Friends come in the unlikeliest ways, and here is this man, nearly 30 years older than me, quiet, unsarcastic, dignified. We aren't the likeliest pair, he the Kentucky-bred gentleman and me with my smartass New York ways. Tomorrow ushers in a new era, where I reach to dial his extension, a funny line waiting on my tongue, and it will have to sit unspoken. That number will ring and ring.
I'm happy for him, completely, unreservedly. It's just that work will have become a bit lonelier of a place in the morning.
He had a countdown calendar, a bucket of marbles; he plunked one marble to mark each week of his last year, and then each day of his last week. His final marble was the shooter, big and beautiful, and he rolled it between his palms all fast and giddy, a smile spreading over his face, as he visited my desk for the very last time. I knew it was mine; he told me so at the beginning of his countdown last year. Still, he handed it to me, warm from his hands and his happiness, and it was so declaratively final.
I had sewed it a little pillow to rest on, a cushion for this trophy. "Stay young, little girl," he said, because that's what he always calls me. "I will, old man," because that's what I call him. A few of us walked him to his car, a guard of honor, and he drove away. And when I went back up to my desk, I had that shiny marble smiling up at me, reminding me to take the long view, do my best, remember what's important. In the morning when I go in to work at the agency that's now missing one valued employee, the marble will greet me good morning. It's no substitute, of course. But it is a tiny treasure.