Fiction Sad

It was a severance that unraveled everything.

What I mean by that is, it wasn’t a firing (according to Brad) and it wasn’t exactly a retirement, which is what I called it. It was more of a mutual parting between two parties who had outgrown each other—severance. Except one of those parties was a company I had dedicated my life to. The other was the version of myself I gave to everyone—Janice, the charismatic, efficacious businesswoman.

“We’re just going different ways, Janice,” they told me, sitting in an office with placid, robotic faces. Apparently, years of burning the midnight oil and melding our collective ideas had been forgotten. I was no longer Janice, creator of amazing ideas, or Janice, the best motivator, or Janice, most likely to hide vodka in her desk like its 1962. I was simply Janice, former employee number whatever. Janice, former head of creative. Janice, severed.

The company was called Dog Days, Inc., and it had been spearheaded by me. Janice, Brad’s partner. Back when Brad was wet behind the ears and cringingly insecure. Dog Days was barely a thing, and Brad was as tentative as they came. I, however, had lots of confidence, in the concept if not Brad. To push him: I lent him ideas, suggested marketing strategies, gently led him like a blind calf towards understanding that actions were challenges, not risks. Brad was the face of Dog Days, but I was the meat. He could not have succeeded without me. Isn’t that how it always is?

Twenty years later, Brad severed me because we’re just going different ways?

It didn’t come as a total shock because Brad was good at cutting things out of his life—I should know. It certainly didn’t surprise me that he elected others to do his dirty work, because he’s a wimp. He always was. There sat Angela and Matt and Taylor, with those benevolently mechanical faces, speaking to me as if I was some random employee in an international office who they’d never have to see again. As if we hadn’t all just gotten drunk and watched Matt puke all over the bushes after the Christmas party last week.

“We need to think economically, Janice,” is what Taylor said. Taylor, who’s young enough to be my child. Taylor, whom I hired, because she reminded me of myself. Hmph.

Economically turned out to mean replacing me, Janice, Director of Creative, with a kid named Aiden who was fresh out of art school, with no business experience and probably didn’t even own a dog.

That, my friends, is what years of commitment to a corporation run by a man who, for all intents and purposes, has no balls, will get you.

But the point of the story isn’t to go back in time and tell you how I felt on that day. How I slowly understood that the boxes had been checked and this wasn’t a negotiation. I was being fired, sorry, severed. And since I was nearing fifty and had gobs of money in the bank thanks to my financial smarts (see, Brad?) and a solid divorce settlement, I decided to call it retirement. This is what I told my people, who couldn’t quite grasp why I would leave something that was my whole life. Retirement, I said, a chance to be free! That’s what I told them, with lots of exclamation points, and since I can sell anything, they believed me. (See, Brad?)

Retirement was start of my outside life shriveling and my inside life becoming more prevalent.

At first, I really did feel free! Fuck you, Brad and Taylor and Aiden! Good luck running things without me!

I was free to sleep in and free to go out every night and free to hang out with my dogs all day. I was also free to erase the lines that had boxed me in to the working world. Now, I could lounge in my pajamas until ten in the morning, who cared? I could eat breakfast at noon if I wanted, and I could make a double vodka tonic to go with it.

The vodka tonics probably played a role in the shift in my life. Its kind of hard to explain. When Brad and I were eager twenty-somethings with our brilliant ideas of changing the world with all-organic pet products, a drink after work seemed like the thing to do. We would be charged, high on our rising wave, and every little success called for celebration. I knew Brad required this, his fragile ego and lack of confidence needed to feel rewarded for genius ideas (even if they were mine.)

A drink after work could also become a quick shot for everyone at a round table discussion. That was a motivational tactic—also my idea. Oh, its not like we were getting hammered, it was just one shot. Got the creative juices flowing, and more importantly, it made Brad and I equals in the eyes of the people we could hire and fire (oh, the irony.) So yes, I became Janice who keeps vodka in her office.

