The Restructure

A work of fiction.

[the scene: a conference room set up with rows of chairs facing the front. Thirty or so workers in office attire file in dutifully. A woman with perfectly coiffed hair, and the detached air of a circling shark (“Shark Woman”) is flicking back and forth through PowerPoint slides being projected onto a screen at the front of the room. A Man enters the room and the energy shifts, the meeting is now ready to begin. The woman takes position at the front of the room. The man sits on a chair to her right]

Shark Woman: I just want to start off by saying how happy that George and I both are to have you all here today. This is a great turnout, isn’t it a just a great turn out George [she gestures to her right but doesn’t turn her head. The man remains stony faced].

Shark woman: I think I speak for all of us when I say that we are thrilled that George, our CEO and “fearless leader” [the woman makes air quotes as she says this] was able to join us today. I think we all appreciate how busy George’s schedule is, in light of recent developments. Can I just ask for a quick round of applause for George for showing up today?

[the crowd claps politely. George eyes the room impassively. Shark Woman waits for the clapping to die down]

SW: you may be wondering why we have organised this meeting, George and I appreciate how busy you are so we will endeavour not to take up too much of your time. You may have heard rumours of a restructure and I want to put these rumours to rest. To allay your fears once and for all. George and I are really a united front on this.

[murmuring breaks out among the audience]

SW: George and I would like to take this opportunity to field questions from you, the team.

[a woman raises her hand]

SW: Yes, Sandra, what is your question

Sandra: so the rumours of a restructure are untrue?

SW: That’s a great question. I would like to address your question by acknowledging the broader context in which we operate. I am sure you can appreciate that the sector is in a time of continual change, and in order to remain competitive we need to change along with it. This situation isn’t unique to us, in fact I would say it is affecting our colleagues and competitors across the sector. If anything they are faring much worse than us! I think we should all feel really good about that actually

Sandra: [interrupting] so there is a restructure then? I thought you said you were putting the rumours to rest?

SW: [narrowing her eyes] yes, by confirming that the rumours were, in fact, true. NEXT QUESTION

[a man raises his hand timidly]

SW: Ahmed yes, what is your question for George?

Ahmed: Umm yes. Thank you. So, by restructure do you mean downsize? As in, will jobs be lost [the crowd murmurs]

SW: Thanks for that question Ahmed, that is a really great question. George and I really appreciate you coming along today. I think it is safe to say, that in an organisation as large as this it can be quite a challenge to see the forest from the trees! It just makes sense then to thin out some of the dead wood. In these uncertain times the imperative exists to be fiscally responsible. We want to build for the future, but we don’t want to borrow from the past to do so. That would set an incredibly dangerous precedent, I think we can all agree on that NEXT QUESTION

[a short woman stands up. SW eyes her suspiciously]

SW: yes Alex?

Alex: What is the timeline on this? Who is affected? I have kids in school!

SW: [her face morphing into an approximation of a smile] Look these are valid concerns, and I thank you for bringing them to the table. I think you can appreciate that George and I have a heck of an undertaking in front of us. Massive. How long does it reach to achieve all of our outcomes? Satisfy all of our stakeholders? Trim the fat off the bone? How long is a piece of string Alex? [SW gestures magnanimously around the room]. Believe me on this colleagues, George and I are working on a full suite of real-world solutions for these very complex problems, and these will be communicated to you all in the fullness of time NEXT QUESTION

[the audience is mumbling, audibly concerned about this turn of events. George remains impassive, his eyes glued to the back of the room. SW has cemented the smile to her face]

SW: I think we have time for one more question?

Sandra: I hardly think this is the appropriate venue for this? Where is the consultation?

SW: That’s some great feedback. Really great. George and I are really going to take that on board. I want to thank you for your contribution Sandra. Unfortunately we have run out of time. We can’t reasonably expect to take up any more of George’s time, the restructure is keeping him very busy as I am sure you can all appreciate! As we move beyond the design phase of the restructure, beyond the communication phase, and into the implementation phase of the restructure then I am sure George will have some time to breathe again! But until that happens it will be all hands on deck!

