Every time it was someone’s birthday in the office, it was customary to get a card (signed by all other department members) and a cake. And the colleagues (with the enthusiasm of an inexperienced gun-shy soldier being shipped off to Iraq) would stand around the cubicle and sing “Happy Birthday” with fake smiles on their faces.
Being that there was 20 people in the department, this happened pretty regularly. The greetings on the card would usually go something like this:
“Hey – Have a great day”
“Have a good one”
“Enjoy your special day”
Some pretty standard, non-personable, unthoughtful and totally meaningless greetings. I mean, I guess it’s nice to have a card signed by all of your colleagues, but not when it doesn’t say anything nice because your colleagues are so absolutely brainwashed by corporate jargon, small talk, and office etiquette that it ends up sounding more like a programmed robot voiceover wishing you a happy birthday and thanking
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And sure, everyone loves a good cake right?! But really, isn’t it just an excuse for everyone to stand around and stuff their face and gossip, maybe get in some brown-nosing time with the department head…Does anyone really (and I mean “really”) care that it’s Bob’s birthday?
Does anyone even know that last night Bob tried to kill himself after drinking half a bottle of 30 year old scotch because his wife left him, his kids hate him, he’s $40,000 in debt, and he’s been evicted from his apartment?! Does anyone know that Bob is a severe alcoholic?!
But go ahead… Eat that cake, sign that card. Bob won’t mind. Stand at his desk. Pretend that you are interested in his birthday and that you genuinely care about him as a fellow coworker.
And instead sign the card like this:
“You know what Bob, I don’t really know you… So I feel weird trying to write something that would indicate otherwise. I do hope you enjoy your day though, but I regretfully will not be joining you at your cubicle to celebrate in the cake and social festivities, it would just feel weird. Birthdays are meant to be spent with those you love, not those you are forced to work with.”
It was five o-clock on Friday afternoon when Bob appeared at my cubicle, holding a box filled with books, office supplies, and a couple of certificates.
“Hi Bob, anything I can do for you?”
“No.” he said. He continued to stand there staring at me with the box in his hand. I didn’t quite know what to make of it.
“Are ya sure?”
“Well” he said “I guess I just wanted to say thanks” he said
I was pretty confused at this point. “Thanks for what?” I asked.
“For not being like all the others” he said. “I wish I could have known more people like you.”
“Thanks Bob. Are you leaving the company?”
“Yes I am” he said, as he slowly walked away.
I sat there watching him walk away, knowing that I was seeing a dead man walking. I knew that he was done, he was out, he had taken about all he could take. The curtain had fallen.
And the next day, the memo went out… He had done it. Taken his life, in his apartment by way of pistol to the brain.
They found him still dressed for work, he was holding the card he had received for his birthday, and he strangely highlighted what I wrote in his card with an Orange highligher.
From that day forward, I was blamed for Bob’s death. My coworkers said that it was my coldness and my unwillingness to participate in the festivities that “pushed him over the edge” they said. I heard the whispers behind my back when I walked around the office.
Ironically (but not surprisingly), I was the only one from the office that attended Bob’s funeral.
3 months later I quit my job. I took a job making less money, but working with the homeless, and actually making a difference in somebody’s life.
And every year, on Bob’s birthday, I go to his grave to visit him. I pour some scotch on his grave and smoke a joint with him. And I think that, is how Bob would have wanted to celebrate, not with a fucking cake and a shitty card.