Saturday, January 07, 2012

A loss...

Approximately twelve years ago, I was working at a financial services company in Boston, MA. As the staff assistant, I ordered supplies, filed paperwork, all sorts of boring stuff. I was also responsible for interacting with the public, answering phones, greeting visitors and accepting deliveries. I worked there for about a year and I met all types of people. 

Late in that year, I began to take special note of one such visitor. Phil was the delivery guy from nearby State Street Bank. He seemed like a nice guy. He spent a fair amount of time chatting with me each day, "How's your day going? What are your plans for the weekend?" type stuff. Every day, it seemed to me, he would hang around a bit longer than necessary. He would make the effort to talk just a bit longer, so much so that even the ladies I worked with noticed and commented on it.  He was an attractive guy, tall compared to me, light brown hair, nice eyes, and a perfect smile. His voice was sweet, comforting. I thought perhaps Phil might have a crush on me, but after months of chatting and bantering he never made a move.

Ultimately I decided I hated the job, was bored out of mind, and was tired of making $24,000 a year while taking calls about my boss' new Mercedes. I gave my notice.  I waited for several days for Phil to reappear so I could tell him, but no word.  On my last day I figured this was it, if he came in I would tell him.  If I was wrong, I would move on and he would find someone else with whom to flirt. But if I was right, my telling him that I was leaving might be the instigator to get him to ask my out. If he did not come in, well I would leave and likely not see him again.

Mid-morning the elevator beeped and out stepped Phil in his regular khaki trousers and golf shirt.  I asked him about his absence and he explained he'd been sick but was feeling better.  We chatted and joked as always.  I finally mentioned my leaving. He was taken by surprise, clearly disappointed. He seemed at odds, or was I just hoping that was how he felt?  He stuck around longer than usual, asking about my plans. Then, he gave me his delivery and left. 

I was sad, feeling silly for misreading his intentions.  I figured that was that.  My coworkers had been watching the whole event. One of the girls responded, "No way, uh uh, that's not acceptable!" She took down my phone number and "went out for a cigarette".  She chased him down the street and informed him that if he wanted to call me, that would be a good idea...I would like that. He was again surprised. He was so shy that he hadn't believed that I was actually interested in him. He hadn't had the nerve to take the chance that I would turn him down. He took my number willingly.

About a week later, I was entrenched in learning my new job. The phone rang and when I answered it was a shy, tentative voice I recognized. It was Phil. We giggled about my coworker (who's name I do not now recall) nearly accosting him with my phone number. After a short while we both needed to return to work and he finally, shyly asked if maybe I wanted to have dinner some time. I was elated.  With the help of an aggressive Marlboro smoker, he had finally gotten up the nerve to take the chance. 

We went out soon after. Dinner in the North End of Boston, an Italian at heart. Dinner was awesome and we talked non-stop. There were surprisingly few awkward moments.  After dinner, we stopped by Mike's Pastry, infamous for their Italian treats. We weren't ready for the night to end, so we then walked down to the waterfront. It was beautiful out and we stayed late talking, just so the night didn't have to end.

The date must have gone well because more dates followed. Nights spent talking, getting to know one another, discovering similarities and interests in common.  He was funny, but in a quiet way.  Phil was so shy wanting, almost needing, to be liked.  But he opened up as you got to know him and let his personal light shine.  And it was bright. His smile (naturally perfect, no braces he told me) could light up not only the room, but the hearts of those in the room. It was impossible to be with Phil and not know that you were being touched by someone, something deeply GOOD.

The relationship progressed.  We decided to move in together. 

He was very attached to his family, which I found extremely sweet. His family was wonderful. His parents and his Auntie were kind, welcoming, and loved him dearly. Though older, Phil idolized his brother who was a popular guy, star athlete. Phil was the shy, quiet, tag-along typically found in a younger brother. I loved that about him. At 30, I think his family was glad to see him spread his wings and open his life to more.

We found a small, but very cute retro-70's apartment about 15-20 minutes from his family. It was the perfect space for two kids in love starting out, close enough to home to make him comfortable. We made the beginnings of a life there. We shared our hopes for a future together. We even shared a closet. He called me from the road every day, every single day, to say hello and tell me that he was thinking of me. Life was good.

We returned to the North End, wonderful Italian food, and Mike's on more than one occasion.  One night, I had an inkling that Phil had something to ask me, but as the night progressed I became less and less convinced he was going to do so. Finally, we ended up again on the waterfront talking. It was surprisingly busy, teeming with people. It was chilly, I was ready to go home. But Phil kept pushing to hang out a bit longer, until finally we were nearly alone.  We sat by the water in the near darkness. He finally pulled a box from his coat pocket and asked me to marry him. My response, "Are you serious?" was likely not what he expected, but it was honest. I had not seen the box at first, but then I saw a glint of light and I knew. I said yes and he pulled out a beautiful heart shaped ring and put it on my finger. We were so happy.