[the room is quiet. A man in the back row is crying silently]

SW: This has been a great meeting. Really great. I feel like we really broke down some barriers here. And believe me team, I can say in all sincerity that George and I are looking forward to a productive and fiscally responsible future with some of you.

[in a sweeping motion SW leads George from the room. Both exit]

[the room is quiet. A woman scrolls through Seek on her mobile phone]

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Father’s Day

Skull by coda, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  coda 

Sunday, the 6th of September 2015 was Father’s Day in Australia.

Saturday, the 25th of October 2014 was the day my 61 year old Dad passed away from liver cancer.

You do the math.

I had anticipated that a lot of days following Dad’s death would be painful. Christmas was one of these. Not that my Dad enjoyed Christmas, he despised it openly and vocally to anyone who visited our house at that time of year. He would sit in his usual corner of the living room (every Dad has their own I suppose) ranting ineffectually about the money wasted, and the crowds, and the spoiled children. Meanwhile my Mum was hoarding presents in the linen cupboard and the top shelves of wardrobes, in preparation for the big reveal. The pain of Christmas day that year was less about his contribution than his absence. He wasn’t there to complain.

To be honest I can’t remember how we spent his birthday in early January. My guess there would have been a lot of forced jocularity between my brother and I, in an effort to keep Mum’s head above water. She is barely buoyant at the best of times, but on this occasion I was worried she would disappear altogether.

At least I anticipated that though. A milestone people ‘warned’ me about. “It will be hard” they said, and in response I gritted my teeth and thought “it can’t be any harder than what has preceded it”. Marking the first of his birthday’s after his passing would in no way be more difficult than witnessing the way cancer ravaged his body and stole from him his ‘grey nomad‘ dreams. Following his diagnosis and his rapidly failing health our small family, my Mum, my brother, my Dad and I, closed ranks, drew closer, while in the shadows, in the alone time, we fell apart.

While his birthday was fucking hard, in no way was it harder than experiencing that.

After my Dad died, I took a week off work. The “work” I reference is of course paid employment. I was lucky that I both had access to paid leave, and a job I could return to. However this was not time “off”. I would rather attend a thousand lunch time meetings than organise my father’s funeral. Discuss payment plans with a funeral director. Sit in a house full of stuff which has become unmoored. Existing in a weird in between place of not being ours but not exactly being his either. Sorting through belongings and wills. This of course does not fall under the banner of work. However it was expected and it was needed and it couldn’t be outsourced and so it was done. I had known this moment was coming ever since I learned of Dad’s diagnosis, and when it came it was every bit as horrendous as I imagined it would be.

No one thinks planning their father’s funeral is going to be easy.

My daughter started school this year. There have been hat parades and book parades and endless events at which grandparents are always fucking invited. Please come to grandparents day! said the push notification from the school’s app (which as an aside seems to be programmed to remind me that I am a shitty Mum at the most inopportune moments). Some of these moments pass by with a whisper, some with a wail, but each of them I see coming. I prepare myself. I give my very best ‘stiff upper lip’ and by god they won’t see me cry.

Which is why I was surprised at the intensity of my grief at Father’s day.

I got a sneak preview. I had come home from work and I was flicking mindlessly through a pile of catalogues. They were thematically linked but my tired brain didn’t automatically put together the pieces. There were boxer shorts and cheap, embossed tool sets. T-shirts emblazoned with ‘World’s coolest Dad!’ and car washing kits. I flicked and I paused and I flicked and I paused and two thoughts passed through my mind in quick succession: 1. Shit, not again. What are you going to get Dad for Fath.. 2. Oh.

Oh.

