Your Soul for a Paycheck
Two years ago today I rolled out of bed at 6am. I brushed my teeth. I slowly lined my eyes with black eyeliner, being careful not to make the line too heavy which would make my eyes appear smaller and closer together. Not an effect I wanted on eyes that were already naturally small and close. Then I applied eyeshadow in the colors of light peach and dark peach, just enough to brighten my eyes and still appear professional. I then colored my cheeks with a light pink rouge and put on two spritzes of Roses de Chloe perfume. Two would be enough to last through most of the day.
I turned off the light before leaving the bathroom so it would not wake my husband, who would sleep several more hours. He had only just gone to bed an hour or so before. Since he was let go from his job 6 months ago, he has been spending his nights trying to come up with a viable business he could own and operate. Working 10 years for a company at an average of 70 hours per week only to be let go by the new private investors can leave a person jaded.
I went into the closet and quickly put on the clothes I had carefully picked out the night before; a grey Theory pencil skirt and a white long-sleeve Brooks Brothers dress shirt. The long sleeves would conceal my fully tattooed arm that has been my secret since being hired.
I clipped on a strand of fake pearls and put in matching pearl drop earrings. Then I slipped on my favorite pair of black Coach pumps. In the office where I worked, quality was not only noticed, it was expected. Not wearing brand-name clothing would result in a subtle shaming of side comments and disapproving looks. A significant portion of my paycheck went to buying leather heels and cashmere sweaters to maintain the standard that was set by co-workers long ago.
I quickly went to the kitchen and started a cup of donut house coffee in the Keurig. It would fill my travel mug as I gathered the rest of my work gear. I opened the fridge and grabbed my prepacked lunch. Most of my co-workers went out to lunch at the local Thai restaurant, but I preferred to pack my own food. Today it was two boiled eggs for breakfast which I would eat with salt and pepper when I got to the office, and a vegetable salad and homemade peanut butter energy balls for lunch.
I picked up my coffee, my lunch bag, and my matching black Coach purse and climbed into my car. It was a silver 2010 Dodge Challenger with wide grey stripes outlined in red pin stripes. A V6. I purchased it 4 years ago after my divorce. At the time, I was just looking for any vehicle that would get me around town, but when I saw the Challenger I fell in love. I had fond memories of driving old cars with my dad and this was an old-looking car that wouldn’t require the maintenance of an old car. An expensive purchase, but it has been a reliable investment so far. I started the car and backed out of the stone driveway.
Traffic was typical for this time of day. The commute to work is about 1 hour, taking the back roads. I sipped on my coffee, burning my tongue as I waited in the long line of traffic. The sun is higher in the summer, but in the fall the low sun hits the windshield at an angle that can leave the driver blinded for a few seconds.
I turned into the industrial park and drove up the long driveway to the 2-story 375,000 square foot office building where I worked. I pulled into a parking spot in the third row, between a Porsche and a Mercedes. I don’t know the models, only that they were expensive cars. As were all the cars in the parking lot. This was another thing that was noted and prized by my co-workers. Although not a V8, my car blended in well. In another hour, the entire parking lot would be filled with cars $50,000 and up.
I walked up the landscaped path and entered one of the oversized glass doors at the front of the building. The night security guard greeted me. He would be getting off his shift at 8am and two model-like, multi-lingual receptionists would replace him.
I used my badge to enter a second set of glass doors and navigated my way down the long hallway to the heavy wooden doors that would lead to my department. The office building was divided into sections that were color-coded and named after cities. This was so co-workers could easily find each other for meetings. I worked in London which was decorated with royal purple banners.
I went to my cubicle and booted up my laptop to begin my work day. A day that would be packed with back-to-back meetings where the object of the meeting wasn’t to resolve problems; but rather to negotiate favors. This was an office of politics. An office where employees worked to advance themselves instead of working for the benefit of the company. Nothing was done without a favor in return, and most times nothing was done at all. The superficiality of having meetings just for the appearance of progress was mind-numbing.
I was paid well. My entire professional career culminated to this position and salary that I thought defined my success. Instead, I was paid to participate in a game that exchanged my integrity for a paycheck.
I started to lose myself. My husband started noticing the changes as well. Subtle changes in the way I addressed him or in the way I approached problems in our marriage. I became bossy. Egotistical. Overconfident. I was stressed and turned to alcohol for relief. My kids were no longer a priority. The priority was trying to maintain a dual-personality of work life and home life. I wasn’t succeeding. The differences were too vast. One side had to win. I had a choice to make. A paycheck or my soul.
One crisp day in February 2015, I turned in my badge and walked away.