Ledges, IA

You worked at the college but never had a college degree. After a decade and a half of quietly propelling your department forward, after picking up slack for an endless stream of incompetent supervisors, after earning the affection of students and coworkers, you thought you were safe. But, then, a new supervisor swooped in and decided to make an impression on her own supervisors. It was the classic saga of upper-level managers justifying their salaries but, this time, you got hung out to dry. When you were asked to operate a student telephone switchboard, you thought they were joking. They were not. You mentioned that your job was not to answer phones, that you didn't have time to answer phones and take care of your regular workload. The hammer fell with shocking immediacy and, without a word of discussion, you were informed that your long service to the school would be terminated in two weeks. After being unexpectedly insulted and abruptly fired, you were expected to work for another two weeks.

One week of awkwardness elapsed and, on your final week, the switchboard materialized in your office. Phones rang on the board, but nobody was willing to answer it. Officemates winced with each ring and went to desperate lengths to feign business with other activities. Then your desk phone rang. The supervisor—the one who had fired you the previous week—incredulously asked why you were not answering the switchboard. Reminding her that you had already been fired for refusing to answer it, you made it clear that you still had no intention of playing operator. The line went silent. Then your supervisor informed you that campus security would escort you off college premises and any future attempts to visit would be greeted by the local police. Former colleagues pretended to not see you as you were escorted out. Allies among the faculty were muzzled by thinly-veiled threats from the administration. You had friends in the administration, but they became unreachable when you needed them. And now you are unemployed. People see you differently. You see yourself differently. While you know that Kafka couldn't have devised a more unjustly vindictive bureaucracy, you can't escape the lurking sense that there is something wrong with you, that you failed.