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No Paid Sick Days

I think that I am going to die. But I have a presentation next Thursday.

You see, I used up my three allotted sick days at the beginning of the year when I made myself so ill I could barely stand because I hadn’t eaten anything in over a week. That was no accident, I hate the way food feels in my body, how it clogs up my pores. This job helps me forget to eat constantly. It’s one of the perks.

We don’t have employee mental health days. At least, I don’t. Maybe after you work there for a few years you’re allowed to be insane, or stressed, or insane from your stress, but not yet. And besides, am I supposed to tell them that I am going to die and then they call a suicide hotline? I think I can keep it together until next Thursday. I’ll figure out the rest from there.

I don’t have time to eat in the mornings. I never have the appetite for it. But by the time I’m ready, and on my way to work sitting in traffic, I’ve already wasted my two hours of pre-working waking time. I drink a black coffee. Not because I like the taste but because I am so fucking exhausted from general work-burnout-ness, and general going-to-die-ness.

It takes forty-five minutes to get to work in the morning, in which I already feel like I’m at work because I’m thinking about work, about going to work, about how work is going to go. I get to my office, so bent on new corporate spaces, on a mini fridge, foosball table and a bar, open working spaces for collaboration but they don’t really give a shit about your body, or your mind, or your person. I fill my water bottle and I sit at my desk. We do a team Monday morning meeting, where nobody asks anybody about anything. And we go back to sitting. Typing emails. I used to be very smart, before I worked here. I did excellently in university, I was passionate about everything. Nobody cares about how smart I was. Now I’m not passionate about anything.

I work through lunch. Mostly because I’m too busy to take a break. Partly because I don’t really eat anymore. My co-worker, Jane, smiles at me when she returns from her lunch run, “I hardly see you eat!” She notes. I smile, immensely proud of myself.

By the time I get home, I am so tired that I don’t want to do anything. I sink into my couch for two hours, watching reality television before I go to bed, scrolling on my phone, and zooming in on people's vacation photos. Everyone seems to be on vacation.

The next morning I am so tired I can barely get out of bed. I feel so tired I could die. I stop on my way to work and get a Redbull and caffeine pills, that make me feel nauseous. “You have so much pep this morning,” Jane says. I smile, my teeth feel coated with the sugary stickiness of the Red Bull. I stay late to work on my presentation and forget to eat again. I feel dizzy, jittery from the caffeine. I steal a few crackers from the work kitchen, they are stale and feel like ash in my mouth.

The next morning, my collarbones pop out of my skin. I guess I really haven’t been eating enough. I find a crushed box of band-aids in the bathroom cupboard underneath my sink and try to tape my bones back into my body. I take two extra strength ibuprofen and wear a turtleneck sweater. When I get to the office I am thankful I chose a black one, because it is already wet with my blood. “I love that sweater,” Jane says as I sit down and turn my computer on. “Where is it from?”

My manager talks to me about my presentation, “You stepping up like this is a really great thing,” he says.

“And are we able to evaluate my current salary?” I ask. My voice is quiet.

He squeezes my arm, and smiles, “We will talk about it after the presentation.” That most likely means no. I’m not even confident it means maybe. My rent is 50% of my salary. I have no savings. I got the job that everyone said I should get and I feel like I am going to die. I need to stay alive for this presentation.

The next day my hair starts falling out in huge clumps. I slick it back into a low bun so no one can tell. “I love that hairstyle on you,” Jane says. I go home and I sleep through the entire weekend, I wake up to pee and to eat chicken stock and instant miso-soup packages. I get so sick on Sunday afternoon from my lack of eating that my stomach protests and I am forced to order a $14 dollar smoothie and pay $5 for delivery.

On Monday morning, I throw up my stomach. I guess I’ve just been too hard on it these past few months. It rolls out of my mouth and lands with a plop in the toilet. I brush my teeth twice to get rid of the taste in my mouth and on the way to work, I stop to buy a pack of spearmint gum. “That is my favourite flavour,” Jane says when she comes to sit down. “Can I snag a piece?” I go to the bathroom every hour or so to clean up the congealed blood and pus around my collarbones. They stick out more and more every day and I can only wear high cut shirts. I told you I thought that I was going to die. And here I am, dying more each day.

“Presentation is just a few days away!” My boss says, “Excited to see what you’ve come up with!” The truth is I have come up with nothing but corporate buzzwords because I have been busy with my body falling apart but I smile and I nod.