Perversely I even felt a sense of relief. Dad was difficult to buy for, and made a big deal out of not wanting anything to the point that giving him gifts was an awkward exercise all around. On the father’s day before he died my Dad was on a week long trip that my brother and I paid for in order to give just a small (far too small) taste of the retirement travel he had spent his entire adult life planning for. So he got no tacky “gift” last year either. In the years directly preceding his diagnosis we would take him out for Indian food, and strangely he would insist on having my brother and I order. My daughter, then a toddler would spill rice all over the ground and inevitably get butter chicken all over her “good” clothes. My brother and I would compete to see who could make Dad laugh the most. While he was a morose man he loved to laugh. His favourite saying was “Life’s shit and then you die” which sounds horrendous, but made sense in the context of a man who went through some extraordinarily shitty things in his short life.

With a lapful of catalogues full of laughing male models and their placid wives and their giggling children I sobbed. I sobbed in a way I had managed to avoid for some time.

When Dad died my grief was all enveloping. It wasn’t just an emotion, it was a physiological experience. I was wracked with full body sobs. I would talk to my daughter about whatever it was that was happening at that time (which I can honestly say I don’t remember) but it was a very clear feeling of surviving, white knuckling through every single moment of every single day. I didn’t register her presence, I just did enough to get through the interaction so I could get back to the full time occupation of existing. Even though I spent most of the early days preceding and following the death of my Dad in a state of tight lipped obstinance, inside I felt as raw and bloody as an open wound. Vulnerable, exposed, and ultimately ashamed of my very human-ness. A yawning chasm of pain.

I appear to have now passed my socially sanctioned “grieving time”. My Dad doesn’t come up in conversation, and unless asked I won’t bring him up. A few days after returning to work a few cards appeared on my desk, signed by colleagues I barely knew, with all of the appropriate platitudes. I was told by a well meaning manager to “take all the time [you] need”, however this offer wasn’t followed up with any kind of concrete support (who would do my work in my absence?) and the matter was never raised again. Now friends don’t ask and I don’t offer. When my Mum brings him up in conversation I will contribute, reminisce, but at the same time my jaw is set. This isn’t the day my resolve will fade. This isn’t the day I will bleed my pain over everyone, not when they need me. At least this is what I tell myself. Perhaps the pain is too much to feel so I avoid it all costs. The grief is too messy. It bleeds into my professional demeanour, into my closely guarded private life. Perhaps it is a wound I salve with work, and business, and the emotional labour of motherhood. Perhaps I don’t sit still long enough to come to that conclusion.

Over time the pain has mostly dulled. The taste of blood has left my mouth, the scab has fallen off. I am aware of my grief now as more of a background emotion. It is a brittle bone, flesh dissolved by hungry ants and bleached white by the unforgiving sun. It exists, but fades into the background, disappearing into the sand. However as bones age they splinter, and the sharp edges cause me to bleed when I don’t want to, or least expect it. I am beginning to learn that I can’t avoid my grief because the shards are embedded in me.

Father’s day came and went, as do all days. To mark the occasion my family and I visited a horrendous “all-you can-eat” buffet which my Nan insisted we go to, despite it being entirely unsuitable and completely lacking on food suitable for vegetarians. We raised a toast to the Dad’s not with us (my Dad and my Pa) and we talked about other things. My daughter ate far too much toosghetti and I drank far too much wine. The day was entirely unremarkable, yet entirely out of the ordinary because my Dad wasn’t there, and wasn’t ever going to be there again.

My daughter won’t know him. She won’t buy him a gift from the school’s father’s day stall. She won’t make him a card which sheds glitter all over the house, giving him something to complain about. We won’t share another Indian meal. He won’t laugh at something my brother says. He won’t call me girl. He won’t call my brother boy. No one else calls us that.

The bone stands in stark contrast to the blue horizon. It could easily go unnoticed, half buried as it is in the white sand. However, take the time to look and you just might see it.

I’m trying my best not to.