On Anticlimactic Endings

Last Tuesday was my last day at my day job. There were many reasons I chose that day: end of the quarter, a few days after I got back from vacation (so I could check in with the New Me to make sure everything went well), etc., but the biggest reason was that there was something final about leaving work on a Tuesday and not coming back in on a Wednesday.

Here’s what happened on my very last day at work:

I showed up at about 8:15 and checked in with the New Me. I watched her work until 9 a.m., when I had an exit interview with HR. That conversation lasted 20 minutes, and during our talk, I mentioned the style guide I’d created in 2010 before the company that hired me merged with the company I was quitting. She asked to see it.

It still needed updated from Old Company format (but I’d marked up a hard copy with my changes already), so I left New Me at her desk and went to my old desk to work on updating the style guide. This took much of the day.

To celebrate and/or mourn my departure, we had Thai food brought in. One person asked me what my plans were for the next day. Most people just had conversations like it was Just a Regular Company Lunch. After I finished eating, I went back to the style guide.

Near the end of the day, I was asked if I could check the data entered on some figures. Since New Me hadn’t done much of that, I went to her desk to show her how. It took a little longer than I expected and soon it was 4:45.

I went back to my desk, wrote a goodbye email, said goodbye to a few people, and left, the finality of it all weighing on me. I wondered if I’d spoken my last words to some of them, and lamented that I was already forgetting what those words were.

About a mile from work, I realized I had left my cell phone at my old desk.

I turned around, knocked on the locked door, and had to be let in again by someone I had already said goodbye to. I grabbed my phone and left for real.

And that, my friends, is what we call an anticlimactic ending.

Whenever something in my life ends, I look for it to be some kind of Meaningful Transition; I practically beg myself to feel older or different or whatnot now that I’m (1) in my 20s; or (2) graduated from college; or (3) out of a relationship with that guy I once thought I’d marry.

I want closure, like the end of a book, or at least the end of a chapter. Some kind of finite ending so I know that I’m allowed to move on. But it’s taken me 26 years, give or take, to realize that finite endings rarely happen. There are loose ends and mishaps and sometimes everything just ends, no transition, no parade to note that things are changing. And that’s okay.

The problem is that I suck at endings in both real life and my writing. I guess because so many things have simply ended in my life, I think I can just type a bunch of words and then stop typing a bunch of words and pretend like it’s a satisfying ending. I give my characters the easy way out. I make the bad guys less bad than they were earlier in the book.

So as I work my way through April, I’m trying to switch that–to let endings in real life end without all the drama I expect, and to pile on as much drama as I can in the ending of my story. The 42,000 words I wrote in November became about 35,000 (not a bad deletion rate, if I may say so myself), but I realized I was missing the entire third quarter of the book, and the ending I had vaguely planned wouldn’t work and was too soon.

I thought the story was smaller than it was, that it could be contained in a little box I’d prepared for it and the quick ending would happen and the book would shut and everyone would think it was a masterpiece. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t.

A week into freelancing full time, I’m pretty much over the way I lingered on my last day at work, only to have to return again fifteen minutes later. I’m more committed than ever to my story and giving it the hard ending, the one that ends much more satisfactorily than the endings I find in real life.

What about you? Have you ever made a big deal over a real life transition, only to realize it wasn’t a big transition after all?


  1. This is a great topic. I’ve toyed with and thought about this concept a LOT. I honestly find book endings that bend over backward to wrap up every loose end in every character’s life on the same day even more annoying than those that don’t feel like the ending brings closure.

    Although missing from your list of reasons you quit the day you did was that it was the day before April Fools Day, which would have been one hell of a setup for a joke.

    • Ah yes, I don’t mean the bending over backward to wrap everything up. Just the ones that let the protagonists win a little too quickly, and then BOOM the end. (Case in point, the first draft you read of anything of mine. 🙂 )

      I LOVE endings that don’t quite bring enough closure. But also ones that give the ending justice.

      You’re right–that reason is in the etc. But it was actually on my list of reasons why I did it. It would have been a fantastic setup for a joke. If it weren’t for all the paperwork I’d already filled out…

  2. I am SO bad at endings in books, and everyone always reminds me that life doesn’t have these neat wrap-ups, so sometimes it’s okay to leave things open. As much as I know this, I can’t seem to end my books well. It’s the hardest thing for me. And yes, I have had those anti-climactic endings/departures! Most notably I think my last day of college. I had attended a smaller, more intimate school for two years and made wonderful friends, but the summer before junior year I decided I wanted a better, bigger school with a great media program. I transferred to LIU and loved the classes and challenges, but the students were super snobby and I just couldn’t click with anyone (I had a few acquaintances on campus but no one I considered a friend) leaving was awkward…teachers hugged me goodbye, students just stared…lol. Def not the emotional transition I’d imagined.

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