6. Life: Cubed – Part II

office filled with cubicles and people working

With single-minded sense of purpose, I stride across the foyer, blocking out the squeaks of my shoes, and head through the office door. I make a beeline for my cubicle at the very back of the office. I don’t look around, as I walk down the main corridor to my desk, I hardly notice the people around me. Some of my co-workers look up as I pass, but I don’t look over at them. I think some of them say “Good morning!” to me, but I cannot hear them clearly. Taking my eyes and attention off the long walk to my space makes my head spin and makes me wobbly. I feel bad about not paying attention to folks, I feel bad about not responding to them, but I cannot do or think of anything more than just getting to my desk.

Besides, they’re used to this kind of behavior with me. They know I’m locked on target, once I step through the door.

When my heels strike the hard floor – even with carpeting — my eardrums pound and ache, so I walk raised up a little on my tip-toes. I have to keep myself absolutely vertical, with my head held a certain way, so I don’t lose my balance. The sounds of the office intrude on my attention – conversations on phones… the clicking of keyboards… the humming of the copy machine… the raspy sigh of the laser printer pulling sheets of paper and chucking them out in to the catch tray… the scrapes of chairs across the kitchenette floor… the gurgling hiss of the single-cup coffee maker spurting liquid into a paper cup… And then there are the sights – the too-bright sun streaming through the thinnest window blinds a person could ask for… glints of sunlight richocheting off metal surfaces and striking my eyes… the moving figures of coworkers strolling down aisles between cubicles… the sudden “prairie dogging” of developers popping up to talk to the person next to them… the flash of light on a closing conference room door… and the overhead glare of fluorescent lights…

The whole long 100 feet from front door to cubicle feels like a gauntlet, and I silently pray that nobody stops me to talk or otherwise catch my attention.

After what seems like an eternity, I finally reach my desk. I have my standard routine: I pull my bag off my shoulder, put it down on my chair, pull out my laptop computer, hook it up to the collection of cords and cables in the usual manner, in same sequence, each of them plugged in sequentially. People have tried to convince me to use a docking station, but I prefer this morning routine. I turn on the laptop, and while it’s booting up, I head downstairs to buy my customary box of cereal and a carton of milk.

I’ve still managed to escape any sort of human interaction, which is lucky. I’m in no state for light conversation, this morning.

The stairwell echoes loudly, as I step down carefully, holding onto the handrail and keeping my eyes fixed on the direction I’m going. It’s probably stupid for me to do this, considering my state, I think to myself. But this is my morning routine. I need its comfortable predictability more than I need a break. My ears throb with the reverberations off cement and metal, and my eyes ache in the glare of the morning sun as it streams through the east-facing windows. But at least I’m moving at my own pace. The elevator is out of the question – I can’t talk to anyone. Not now. Plus, I’m so agitated, I couldn’t stand to wait for it to get to the top floor. Even if I am going slowly, even if I am in inescapable pain, at least I can keep moving. At least I have something to focus my attention on.

I reach the bottom of the stairs with a sigh of relief. The cafeteria is in the basement of the building, and the lighting outside the stairwell is muted and artificial. Relief. The light spectrum is easier for me to handle, and my eyes stop aching. The floor is partially covered with a carpet runner that leads to the cafeteria, and walking across it gives my ears a much-needed break – twice. First, my feet aren’t striking a hard surface that echoes in my head, and second, the carpet cuts down on the echoes and dampens the acoustic effect of the whole space. This is the first break I’ve had all morning, and it’s a welcome, to say the least. On top of it all, I don’t see anyone I know, so I don’t have to stop and interact.

I think briefly about how nice it would be to have an office here in the basement. But that’s not how it is, so I might as well save my energy and not dwell on that.

As I cross the foyer between the stairwell and the cafeteria, I notice my reflection in the polished metal elevator doors. My posture is slightly bent forward, as though I am pitching headlong towards some elusive goal, and my gait looks stiff. The sight of myself is a little startling to me – I don’t envision myself that way. At all. To my unfamiliar eyes, I look stunted, twisted, impaired. Or maybe that’s just the mirror… No, that’s me. But I shrug it off.

I can’t worry about it.

In the cafeteria, I follow my usual morning routine – grab a box of cereal from the display rack, pull a carton of lowfat milk from the refrigerator beside it, line up with the others filing towards the cash register, pay my money, thank the cashier, and head back to the foyer as quickly as possible. I don’t want to talk to anyone. I can’t talk to anyone. My head is swirling from the activity around me. The sizzle of bacon frying… the scrape of spatulas on the grill… the roar of mixers and other machines preparing lunches… the clink of change transferring from one hand to another… the ding of the cash register and the slide of the cash drawer popping out, pushed back in, popping out, pushed back in… The low hum of the refrigerator sounds like the rumble of an oncoming train, and pinpoints of glare from the overhead dropped lighting hurts my eyes. Why do they do that? Who in their right mind would hang bare bulbs from the ceiling with no shade, no cover, nothing to cut the glare? Conversations around me swirl and muddle into an ocean of unintelligible noise, and I accidentally short the young man at the cash register by fifty cents.

He stops me as I gather my breakfast and asks for the full amount.

“Fifty cents,” he says, shifting his weight.

I’m confused for a moment until his words start to make sense.

“You still owe me fifty cents,” he repeats with a questioning look.

“Oh, right -” I mumble and dig through my pockets for change. I pull out a handful of coins, and sort through them, finding a quarter, two dimes, and a nickel. I let out a little laugh as I hand them to him. “Got a lot on my mind,” I apologize.

“No sweat,” he shrugs and turns to the next customer. “Four forty-five,” he says past me, and it takes me a split-second to realize he’s not talking to me – but to the person waiting impatiently behind me.

I grab my breakfast and go.

As I pass through the foyer again on my way back to the elevator, I don’t look at my reflection in the elevator doors. I head right for the stairwell and trudge up the two floors to my office. Glaring light and deafening echoes wash over me again, and I move as quickly as I can. I move a little too quickly, and I stumble a few times on the ascent, but I don’t fall. I’ve done that before, fortunately falling up the stairs rather than down, and now I take extra care to hang onto the railing.

Upstairs again, I head right to the kitchenette. I get my freshly cleaned mug out of the dishwasher we all share, shake out the excess water, make myself some yerba mate tea, and head back to my desk, balancing my breakfast with a focus that seems to discourage anyone from talking to me. Back at my desk, I fix my cereal and milk, start my e-mail program, and check the websites I’m working on that day.

This little routine settles me into my day and reassures me, as I get ready for the full docket of tasks ahead of me. I’ve already been through the list of things I need to do, while lying in bed that morning, so I’m clear on what I need to do.



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