But mostly, vodka was an inside part. What I looked forward to after a long day, kicking off my heels and heading straight for the freezer. Everything about it felt like home, a ritual. It just became an essential part of the day. I would let the dogs out, watching them romp through the kitchen window while I poured the mellifluous, transparent liquid over ice. There was a time when Brad would join me in this ritual, but he eventually became too good for a post-work-cocktail.

After the severance, I poured vodka over ice in my kitchen whenever I wanted. It wasn’t the antidote to a long day anymore. It was just there, my friend.

My inside self grew when I stopped going out. I liked being social, don’t get me wrong. But the problem was, without anything to keep me boxed in (like, you know, a job) I found I had no self-control. Not that I needed it (I was free remember?) but it started to become worrisome. Like, people were talking—no longer about my mysterious firing/retiring/severance but about my drinking. I guess five nights of vodka tonics at the same pub was a bit much, okay.

So, I stopped going out. Outside life had parameters. Inside life said, have as many as you want.

But that became problematic as well. I started to worry that without any constraints, the discipline that had fueled my smashingly successful career would wither away. Without an alarm clock to rise to, without people waiting for my direction, without a reason to look fresh faced and professional, there was nothing to stop me from making one drink after another. Nothing to keep me from starting as early as I wanted until I was bleary-eyed and blitzed, staring at the Netflix screen asking if I was still there. Barely, Netflix. Barely.

The only real responsibility I had was the dogs, the two golden retrievers that Brad insisted we had to save from the animal shelter, when we went to some event or another to donate free Dog Days, Inc. merchandise. Great idea Brad, two puppies who instantly destroyed an impressive amount of drywall, who were impossible to potty-train with a nine-to-five schedule. Eventually I told him they were coming to the office, or he could take them back since he was the one who peer-pressured me into adopting them. They started coming to work with me, and eventually stopped eating everything and peeing on everything. Now, they were like worried adult children, staring at their drunk mom on the couch, wondering if she was ever going to let them out again or if they’d have to hold it until morning.

I suppose they were suffering (celebrating?) the severance as well. After all, for nearly ten years they had gone to the office with me. Staring back into their cloudy eyes in the morning, trying to remember if I’d fed them dinner, my guilt came in waves.

I needed a job, but what was I supposed to do? I didn’t even have a degree, only Brad and his reliance on me. Bleh.

That’s where the idea of volunteering was born, and that’s how Dog Days, Inc. appeared back in my life, which is the whole point of what I’m trying to tell you. I realize its fragmented, but that’s kind of how I think these days (isn’t that how all creative geniuses think?)

I became Janice, shelter volunteer to stave off the drinking until a more respectable hour. I offered to come and do the evening walks and bedtime shift. By the time I got home, fed my own fur-children, ate something, showered off the shelter-smell, it was easily nine o’clock. A thoroughly respectable hour to start drinking, and I would rationalize that it didn’t matter how late into the night it went on, it wouldn’t start again until nine at night the next day.

The shelter loved me. They loved my expertise that came from years of research and creating products for dogs. They loved my dedication. Every day! Without fail, without ever being late. I had always had a solid work ethic, and that translated to volunteerism as well (take that, Brad. Good luck finding another employee like me.) The dogs loved me as well, because I spent extra time giving them longer walks, smooching them, straightening out their beds. Anything to stretch it out.

So that’s what I was doing when Taylor walked into the shelter in her camel-colored skirt, her white silk shirt, her black heels. Her expertly applied make-up, her straightened blonde hair, and her Coach bag hanging over her arm. She wore her bright, disarming smile that had gotten many a man to agree to spend more money than he wanted to. Taylor wasn’t a genius, but she knew how to handle people, specifically men. She would have made a great secretary in the 1960s office where I’d be allowed to drink vodka openly. I heard she was dating Brad now. Nothing about Brad should surprise me anymore—I know that man inside and out—but Taylor did. Brad appreciated a nice body, but intellect is what turned him on.

