It’s Storytime: I Never Got To Say Thank You

It’s crazy how the news of someone else’s day can sometimes impact yours in a deeply significant way. When someone I know told me that a young lady from their place of employment had recently been found dead, I felt quite sad. I tried to shake the feeling all day, but it lingered.

First of all, I always hate to hear of people having their lives stolen from them—especially young people. Whether it is due to crime, accidents or illness, it hurts me to learn of all the young souls who have their lives cut short. Unfortunately, I see it every single day. They are robbed of the opportunity to achieve all of their dreams, so we lose the chance to see what contributions they could have made to the world. It’s not right.

Secondly, news of this untimely death brought back painful memories of someone I once knew and held in great regard. The familiarity of the story gnawed at my heart and drug me back to a time I try very hard to forget. It was a time rife with disappointments, upheaval, uncertainty and feelings of betrayal. I don’t talk about events from this phase of my life very often, but I will today in hopes that it may help someone else out there understand the importance of always saying what should be said today. Tomorrow is never guaranteed; I found this out the hard way.

Semi-fresh out of college, I left my family’s hometown to blaze my own path in a completely new city. Moving to Northern California was so exciting…I remember it like it was yesterday. The move sort of came out of the blue for me. Even though my friend had been tentatively planning to go up there for a few months, I pretty much agreed to tag along sight (mostly) unseen. Our destination city was unlike anywhere we’d lived before, but on the first and only trip I made before moving, I fell in love with the place. When I got back home from the trip I knew I had to move up there, but I didn’t really know how I’d do it.

As I’ve touched on in my grad school stories (you should read those if you haven’t already), I didn’t have a job coming out of college. The recession was doing me pretty dirty, so I wasn’t exactly rolling in dough at the time that I wanted to move. My job search had been going awful, which sort of inspired my desire to move away. For some reason, I felt so confident that if I could just move away from my family and dump myself in a brand new place with new energy, I would be able to achieve whatever I put my mind to—no problem. Somehow, I convinced my parents to front me just enough money to get me up there. They agreed. So when it came time for my friend and I to leave So Cal behind, I was absolutely elated. I was really doing it. I was going to start a brand new life.

Did I mention that I signed a year long lease for a townhome with my best friend and kinda didn’t have a job? Yeah. That probably wasn’t the best idea ever, but like I’ve said before, I trust my intuition a lot…maybe even too much. All I knew is I felt a hunch that I’d have no trouble finding a job up there. Based on that logic, it made perfect (stupid) sense for me to go ahead and commit to coughing up hundreds of dollars for my half of the rent every month. Lucky for me (and my roommate!), I landed three job interviews within my first week up there. The highest paying job was actually a position I had always wanted, so I was thrilled to accept the offer they made me. The first person I befriended at the company was “Tony”.

When I first met Tony I was low-key scared of him. It sounds so silly to me now, but at the time, he came off like a gruff, middle-aged, don’t-mess-with-me kind of a guy. He had a thick mustache and this very particular way of speaking that gave him an old school cholo vibe. Even though I worked in the office and he worked in the warehouse, Tony was made responsible for some of my training as it pertained to tracking inventory and such. Despite my initial timidity, I quickly warmed up to him. He was so nice! I think he had initially (not to mention incorrectly) pegged me as some uppity suburban girl, but he quickly came to like me as well. Before I knew it, we had become “friends”.

For the longest time, the only person I would openly talk to at work was Tony. I don’t know why, but I was extremely quiet and slow to socialize with anyone for the first five to six months. I think this was partially due to being apart of a male-dominated company within a male-dominated industry. I was one of only three women in the whole office, but the other two girls worked on the other side of the building, making the task of getting to know them nearly impossible. This being said, I felt like a fish out of water for a good while. If not for Tony being so friendly, I may have never come out of my shell. He actually introduced me to some of the other employees, making things far less awkward.

Throughout my time with the company, my working relationship with Tony not only remained intact, but strengthened. Even when I was promoted to other sectors of the business, we stayed very close. Of course, I no longer needed his help with inventory anymore, but that’s because he had taught me so well. No matter what, Tony always made time to come by my office and chat with me. It still brings a smile to my face to remember us laughing and joking about everything under the sun. We had this inside joke about the office coffee secretly being gasoline due to some of the warehouse guys making it strong enough to kill twenty men. Meanwhile, we were both the first ones to run over there to drink it each morning. Eh, coffee addiction…what can you do?

Over time, Tony and I developed our own little clique at work. There wasn’t a day that would go by without Tony and the gang congregating in my office for a chat session. I know it may sound bad, but sometimes we’d be in there half an hour or more just joking around. We always got our work done, but it was nice to de-stress, lightheartedly poke fun at our co-workers (who coincidentally weren’t apart of the group lol) and just build a sense of community. Although Tony definitely held a special place in my heart, all of my work “friends” were very important to me. Being that I didn’t have any family up there where I was living and I never had the time to make many friends outside of work, I really treasured my relationships with them.

Out of all the people I have ever worked with, when I think of the best, Tony is right there at the top. I have nothing bad to say about him. When I expressed my thoughts and feelings, he was always respectful and genuine. He was so down to Earth and easy to talk to, which is really saying something because I don’t often open up to other people. We always got along, even though I can remember us getting into a slight tiff one time. It makes me laugh now, but I had wanted to sell my car at one point. He’d been interested in buying it, but when we didn’t see eye to eye on the price, things got a little rocky for an hour or two (lol). I ended up selling it to someone else, but it didn’t harm our relationship as I had feared.