The next morning, my entire rib cage pops out of my chest. My bones slid through my skin, my muscle and gore look like jelly, sticking onto the bones. I rip an old tshirt into bandages, nothing left under the sink after I used it for my collarbones, and tie the strips around my chest. It contains me well enough but I still wear something bulky over top so nobody can see. I’m in so much pain by the time I get to the office, I feel like I am limping along. “Love your outfit today,” Jane says and I want to punch her teeth out. Can’t you see Jane? Can’t you see I’m dying?

By lunch I am in so much pain, and have chewed through a whole pack of gum. My presentation is in two days but I go to my boss’s office and stand in the doorway, “Do you have a moment?” I ask.

“Yes! How can I help?”

“I need to take a sick day,” I say. “If I could take the rest of the afternoon and tomorrow off to rest I would really appreciate that.”

He winces, “Ah. Well. You already used your sick days at the beginning of the year.”

“You don’t have to pay me. I just need a day off,” I offer.

“Hm. Just not going to work. Your presentation is coming up and I don’t have anyone who can cover your workload at the moment.” He smiles, “Hang in there until the weekend kiddo.”

I want to scratch the smile off of his face with my nails. I want to scream that I am more qualified to do his job than he is, but he is twenty years older than me and a man, so he has the power to grant me a day off and call me kiddo. I go back to my desk and want to wipe that stupid fucking smile off of Jane’s face, I wince as I sit, the cloth bandages I bound myself in are now sticky from the RedBull I drank this morning leaking through.

I do not go home at five, instead I stay for a few extra hours that I will not get paid for in order to finish my presentation. When I get home, I do not do anything, I succumb to my bed and scroll on my phone until I eventually fall asleep.

I wake up to discover I have swallowed my tongue. I’m not sure where it could be, since I no longer have a stomach. Maybe it is just floating around in the void of my body. Perhaps it came out between the spaces in my ribs and rolled under the bed, where it is gathering dust next to an old pair of my jeans.

I shower and rebandage myself with an old t-shirt. My collarbones and the skin around it are beginning to bloat and decay, I am now decomposing. I make sure to do my skin care routine before putting on my makeup this morning, so no one at the office suspects anything amiss. I still look pretty. Pretty enough to do a presentation, at least. I get to the office, where Jane sits smiling like an idiot. I smile back, I can no longer greet her.

“I haven’t heard you all day!” My boss says, as he walks by. “Love the attitude. Hard at work,” he pats me on the back roughly and I feel one of my ribs jut out further through my skin, “Keep it up.”

My presentation is done and it is good. It shows I am worthy of a 2% salary increase. I go home and I don’t even bother changing, I fall asleep on the couch.

I wake up on Thursday morning, presentation day, and my eyes have popped out and rolled onto the living room floor. I fumble around and pick one up, they have crumbs stuck to them, embedded in them and making them grainy. I do my make up blindly, but know that it looks fine. I do the same thing every single day. I put on a pair of oversized sunglasses. My hair slicked back. A clean turtleneck sweater. And I call an Uber to take me to the office.

When I arrive Jane, a little too enthusiastically, offers to help me set up my presentation. I wonder if Jane is alright. Maybe she is gunning for a salary increase too. “I love the sunglasses by the way,” She says. “It’s always so bright in here.” I nod.

I set up my powerpoint in the conference room and people slowly file in, their morning coffees in hand. My boss sits down two feet from me, “Can’t wait to see it,” he says. He looks around the room, “This looks like everyone. Let's get started.”

I smile at everyone. And as I do, I feel one of my teeth fall out and hit the floor. I don’t know if anyone else notices. I take a step forward and my spine seems to crack. The t-shirt bandages across my ribcage seem to dampen immediately, soaking with blood.

“Let’s get started!” My boss says, impatiently this time.

I stagger, uneasy on my feet.

“Ok!” He claps his hands together, “Let’s get started.”

I opened my mouth to speak but my own blood and bile comes up, trickling out of my mouth and down my chin. I splutter, choking on it.

“I’m disappointed,” My boss says. “You’ve had more than enough time. I thought you were stepping up to the challenge. Help us get new clients on board…” He trailed off. “But that’s alright. If you’re not up for it, you’re not up for it. Water under the bridge. Jane? Would you like to take over?”

I take another step forward and my leg bones snap out of my knee. My legs buckle and I collapse on the floor. I hear a sickening crunch. I can feel the wetness of my blood.

“Oh poor thing,” Jane says. “Self care is important. You don’t want to work yourself to death.”

My body explodes. Blood and bone shrapnel splattering the walls of the conference room, coating Jane’s face, coating my boss’s face. Jane smiles, kicking aside my remains, taking the presentation clicker sticky with the remnants of me, “Okay. I’ll pick off where she left off. Let’s direct our attention here to slide one.”

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