This morning I took down a small box of tea from the pantry shelf, and shook some of the black leaves into the metal mesh tea ball I use to steep loose tea. I made my tea and set aside the tea ball to use again tomorrow. That's not unusual at my house. What's unusual is that I've been keeping that little box of tea going for almost ten years.
My friend Gene brought me the tea when he came back from vacationing in Sri Lanka. Yes, this is a love story.
I love Kevin, too. Kevin and Gene and I worked together at a newspaper a decade ago when I was a reporter. Geno was the Layout Editor and Resident Photoshop Genius. When the Editor-in-Chief was on vacation and I was put in charge of the front page, Geno made it look as though I knew what I was doing. He kept me in Bob Dylan CDs. And he kept me laughing.
Kevin was the Sports Editor. He threw things at me. Oh, nothing that would give me a concussion or put my eye out. But like most of the sports-obsessed, Kevin regarded objects as things to score points with, usually by throwing. What he did for my reflexes was truly remarkable. Although my vision is poor and my peripheral vision outside my glasses just about nonexistent, I learned to snag things out of the air without turning my head or losing my place in the story I was typing.
Kevin kept me laughing, too. The level of banter in that office was incredible. We had the confidence and high spirits that comes from knowing we were all good at our jobs. In between one-liners, songs, visual gags, and long lunches together, we got an impressive amount of work done, and done well.
When my daughter Gillian died nine Memorial Days ago, I called Gene and he told Kevin. They both knew Jill. She had been in and out of the office; it was that kind of place. I forget how long I stayed home from work—three weeks, I think—but I remember thinking how different it would be when I went back. Gene and Kevin might interact the same as always, but I wouldn't be able to respond. I couldn't imagine myself laughing with them. I couldn't even imagine smiling.
My return was a blur. I can't tell you who said or did what, but I know my two favorite co-workers were wonderful. They were so careful with me, so sad for me, and at some point they realized, and helped me to realize, that while my loss was unimaginable, it hadn't stolen my sense of humor. As time went on, and my husband's condition grew worse, that office and those friends became a refuge for me, the banter (and yes, having things thrown at my head) a sanity saver.
They say you can't go home again, and I think that's often true. I left the newspaper to take care of my husband. Gene quit his job and moved away. He got married (I was there), and he and Stephanie are expecting a baby this year. Kevin still works for the paper, but the place has been remodeled and redecorated. The publisher has retired. Someone else sits at my old desk.
I still have their friendship, though. I see Kevin for lunch occasionally, and next month I'm going to Stephanie's baby shower. We have email, and we have Facebook. And I'm going to keep that little box of Sri Lankan tea going as long as I possibly can.