Just telling you guys this story fills me with so much happiness. Even after all of these years, it is so plain for me to see just how much I cared for Tony and the others. I was so very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with so many kind individuals. From people at our corporate office to warehouse guys and even most of our field guys (who rarely came into the actual office), I had wonderfully fulfilling working relationships with most of the entire company. I truly believe that Tony played a critical role in that accomplishment because he was the person who originally helped me find my place within the organization.

To this very day, I have Tony to thank for my success at that company. My resume may have never gotten the huge boost it did if Tony hadn’t helped me out when I was first hired. If it hadn’t been for him showing me the ins and outs of the business like he did, I would have been lost. I didn’t know a single thing about the industry when I got hired. Honestly, it is a miracle that I was even hired for that position. It was only due to his help that I was able to learn everything properly and earn the respect of guys who would have never taken me seriously if not for Tony initially vouching for me. Had I not been able to gain the respect of some of the guys I worked with, my job would have been impossible. It took awhile, but I did get there. Once I got there, I couldn’t be stopped.

Until I was.

Long story short, my company ended up filing for bankruptcy. In a short timeframe of a few months, everything I had worked for with the company ended up coming crashing down around me. 99% of the company was let go during the reorganization. Unfortunately, I was one of the “lucky” majority that was chosen. I’ll probably tell the full story of how everything went down later, but I can say that I was absolutely devastated. I had never been through a layoff before, so I had no clue what I would do. Even though I sort of had advance warning, it still caught me off guard, leaving me feeling scared and disheartened. Moreover, I didn’t want to lose touch with everyone I’d met along the way.

In the time leading up to my termination date, things around the office soured. The little group Tony and I had formed was slowly dissolved. Each day, I was issuing someone their term papers, collecting their company property and saying goodbye. It was genuinely heartbreaking. Tony and I spoke less and less in the final days due to knowing our time could be up next. It was hard to be cheerful when you knew the person you wanted to laugh with might not be there the next day.

Eventually, my number came up. I could feel it before they ever said anything to me…I just knew. Of course, once the company had gotten as small as it had, everyone knew. Outside of trying to go to work the day my grandfather died, I don’t remember having a harder time holding back tears in the workplace. I refused to cry, but surprisingly, so many of the guys I’d worked with had trouble concealing their own tears. It was so hard sitting in my office that last morning. So many people came in to say goodbye and express how much they would miss working with me that I was dumbfounded. Despite how somber an occasion it was, I was touched that I’d made a positive impact on those I’d worked with. Somehow, it made my leaving less painful.

I said goodbye to the field guys.

I said goodbye to the superintendents.

I said goodbye to most of the office staff

I even said goodbye to my wackadoo boss (now that’s a story I can’t wait to tell!)

But Tony wasn’t there.

You have no idea how upset I was to find out that Tony wasn’t in the office when it came time for me to leave. I’d seen his truck when I came in, but by the time I got my final check and was ready to go, he was gone. I heard that he had been called over to one of our other offices last minute. At first, I was almost pissed off. How could the person I was the closest to not bid me farewell? It was only after awhile that I came to understand why he may have left: It hurt him too much to see me go. And to be honest, I would have burst into tears had he come anywhere near me. Tony simply wasn’t someone I would have wanted to say goodbye to.

In the weeks that followed, I kept in contact with a member of our clique via email, always intending to come by and visit them. Not even a month after me leaving the company, she sent me an early morning email that left a permanent crack in my heart. Everyone in the office had just found out that Tony had been shot outside of his house after driving home from work. She told me that his son (who had also worked with us) had found him dead in his car with the engine still running, but that the police had no idea who had committed the crime. Somehow, they had information about him having been followed by a car along his route from work to home, but outside of that, they had zero leads.

I was utterly broken up. Truthfully, I still am.

Never before had I known someone who was victimized by violent crime. Murder? That simply wasn’t something that happened in my little bubble world. It was what I’d studied in college. I saw it in games, on movies, on the ten o’clock news. It happened in ghettos, slums, or somewhere in the projects. It didn’t come near me. It didn’t directly impact me. Things like this didn’t happen to people I knew, cared about, loved and respected…until it did. Some individual out there had the gall to approach Tony at his home, a place that should be safe, and kill him like a dog in the street. To the best of my knowledge, they never found the person or persons who did it. I hate this. I truly do.

I realize that you don’t always know people the way you think you know them. People aren’t perfect. Some people have secrets, demons, associates that they shouldn’t. Is it possible that he got mixed up in something he shouldn’t have? Perhaps. After all, it was only after looking into the developments of his case that I learned he had a long-term girlfriend he never spoke about. I remember this surprising me, but I also understood that at the end of the day, I was still just his co-worker. Even so, I was a co-worker who at least knew he deserved better for his life than what he got. I don’t know anything about his personal life and whatever else he had going on, but I do know this much: That man was always good to me. I don’t take that lightly in the least. I didn’t then and I don’t now.

“Tony”, I never got to say goodbye and I never got to say thank you. I won’t say goodbye because I hope to one day laugh with you again, but I will say thank you because I mean it. It has been six years this month since your death, which makes the news I heard today so bitterly ironic. I believe I was told about it so I might remember you and share your story. I treasure the memories I have of you and sincerely feel blessed to have known you. You made such a difference in my life at that time. Whenever I felt alone and isolated, I knew I could always come to work and have you and the others to help cheer me up. I pray with everything in me that you and your family get justice for what has happened to you. You never deserved that. But for now, thank you, man. From the bottom of my heart…thank you.

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