Taylor looked as surprised to see me as I was to see her. I wished with all my might that I had not covered the desk so Terry, the manager, could go have a smoke. I stared at Taylor’s impeccable presence and imagined how I must look to her. Black leggings covered in dog hair, an unmatching navy fleece jacket, a man-sized one abandoned in the break room that I kept because it was cozy. It had the name Dave embroidered on the chest. My hair was in a messy top-knot, because dogs don’t care, and I never bothered with make-up for the shelter. I knew I had an ugly gash over my eyebrow from tripping and falling the other night. I wanted to die inside, thinking about how Taylor might report the Janice-sighting back at the office, even though it’s been a few years and no one except Brad would care.

I’ll give her credit, her face remained tranquil. She didn’t gush or bother with pleasantries. She skipped the introductory speech and simply told me that Dog Days, Inc. was sponsoring an event to promote sales, and they wanted the shelter to participate with a meet-and-greet. Dog Days, Inc. would donate a sum of money for the shelter afterwards. Blah blah, I knew the spiel. I had created the spiel. I told her I’d pass the information on to Terry.

Satisfied, Taylor turned to leave but I could see it in her (because I once knew her well)—she felt sorry for me. She hesitated, turning, and I wanted to cringe, such was the look of pity on her pretty little face.

“Are you okay, Janice? Are you well?”

I scoffed at her. “I’m fine Taylor. Have a good night.”

When Terry returned, I told her I wasn’t feeling well and had to leave early.

That evening, I drank a lot. Taylor, who’d been a mere child when I hired her, with zero experience, but I knew potential when I saw it. Taylor, who’d sobbed in my office when she found out she was pregnant from a one-night stand, and then again, inexplicably, when she’d had a miscarriage. Taylor, who I was suddenly sure had been messing around with Brad before he fired me.

Probably before he divorced me, as well. I knew there had been someone else.

She had the balls to be worried about me? Please.

When Terry asked me to pitch in at the meet and greet for the Dog Days, Inc. event, I heard myself say yes even though inside I was screaming, no. My head was pounding that day, desperate for a drink. I wanted to see Brad, or rather, I wanted that asshole to see me. Me, making a difference. Me, not a loser because my husband and partner first left me, then fired me. Me—Janice—the charismatic, creative, borderline-genius who was not an alcoholic, like Brad told everyone. That’s what he said: he left me because I was a drunk. I also heard that he told people that was why he fired me as well. (Sorry, severed.)

I want him to see me and know that no matter how sexy and young Taylor is, she will never be as good of a business partner as I was. She will never be as good of a wife.

The event takes place at a local park. I assume Taylor has told him that I’m going to be there, even though there’s probably no way for her to for sure. I busy myself talking to the nervous dogs in stacked crates and wondering what will happen today. I haven’t seen Brad since before he had his lackeys fire me.

I’ve made it a point to look as good as I possibly can even though it’s a shelter event. I have the jeans on that hug my ass just perfectly and a fitted black shirt and my Frye boots, just so he’ll know I haven’t lost my class. I kept my make-up light; Taylor’s sexy and all but she’s overdone and I? I was always classy. There’s nothing I can do about my hands shaking though, and I don’t know if its from nervousness (fuck you Brad; Janice of the past never got nervous) or because I really, really want a drink.

Suddenly, before I know what’s happening, there he is. There they all are. Brad and Taylor and a bunch of Dog Days, Inc. employees I don’t recognize. Brad’s leading them like a herd, and they’re all hanging on to his every word as he points at this and comments on that. Once in awhile one of them runs off to complete a task. Boy, he must be loving this. What an ego stroke for a tiny little man, I think bitterly.

Unfortunately, Brad looks good as well, especially with the cradle-robbed Taylor on his arm. I also know that Dog Days, Inc. has been having an amazing year on the market, thanks to all the hipsters who wouldn’t dare let their dog sleep on a bed not made of organic cotton. I want to summon my hatred, my bitterness, my pissed-off-ness. I want to be Janice, who Brad never should have let go.

