I’ll always remember the wing sauce.
That seems kind of silly right now, but it’s the truth. It was one of those sights that you don’t see very often – a business professional with buffalo sauce all over his white oxford shirt. But that was the kind of guy he was – not a messy one, but one who had a good time whenever we all went out. And although it might have been dumb luck that there was more wing sauce on his shirt than the chicken, it wouldn’t surprise you.
I never could call him “Dave”. He just didn’t seem to fit the nickname. You know how sometimes you just look at someone and say “oh, yeah – that’s a Ryan” or “no doubt that’s a Danni” or “clearly that’s a Horace”? I couldn’t look at him and say “that’s a Dave”. “David”, yes, but not “Dave”. I don’t know why – I just couldn’t.
And I’m sitting here barely able to function because it’s sinking in that he’s not around any more to laugh with about the wing sauce episode or speculate with him why he doesn’t seem to fit the “Dave” moniker. Or to see him in the Chiefs jersey we all got him for his birthday. Or stop by and just BS about the day’s activities, vent about red tape or chew the fat about the Jayhawks.
My former boss passed away yesterday morning. But he was more than just a boss. He was someone you could talk to about what was going on. He was up to go grab a drink when the day/week/month called for it – or whenever it just sounded like a good idea. Got a personal issue? You could talk to him about it. Need some guidance? You dropped by David’s office. Want to bounce an idea off someone who could think critically about it and give you feedback? He was a great sounding board.
I always assumed that as long as I was at CenturyLink (or in the corporate world, for that matter) I would always have David available as a guide. Even when he left the company back in April I still talked to him about stuff that was happening and got his opinion on stuff. When he came back even though I wasn’t part of his team I still had weekly meetings with him. I mentioned a number of problems I was having and he was all over them helping me drive them. If you needed help David was there.
Hug your friends, hug your family. You never know when the day will come when someone calls you or pulls you aside and says “you’ll need to sit down” or “if you’re driving right now, please pull over”. Those are not words you want to hear. Those are the last words I expected to hear last night as I was getting ready to head to the annual holiday party. They were so alien to anything in my world that I almost didn’t believe them. There was no way David was gone. No way. No fucking way.
I thought back to the last time I saw him – the day before he died. He made his usual stop by in the evening to grab a mint and some of the candy I keep in a glass on my desk. It was almost a ritual – if my door was open he’d stop by. Even if there wasn’t candy he’d still stop in to see how things were going. I fully expected him to stop by tonight and do the same thing. I kept my door open after everyone left on the hopes that he’d stop by and say “Whasssssssup!”. It didn’t happen.
If I’d have known that was the last time I’d see him I’d have taken a picture to remember him by – the upbeat, smiling happy-go-lucky boss who knew how to get shit done. If I knew it was the last time I’d talk to him I would have told him how much he influenced me and how he has no idea how much his support and leadership meant to me and to all those around him. If I knew it was the last time I’d hear his laugh I’d have pulled out a joke book and cracked jokes until my sides hurt too much to talk.
If I knew…if I just knew…If only I knew…
But I didn’t know, and now that chance is gone. When my mother passed away four years ago I harbored a ton of regrets, but it was different. I had my anger (still have it) and the way I coped was denial that the cancer she had was eating away at her life. I regret that more than you’ll ever know – probably more than I’ll ever know for that matter. But I had time to prepare for it, to come to terms with it (whether I took that opportunity or not).
But not here. There was no anticipation that David wouldn’t be at the holiday party. Or that he wouldn’t be joking about spending more time out of the office than in. Or that he wouldn’t celebrate the Chiefs win this weekend (or bitch about the loss) when we’re back in the office on Monday. There was no notice that went out that said “hey – this is the last time you’ll see David”. No indication even that it MIGHT be the last time. No anticipation, no expectation that the urgent issue the friend of mine needed to talk to me about was this.
No more funny stories. No more raids on the candy jar. No more lessons from one of the brightest, most intelligent and most business savvy people I’ve ever met.
And what amazes me is I only knew him for a couple of years. I have friends who knew him a lot longer than that – I can’t imagine where they’re at.
I know there’s a greieving process that takes place, and everyone has their own. I don’t know where I sit with mine, honestly. I haven’t had a dry eye since I opened this text file to write. I’m past the first stage – I’m not in denial. I’m past the numb. Now I’m just angry. At myself for assuming. At him for leaving. At God for taking him. That his daughters won’t have their father at their Christmas plays. That December 15 no longer is “part of the holidays”. That all of us on his team didn’t get to tell him goodbye.
In time I suspect I’ll get over it, but for right now I’m not. Maybe in a month or a year or when I turn sixty I’ll write a post and tell you that I’m past the anger and on to the healing (or maybe the anger is part of the healing?). But not now, not at 8:00 on a Friday night.
I don’t understand how the world works in the least. I don’t pretend to know how God’s plan plays out in my life, much less anyone else’s. But that’s not stopping me from being angry. I can trust and trust and trust that all this happens for a reason, but frankly it’s not helping.
Because the only thing I do feel like I know is Thursday, December 15 the world lost someone good. Someone damn good.
I’m actually smiling a little right now because I’m wondering what he’d say if he read this. If David were still around (or if he’s reading this now from somewhere else) he’d probably tell me I need to be more crisp. That was his word – crisp. He probably used it on me more than anyone else because if there’s one thing I’m not it’s succinct. Anyone reading the blog will recognize that – I like words. Lots of words. But David was very much about boiling down things. The assumption is you’ve only really got 15 minutes with executives, even if they schedule an hour, so you need to be quick and to the point about what you’re trying to get across. That’s crisp.
So, for his sake, I’ll put the letter I’d write down here. So if you’re reading this, know that at least some of what you taught me made it through my thick skull.
* * * * * * * * * *
I took for granted I’d have the opportunity to tell you this before you left – maybe at your retirement party, or maybe my going away celebration after my wife won the lottery and moved us out to Alaska (that’s probably the only way I get out of Special Pricing…). Unfortunately that was one of those lessons you tried to teach me but I couldn’t quite grasp: don’t assume. [I got it now, by the way. A day late, for sure, but I got it.]
I’m going to be crisp here, because while I could never put everything about the last couple of years into one sentence I can summarize it: It was an incredible ride, and while it might have only seemed to last for two years, but don’t fool yourself – it will last a lifetime.
There’s some reason God saw fit to put a fool like me on your team. Maybe it was to try your patience, or maybe it was because nobody else could help me. Or maybe he just needed some entertainment. I don’t know what the reason is but rest assured when I see him I’ll ask him.
But that will have to be after I thank him for doing it. I would not be anywhere near the person I am today had I not had the privelege of knowing you for these last couple of years.
* * * * * * * * * *
OK, that probably wouldn’t pass the David “crisp” filter, but that’s about as crisp as I can get right now. If I redrafted it three or four times like I’ve had to do when I’m writing things on his behalf I might have cut a few words out, but I’m not rewriting it, so he’ll have to deal with it.
Which he would if he were still around. He’d just smile, raise his Bombay Sapphire and tonic to the sky and give a quick nod.
RIP boss-man – you will be missed.
(By the way, David, if you are reading this and if see God around there feel free to ask him – he’ll vouch that there isn’t a soul around here that wouldn’t give just about anything to bring you back for just one more day…so if you can finagle that come on back)by