knew I needed to change my lifestyle. So I needed to find myself a woman who liked to get busy, only not with everyone, like how I was doing. Right after that is when the whole AIDS thing happened, so I really got married just in time."
As he spoke, I could not help focusing in on his teeth. He was missing his first premolar on the left side. I had never noticed that, and yet I got the feeling it had been missing for as long as I'd known him. He didn't look any different to me on account of that new observation, but rather it was simply as though I were seeing a fuller image of him than I had before. Quite frankly, it was more than I wanted to see.
"And I have a son," he added finally. "That's really the best part about getting married."