20 JANUARY 2009
Dawn and I sat in the car in the Macy’s parking garage discussing what we’d do if I lost my job, decided we’d move to Germany, liked the idea so much we agreed we’d go anyway, regardless of what happened at work. Starbucks announced it would be closing a bunch of stores and laying off a percentage of people at the office, and the rumor mill started churning, and not much was getting done.
When the time came in February on the date they said it would, all the conference rooms were booked with 15 minute meetings and some got Rubbermaid carts to move their houseplants out, and others like me just moved from one box to another, and the assistants updated the org charts and that was that.
I got my sabbatical approved to be gone four months starting in July and wrote my first blog post, returned mid-November, had a blow-out on the highway my first day back to work, those late days in Seattle that feel like a distant planet where the sun only comes out once every 50 years.
I had three job prospects in the new year: a move to Amsterdam to work out of the office that supported EMEA, a job with some industrial engineers who were bringing Lean to Starbucks operations, or a promotion to the Global Store Development PMO, which I ranked third but thought in hindsight was probably my best choice.
I wanted the first two jobs really bad. I spent a good 80 hours preparing for my interviews, knew the SARI-based questions by heart (“Situation, Action, Response, Insights”) and practiced my spiel on long walks down Utah avenue talking to myself, taking notes, imagining myself somewhere better, far away.
But they wanted a European for the Amsterdam job and the Lean people were terribly arrogant, insisting I wasn’t qualified, which made for great arguments and debates and felt like a chess match I would never win but still loved to play.
I was so primed for interviewing I asked the Store Development people if they could ask me some more questions even though I could tell they were done and made up their minds already. I didn’t like sports metaphors but said I was swinging for the cheap seats, really like to hit it out of the park you know.
I delivered thank you cards to their chairs before they got in the next day and accepted the offer while on vacation, closed on a new house, got my head shaved — April, 2010.
For four years I kept a ticket stub from our sabbatical, that time in Ireland at the Cliffs of Moher, and a faded picture from a newspaper of my mom’s village in Besigheim. They were tacked to a small panel by my cubicle along with pictures of my family and drawings the kids made. I packed the ticket stub and the pictures with my things once I knew I’d be leaving, and reduced my files down to one box so it would make for a clean getaway if it came down to that, November 2014.
I have trouble remembering the rules for Lay vs. Lie. If you run an Internet search, handy grammar sites make it fun and approachable. I lie back down to bed with my mask on and Charlotte climbs into bed, Sunday morning and the 27 to Stuttgart is at low tide, just a vague swoosh now and then, the golden light of summer past its peak.
I am still having dreams about leaving people at work. This morning, hugging my friend Len, who visited me with his partner Mark in France, 1998. Swimming in the Mediterranean after dark when France won the World Cup, thinking REM wrote Nightswimming just for us — then falling out of favor with Len over something stupid and telling him goodbye 17 years later.
I didn’t think I could ever leave work and not know what I was coming back to because of the stress in the uncertainty and all the risk, the fear. But if I knew I only had a year to live, this is how I’d spend it — it’s more fun this way, not knowing how it’s going to end. It reminds me of the play The Baltimore Waltz, a brother and sister who’d planned a European vacation they never took because the brother died of AIDS. In the play, she acts out the trip with him in her mind.
I think the reason we get tripped up between lay vs. lie is we confuse the past with the present.