Back when I was 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 best friend had been tentatively planning to go to school 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 we returned home from the trip, I knew I had to move up there.
The only problem was that I didn’t really know how I’d manage it.
“Escaping” The Great Recession
You see, I didn’t have a job coming out of college. The recession was downright unkind to new graduates, so I wasn’t exactly rolling in dough at the time that we decided to move. My job search had been going awful, which had helped spark my desire to leave the area in the first place.
For some reason, I was sure that if I could just get away 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 up there. 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 in the past, I trust my intuition a lot— maybe even too much. All the same, I felt a hunch that I’d have no trouble finding a job up there. Based on that logic, it made “perfect sense” for me to go ahead and commit to coughing up my half of the rent every month.
Lucky for me (and my roommate!), I landed three job interviews within our first week up there. The highest paying job was actually a position I had always wanted, so I was thrilled to accept their offer.
The very 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 this really cool, 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, clueless 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 it hadn’t been 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 each morning and chat with me. It still brings a smile to my face to remember us laughing and joking about everything under the sun. We even had this inside joke about the office coffee secretly being gasoline due to some of the warehouse guys making it strong enough to knock you unconscious.
Meanwhile, we were both the first ones to run over there and grab a cup (or two) once it had been brewed. Eh, caffeine addiction… what can you do?
Around The Water Cooler
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. Sometimes, we’d be in there for half an hour just enjoying each other’s company and conversation. 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 local to 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.
For being co-workers, Tony and I 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 for awhile, 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.
A Helping Hand
Just telling you guys these stories fills me with so much happiness. Even after all of these years, it is 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 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.
All Good Things Come To An End
Long story short, the company ended up filing for bankruptcy. In the short timeframe of just a few months, everything I knew and loved ended up crashing down around us. 99% of the company was let go during the reorganization.
Unfortunately, I was one of the “lucky” majority that was chosen and 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 final day, things around the office soured. The little group Tony and I had formed was slowly dissolved. Each day, I found myself issuing someone their termination 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 over my departure.
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 my fellow co-workers. 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 wacky boss, which was… interesting.
But Tony wasn’t there.
Gone Too Soon
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 into work that morning, but by the time I got my final check and was ready to go, he was gone. Eventually, I heard that he had been called over to one of our other offices at the last minute.
At first, I was almost irritated. 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 later. 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 in his car with the engine still running. He never even made it out of the vehicle. Unfortunately, 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. That simply wasn’t something that happened in my little bubble world, which quickly popped that day. Sure, it was what I’d studied in college for years. I saw it in games, on movies… This wasn’t “supposed” to happen to people in real life.
I simply could not understand how some individual out there had the gall to approach Tony at his home, a place that should be safe, and steal him away from his family and newborn grandchild. 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, and associates that they shouldn’t. Is it possible that he got mixed up in something he shouldn’t have? Perhaps; you can never be 100% sure about people. After all, I was just a 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 dealings, 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 certainly don’t now.
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 eight years since your death, but your memory certainly lives on.
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 eventually got justice for what happened to you. You never deserved that. But for now, thank you, man. From the bottom of my heart… thank you.
© C.M. 2020 All Rights Reserved
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