The glowing red bars of the clock on my desk read 4:58pm. No need today to worry about staying late or putting in extra hours. And not ever again, if I was brave enough to do what I so badly wanted to. I turned back to my computer screen and felt a pang of anxiety - had I copied all of my files onto CD? Had I missed something that I would have need for later? Then I relaxed and smiled to myself. There was nothing here anymore that I would need. Or want.
"It's about that time, isn't it?", asked my co-worker from over top of our shared cubicle wall. "Does it feel strange to know you're not coming back for a while?"
I shrugged and answered, "No, not really. I don't think it's sunk in yet." All the while thinking silently that it's going to be for more than just a while. But I couldn't say so. Not yet.
Another glance at the clock revealed the magic numbers - 5:00 pm. Exactly. Time to go. I sat up straight in my chair and stretched. Then took one final look around. Files neatly stacked and sorted, for others to grab as needed. My books and pencils, photos of my kids - all ready and waiting for my supposed return. Although there was always a chance that I would indeed return, so I'd decided that it was a good idea to leave everything here for now. Just in case.
Shrugging into my heavy winter coat, I snapped off the light underneath my flip-up cabinet and collected my purse, gloves, empty lunch tote and the shoes that I quickly slipped off. Putting on my boots was a bit more of a challenge that required the dexterity of a gymnast - something I had never had to begin with and that was almost completely beyond my capability at the moment. But I was used to it and maneuvered them onto my feet with minimal difficulty. There. Nothing left to do but say good-bye and leave. For the last time, I hoped.
My co-workers and friends sent me off with well wishes and last minute predictions for when my life would, for the third time, change completely in one heart-stopping moment when I would gaze into this baby's eyes. As if to agree, the being within gently stretched a limb (hand? foot?) and I smiled as I pushed back a silent hello to the occupant within my womb.
No fanfare accompanied my exit from the office or the ride in the quiet elevator down 3 stories to the ground. I gazed around the building lobby at the familiar waterfall, through the double doors to the coffee shop where I had spent portions of my earnings on bagels, apple juice and assorted confections of gooey chocolate goodness, and at the posters of strange yet eerily pleasing hair styles plastered against the windows of the salon next to the elevator. Oddly enough, for a moment I felt almost homesick. I hadn't thought I would miss this place, but some part of me surely would. And the people - certainly I would miss them. Or at least some of them.
Just go, I told myself - there's no need to drag this out and get all emotional. It's just a job. Just a place to come and earn money to support your family. And yet, a slight twinge of fear accompanied this thought - just a bit of doubt crowding the anticipation that I felt for what I hoped would be my new life at home. Giving up the reliability of a steady paycheck and benefits like health care for the uncertainty of starting my own business - this had been a hard choice to make. But one we hoped would be the right one for me. For us. For our family.
As I crunched through the crusty snow to my van, I looked ahead, not back - toward the future that I hoped would be bright. To the new life to come soon and the family that this baby would join. At something that I had wanted, wished for, hoped could happen since I had gazed into my first baby's eyes.
Oh yes, this day was an end to one phase of my life - but only the beginning to another. Not merely another Friday, but a very special Friday. The one that led me on the path to where I am today, through the bad decisions (a lot of them) and the good (worth all the bad for sure). And although my dream of staying home only lasted a short while, I treasured every extra moment that I was able to spend with my children and would not trade it for anything - not even the safe route, the secure job that I left that day as the glowing red numbers changed and I said good-bye.