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memorable birthday party

Every week, several coworkers gathered in a sagging semi-circle to celebrate the fact that someone was another year closer to death. It was announced with heartwarming indifference that one of the faceless dregs had another inconsequential lap around the sun. Their contributions to this world were ceremoniously preserved in a timesheet management program, which paraded their apparent love for meetings and administrative tasks. Colleagues wearing stupid hats would point and nod at the varying indecipherable projects that the person may or may not have been a part of. Their legacy was contained in high importance emails that were immediately ignored. Their life’s work bled onto a whiteboard through abused dry erase markers and was cleansed by the custodial staff at the end of each day.  

No one was ever quite sure who they were commemorating. Some hoped it wasn’t them; others hoped it was. Some were sure that it wasn’t a celebration at all, but rather a eulogy. In those cases, they fantasized most it was them. Distinguishing the two would have been foolish, however, as mourning and relative joy were emoted the same under those fluorescent lights. 

All they knew was that every Wednesday at 2:30 p.m., they were required to gather and offer limp applause for the mental and physical decay of one of their colleagues. If the recurring meeting notification that accompanied these gatherings was to abandon its duties, if even for a day, these funeral/birthday gatherings would also cease to exist. Though, calendar invitations are as relentless as the passage of time itself and do not concern themselves with the needs or desires of those they burden. The invitation would continue to diligently perform its duties long after the inbox it delivered to was disbanded, hoping that someone who was no longer there would still show up.

No cake was offered. No gifts were given, though expired yogurt was sometimes consumed. Nothing predictable or quaint would do for this mundane observance. The offering had to properly reflect the uninteresting obscurement of another day. Sparse clapping with boneless hands would suffice in some office places as an adequate display of adoration, but not here. It was eventually determined that a barely audible, monotonous tone passing through cracked lips and over white tongues is the pinnacle of any celebration, so they sang. The lifeless voices of several acquaintances forced to endure each other on a daily basis are the only thing that would appease the unknown recipient of corporate affection. 

Though, what came out of the open but otherwise unmoving mouths barely qualified as singing. Each person offered something that vaguely resembled words but was more like a productive wheeze expelling from a collapsing lung or a stomach on the verge of revolt. If the mood struck and the congestion was just right, someone’s nose would sometimes involuntarily offer a thin whistle to complement the empty drone. Collectively, the ragged exhale rendered something that sounded vaguely like a traditional birthday melody. Although some argued this was mere coincidence—and not a song at all. Merely a group of people heavily breathing together in a circle before their next meeting. In actuality, there were minimal differences between the celebration and a meeting, so one could become the other without much notice or care. Both involved the exchange of stale breath around something that resembled a table as well as an incomprehensible PowerPoint presentation and mercifully concluded when the next one started. 

The song concluded without event or additional thought, leaving each member to reflect on whatever it was they participated in every week. The mandated reflection was brief though, as there was more work to be done. There was always more work to be done and ever another song to sing.