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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Death of a co-worker: A letter to my friend

I know it’s been a while since we last saw each other. Yet, you have remained in my thoughts since leaving work. I think of you especially when I buy a cup of coffee. I remember when I would come to work with all my bundles and bags of teacher materials, and of course, coffee. You would give me this grumpy look and say, “So you can buy coffee for yourself and not for me? Okay Dara, I see ya!” At first I thought you were serious and I endlessly apologized to you. “Okay, tomorrow I will buy you a cup of coffee. How do you like it?”

You never actually told me how you like your coffee. All you would say is, “It is okay Dara, I’m just messing with you.” We’d laugh and then I ask about your day. Although it was early evening, it always seemed like your day had just started. Maybe that’s because you had to stay until closing. Maybe because you were the director of the after school programs, or it was an excuse to pick on me about not buying you coffee.

There were some days you weren’t in a joking mood. “What’s wrong?” I would ask you. I could always tell when you were aggravated or really upset. When you were aggravated, you would just yell, “I don’t know Dara!” and mumble some words I didn’t understand. When you were really upset, you would say “Fuck this shit!” It's those days I was most concerned about you. You would sit at your desk, quietly, staring at the computer. You wouldn’t even turn around to say hello. When my class ended and I’d say good night, some nights you’d say the same or wouldn’t say anything at all. One night, I patted you on your shoulder and said, “It’s going to be alright. Trust me.” That’s when you turned around and smirked at me, “Really?” I smiled back, “Yes. Whatever that’s bothering you will pass. Now who do I need to kick for ya?” You laughed and said, “Everybody!”

Do you remember how we met? I was a new teacher at this new location, your location. I was about to walk up the stairs to my classroom when you stopped me half way. “Where are you going?” You looked annoyed and I instantly felt intimidated. “I have a class on the second floor. I’m supposed to be starting a class tonight.” You seemed uninterested and looked at me as if my response wasn’t good enough. I smiled and said, “My name is Dara Fulton. I am an ESL teacher and I’m starting a level 1 class tonight. I work at the Manhattan office but was sent here to teach.” There was an awkward silence for a while until you said, “Okay. Do you know what room you’re in?” As I said yes, you started to walk pass me. I quickly asked, “Oh, what is your name?” You glanced back at me with an abrupt answer, “Brian.”

From that moment on, I liked you. I don’t know why. You weren’t that friendly. You were abrupt majority of the time. At times you questioned my ability to navigate my way around the school; it was a big school. And sometimes you would ignore me when I greet you. I think the ice breaker was that evening when you asked me about coffee. The next time the coffee discussion came up was the last Spring I saw you. I was sitting on the steps in front of the school. I arrived an hour early before class. It was a nice day, the sun was out and it was breezy. I liked sitting on the steps and watch people walk by. I also enjoyed seeing my students arrive to school. You came outside. I had my head down reading a book and listening to music on my iPod. 

“Oh so I guess you can’t say hello to nobody!” I looked back and there you were smiling at me.” I said, "Oh please! Like you always say hello to me!” We laughed as you started to light your cigarette. I added, “And I honestly didn’t see you standing there!” You puffed on your cigarette and said, “Yeah right Dara! Of course you didn’t!” You asked me how I was, and next minute I knew it was time for me to head inside. It seemed like in that short amount of time we talked about each other’s day, our frustrations, concerns, happy moments, and pretty much anything that came to mind. You smiled more that day. Despite your usual frustrations, you seemed calm. You didn’t curse much. When I jokingly offered to kick someone for you, you said, “Nah…it is okay Dara. I appreciate the offer.” I felt happy.

On my last day of class and as an employee at our agency, you stood in the lobby watching my students hug me and say, “We will miss you teacher.” I saw you watching, but couldn’t look at you. A couple of my students offered to walk me to the train station. As they were walking outside I told them to give me a few minutes. I turned back. The security gentleman gave me a hug and I wished him well. As I turned to you, you said, “Don’t Dara.” I smiled at you while holding back tears. “I want to thank you for being you. Thank you for always looking out for me and for believing in me. I appreciate you more than you know, and I will truly miss you.” I don’t remember what you said immediately after that. I just remember hugging you and you saying, “You will be missed.” I said my goodbyes and before I walked out the door, you yelled out, “And don’t be a stranger Dara.” I smiled at you and said, “I promise, I won’t.”

That was the last time I saw you.

A colleague and friend of mine who used to work with you, called me the other day. I haven’t spoken to her in a long time. In fact, I haven’t spoken to anyone from our agency. Although I never spoke to you about all that was going on in 2012, I think deep down inside you already knew. As we were talking, she told me you had passed away. For a moment I thought I went deaf, because I didn’t want to believe you were gone. She said you died in 2015 around the spring time. I had no idea you were not well. I told her I was sorry to hear of your passing, but it didn’t hit me until now. It’s like God told me you were really gone, and I had to accept that.

I owe you an apology Brian. I didn’t keep my promise. I stayed away for my own reasons. It had nothing to do with you. I should have kept in contact with you, stopped by the school to say hello. I should have brought you that cup of coffee. I feel guilty for not bringing you that cup of coffee. That is my biggest regret and I hope you will forgive me.

As I write this letter, I am holding back tears. It’s just like the day when I last saw you. I’m not ready to say goodbye, but instead say I’ll see you later. That’s how I like to remember you. I want to know that I will see you again and hear you say, “What’s up Dara?” as you light your cigarette and vent about life. Most of all, I want to remember your smile. That I will always cherish. I’ll see you later my friend.

Rest in peace Brian.