Sent February 28th, 2020
December 20th, 2019 was my last day at Amazon. I had worked there for 9 years and 7 months, longer than I had done almost anything else in my life. I had no idea what leaving after so much time would feel like. Given that any expectations would turn out to be wrong, I tried not to have any. Leaving the Friday before Christmas added a pequliar element to it because the office was already quite lonely on that day. In the end, it was just a quiet walk out into the rain. A small cardboard box in my arms contained the contents of my desk.
As it is at many companies, employment at Amazon makes one prone to receiving numerous acrylic trophies. Most of these were for various patents filed, a few were for other things like the number of interviews performed in a year.
Other things I brought home were easy to repurpose (my coffee mug would still be useful at my new job; photos could be displayed anywhere.
It was these acrylic mementos that now suddenly felt out of place in my position.
There was no doubt that these were mine to keep. And leaving awards behind felt rude and unappreciative. Somehow, though, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was walking out of the building with company property.
Perhaps it was because outside of the shared...language? culture? ... these objects felt out of place. (At Amazon, everyone knew that the clear puzzle piece signified a patent application submitted and the blue puzzle piece was for patents granted.)
Perhaps it was because I had no place to put them. My desk at home was already crowded enough, and our home lacked any sort of display case for such things.
In reality though, I think it was the uncomfortable realization that these pieces of acrylic would outlive me; if I didn’t make the conscious decision to dispose of them, someone else would eventually have to.
When I was much younger, perhaps in elementary school, my father brought home a scrapbook of things he had collected when he was my age that he had found interesting. Much of it was about space travel and NASA; some of it was military aircraft. These were the same things that I was currently obsessed with.
There was a seed planted at the time that I gradually became conscious of. I began to think of saving things that I thought might be interesting to my descendants. I remember having a large tin box in which I placed souvenirs, post cards I bought, interesting rocks, small toys, and so on. I’m not sure I ever told anyone why I liked saving certain things, but I remember the reason: I thought someone later might find them interesting, just like I enjoyed the artifacts my father saved from his childhood. I didn’t want to deny future persons the same joy.
Several years later, when I was either in middle school or starting high school, I travelled to Minnesota with my family to help clean out a house after a grandparent passed away. While I would not describe them as hoarders, my grandparents did carefully consider every object for its potential future utility. While the house contained the usual furniture, clothing, books, and so on, that needed to be dealt with, there was also a large stockpile of cleaned styrofoam meat trays, paper grocery bags, empty jars. While nothing was dirty or unpleasant to deal with, there was a lot. Eventually we did need to rent a dumpster just to handle all the things that were of no value to sell or donate.
This was my first time seeing the remnants of a life expressed in the form of stuff left behind.
Although I live a far from ascetic life, I do feel uncomfortable owning things that have neither sentimental value or a practical purpose.
So what to do with those little acrylic trophies? I put them in a cardboard box in a crawl space under the stairs in my house.
I couldn’t quite bring myself to throw them away. Maybe I’ll go back to work at Amazon and they’ll refill themselves with meaning.
Or maybe Amelia will find them someday, ask me what they are, and I’ll get to tell a story or two.