A year ago next week, we left this place for the last time, thinking that we’d be back in a couple of weeks, a month at the longest. I remember Sharon coming up to me and saying, “we have to leave.” It was a Thursday, and I said why don’t we just wait another day, “No, we have to leave today.” And just like that, we abandoned ship.
I came back the next day, unmasked, just be sure everything was OK. A few of us came back that day, Friday, to turn out the lights. We didn’t pack much. Just left.
Over the last year, yes ONE YEAR, I’ve been back to the office maybe three times. Each time struggling with the protocol to get in. Wrong fob. No code. Wrong day. This most recent time, I returned to retrieve my second monitor in an attempt to move my home office from the dining room to a bedroom upstairs, to give the first floor of our house back to Mary and the dog.
When I exit the elevator on the fifth floor of our building, the lights are mostly off, like you might find on a weekend. It’s a Friday about noon and others are scheduled to arrive in the afternoon, to retrieve a few things themselves. I think that maybe I’ll sit and do some work from my desk, just to see what it’s like. Instead, I’m struck by the aura of the place, the quiet of an agency once bustling with people. This floor houses almost two hundred people at capacity. Not anymore.
Instead of sitting at my desk, I walk around, breathing in the emptiness. I find myself taking pictures with my iPhone 10, black and white pictures, recording a feeling I have for something that I know will never be the same. A recent article called this a liminal time — between catastrophe and reinvention. That feels right, and these pictures mark that feeling for me. Recording a place we will never enter again, marking the opportunity to create something completely different. Wow!
A week from Friday will be exactly one year from the day we last spent together in this place. The calendars lining-up almost exactly with the Thursday that we left. We are not the same people that left on that day, not the same agency. I’m struck by how unemotional I am in this moment, missing nothing in particular, remembering everything as bits of detail. I stand in my little office and make a call or two.
“Guess where I am,” I say to a colleague.
“Where?” he asks.
“In my hovel.”
“You’re back in your office?” he says.
“Not officially. Back to pick-up some files and a monitor.”
I’m struck by how little I’ve missed or needed in the year of absence. How little this place makes up who we are. How successful we’ve been while working from home. And while I want to return, it’s not for the same reasons, not to punch a clock, or to read email from my desk. We left this place a year ago next week, but not each other. I wonder what we’re going to find when we return.