Instead: You broke my heart. How could you leave me? Me, Janice, the love of your life? This is what my brain says right now.

This is what the vodka has been for, lately. These are the thoughts that that can’t be suppressed with sleep, can’t be buried in the mane of a geriatric golden retriever, or become lost amongst the freedom, or forgotten while walking abandoned dogs every night. And for sure not now, as I see Brad and his entourage approaching. I’m sure he’s looking for Terry, but he finds me instead.

We don’t speak. I’m a deer in headlights. I’m frozen. I’m in the dream where you’re giving a speech and suddenly, you realize you’re naked. Every mortifying scenario in the world wrapped in one: me, receiving Brad’s fucking look of pity.

Before he or Taylor can speak, I hold up a finger as if I’m so busy I can’t talk and go to my car and pretend to search for something. I know I can’t hide what this excessive level of drinking has done to my body—the tiny red spider veins over my nose and the gash on my head that’s taking forever to heal and the stupid paunch my stomach has evolved into (isn’t vodka supposed to be low in calories?)

But I thought I could hide my brokenness. I thought I could keep Brad from seeing what he did to me. Me. Janice, the once upon a time love of his life.

I continue to dig through my console until I can see Brad and Taylor move to the next vendor. I watch his hand on her lower back and think, she doesn’t deserve him. Or is it he who doesn’t deserve her?

Or was it me who didn’t deserve him? Maybe I really did drink away our life, as Brad claims. It’s hard to tell, and I don’t like when my brain gets mushy like this, one thought mixing with another uncomfortably.

Knowing I would need it, I had stashed a few mini bottles of Tito’s in my car. With shaking hands, I unscrew the caps and dump them into a leftover coffee mug on the passenger seat. Taking a deep swallow, I snap the lid on the mug and return to the dogs.

“Here she is,” Terry says, ready to introduce me to some friend or another. “This is Janice, the best volunteer we’ve ever had!”

December 06, 2022 12:45

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Edward Latham
13:01 Dec 14, 2022

Great story Lindsay! Reading about alcoholism is always a tough one, but Janice was an interesting character who you made fascinating by giving her the impression of being a slightly unreliable narrator, but also full of complicated depth. You kept the emotional tension all the way through which was great


Lindsay Flo
21:14 Dec 14, 2022

Thank you! This is one of those stories that didn't really have a plan, I just sort of wrote it as it came, so I'm glad it worked out!


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Helen A Smith
07:45 Dec 11, 2022

I enjoyed reading your story Lindsay. It was multi-layered and sharply written. Janice had a false perception of herself made worse by the drink. Which came first? I liked the idea that she was trying to do something positive with her life by helping at the dog shelter. It reminded me of someone I knew which made it more powerful. I certainly cared very much for the character. In my experience, a significant minority of volunteers become volunteers because they have addiction problems and are trying to do something positive. You didn’t off...


Lindsay Flo
21:19 Dec 11, 2022

Thank you for that introspective comment :)


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AnneMarie Miles
14:23 Dec 06, 2022

What's interesting about this is Janice spends most of the story telling us how she is the best, but she also spends a lot of the story drinking... So it makes me wonder if she is blind to her own flaws? Or maybe she's even unreliable? But then again Terry describes her as the best volunteer they've ever had, so that obviously has some merit. As always, there is lots of backstory and opportunity for speculation. I love how you waited til the end to confirm Janice and Brads romantic relationship despite the earlier hints to it. I do feel bad ...


Lindsay Flo
19:18 Dec 06, 2022

I think Janice is an example of a complex person who is not all good (obviously, she has a drinking problem and a touch of narcissism) but not all bad either (she clearly had professional success, was a likeable, reliable person in some ways, and its kind of hinted at later, a good wife.) It's also meant to show that her job/drinking are two things she throws herself into so as not to focus on...what? Her insecurity? Her relationship with Brad? That part is left to speculation...3000 words is limiting sometimes!!) I would say: Janice, funct...


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