But things in life tend to change. Our landlord sold the property. We saw the sale coming, lots of sudden cleaning and fix up was being done. The new landlord was a strange woman we never met whose 'caretaker' was questionable and scary. In addition, the drama from the scrawny couple who lived behind us (who regularly got 2-5 minute visitors, likely drug deals, and had the police and/or fire department in our driveway weekly) became too much. Phil and I decided to move. We looked around and, after much debate and efforts to find something close by, affordable and safe, we decided to move to a different town, closer to my family but considerably further away from his. It wasn't that far, 45 minutes by car perhaps, but it may as well have been a continent.

I believe Phil was never able to fully adjust to the new living arrangements. He missed his family terribly. Then work slowly became a nightmare for him, threatening outsourcing and layoffs. I felt helpless to make things better for him.  So I tried to take a positive view, tried to motivate and assure him of the future. "If you are something about it, change jobs, move on." But Phil always looked at his father's history with the Bank, for which he was extremely proud, and envied his path. His father had started in the mail room and worked his way up, becoming a Bank officer over the years. Phil wanted that, desperately.

Ultimately, I convinced him to take another job. He was not successful. He felt demeaned and embarrassed. I tried to focus on the positive...move on, try something new! I tried to convince him to go back to school, to get a degree in history, which he loved. He was resistant, unable to believe he could succeed. I didn't know how to motivate or support him. I was just a kid myself.  But I desperately wanted him to be happy and successful, for us to have a wonderful future together.

But the stress was too much for us. He pulled further into himself. And I, admittedly, pulled further away. We fought more. We hung on for eight months, until finally I decided that he would be happier moving home to his family and I would be happier moving on alone. I sadly returned the beautiful engagement ring that was no longer truly mine. I literally returned his heart. He was accepting and kind as always. He moved out in August, and I finished out our lease through September. I moved into an apartment of my own. Our lives continued to move away from one another.

The last time I saw Phil, I took him out for his birthday about two months after he moved home. He seemed happy again. He had gotten a new job and was settling into it. I was truly happy that he had found his equilibrium and was at peace. I felt guilty for shaking his life at the roots those past years and wanted him to have nothing but happiness. And I understood that meant I had to go. I was sad for both of us but his heavenly-bright smile, which I'd not seen in a long while, assured me I had done the right thing.

I wished him the best. We said we'd talk soon and left one another, but as is typical of breakups we never spoke again. I did not want to contact him and get his hopes up that we might rekindle our relationship (or, frankly, to hang on to him unfairly as I experienced changes myself). I can only guess that he felt he could not or should not contact me.  Or maybe he was happy to be rid of me. If so, I can not blame him. I expected too much of him, of our life together, and was not always kind when I realized I was barking up the wrong tree. I was stupid and young.

I have thought of him often over the past decade.  More than once I have wanted to call him just to say hello. But I assumed that he had found someone special over the years, someone who loved him and was making him happy. I didn't feel it was appropriate. Neither of us ever bridged that gap, never made that first effort and tried to make another connection...or at least we were never successful.

Then, a few days ago, as I was looking around the internet, I came across an obituary.  Phil died a few months ago. He was 41 years old.

I am floored...  Caught totally unaware by his death, I am rocked to my core. I have cried often since, berating myself for feeling a loss for which I really have no right. I chose to move on, not he. Yet, I feel such an intense loss. 

Apparently, he had Scleroderma. From my research, I learned this is a disease of the connective tissue which typically attacks facial and hand tissues. It is rarely fatal.  But, in some cases, the disease becomes systemic and attacks organ tissue, causing damage to the lungs, kidneys, heart, etc. resulting in organ failure. I didn't even know he was sick.

I know nothing of Phil's last years, though I ache with the need.  I am heartbroken that I did not know at the time of his death so I could have been present to show my respects and offer my condolences to his family, as both deserved. But truthfully, its more selfish than that... I feel such sadness that I did not get to share time with him before he left us, that I did not get to hold his hand one last time, to offer friendship.

Phil loved willingly and openly, but shyly and quietly. I was blessed to be within that circle, even for just a few years. 

I know that Phil knew that he was loved and cared for greatly. I have no doubt his family made sure of that. But I hope Phil also knew what a special bright light he was, how he touched people's lives just by being himself, and how we are all better people for it.

Rest well sweet soul. I pray we meet again in heaven.