We stood across from each other, smiling as we readied ourselves. He cleared his throat and breathed deeply in and out.
“What’s my starting note again?” he asked.
I hummed it for him and he nodded thoughtfully. After a brief pause, his rich, baritone voice filled the room. I added harmonies as he neared the end of the first verse, and before long, our version of “Country Roads” was in full swing.
Singing was just one of the ways a co-worker and I used to amuse ourselves on slow nights at work. I left that job two years ago, putting an end to our workplace shenanigans, but I cherish the memories from the few years we worked together. I can’t help but smile as I think back to the first time we met.
I knew instantly he was different. I admired the fact he wasn’t afraid to show his emotions, and that he valued his interactions with strangers. He often told colorful stories about people who’d crossed his path over the years, and spoke fondly of the friendships that had grown through several of those exchanges.
It was his quirks that drew me to him. He had a unique way of looking at things, and was comfortable vocalizing his perspective. He chose to take the bus everywhere he went, something he’d been doing for the last ten years. Most of the time, he’d walk wherever he needed to go. “It’s safer this way,” he would say. “I like to have my feet on the ground.” He didn’t own a cell phone or a computer, and he never felt the need to apologize for it.
When I needed to rely on transit after my vehicle broke down, he was the one I turned to. I’d never ridden the bus before, and I listened intently as he explained everything carefully and answered all my questions. He was unfailingly supportive. “Don’t worry,” he would assure me, “you’ll get the hang of it. One day, you’ll be teaching someone how to take the bus.” At the time, I couldn’t envision such mastery. As it turned out, he was right.
During a conversation across the staff room table, we discovered we both wrote poetry. I printed a few of mine out and, days later, read them to him as he ate his lunch. He recited his flawlessly from memory, even though several of them were written years ago. It still baffles me.
He made a birthday card for me one year that was filled with brightly-colored artwork and had a white feather glued inside. Once in a while, we’d buy a lottery ticket together, just so we could dream. “This is the one,” we’d always say with playful conviction. We enjoyed coffee, and would take turns loading a Tim Horton’s card we both had easy access to in my locker. On the days we worked together, we always checked with one another to see if we needed a mid-day pick-me-up.
We used to phone each other now and then, just to say hi, if our work schedules differed and we hadn’t seen each other for several weeks. I would phone his land line, but he’d never pick up. Instead, he’d listen to my voicemail message and immediately call me back. Over time, I fell into the same routine; it became a thing we did. After every voicemail message he left, he’d say, “Okay, talk to me soon”, his own special version of ‘talk to you soon’.
On my last day of work, he insisted on helping me out to a car I’d borrowed from a friend. He gave me a long, tight hug. We talked a little. Then he said, “Here, I want to give you this.” He handed me something wrapped in paper towel from the dispenser in our staff room. That in itself made me smile. I thanked him and tucked it in one of my bags before I drove away. Later, I discovered it was a cassette tape. It didn’t surprise me it wasn’t a CD, nor that it was Enya. It made sense he would love the emotive music, and I was touched by his gift. But he’d also unknowingly brought to light one more thing we had in common: I’d been an Enya fan for years.
We agreed to call each other early on Christmas morning, four months later, so we could sing a Christmas Carol together. After we sang and laughed and wished each other a Merry Christmas, we vowed to make it an annual thing. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to pick up this last Christmas, but that didn’t deter him. He sang an entire Christmas Carol on my voicemail. I listened to his rich, baritone voice right to the end.
I have so many wonderful memories of my friend, but there’s one thing I remember the most. It was something he said during one of our conversations on a particularly quiet night at work. As usual, we were talking about whatever random subjects came up, and I told him about a dream of mine: I wanted to learn french and travel to France before I died. I asked him if there was anything he wanted to do before he died.
He looked me in the eye and without skipping a beat, said, “I want to fall in love again.”
Photo by Carol Good – all rights reserved