I had dealt with the death of a co-worker before. During the institutional stint, a young lady with whom I filled prescriptions orders passed away rather suddenly, a culmination of factors related to a blood disorder. I had worked with her for about a year. I still remember how everything stopped for her when Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" piped through the office. It was as if the sirens were calling to Ulysses. *Tanya's death was a shock, a sobering reminder of mortality, but as before, in the face of such a tragedy, the machine chugged on. Her name, when mentioned later, was followed by a few long faces and a sad tone of a recollection, but soon enough, someone's smutty joke cut through the gloom and it was business as usual.
The second year I worked in "seizureville", my clerk, *Franny, did not return to work after being admitted to an E.R. late one night. It had been an eventful week; a tropical storm had made a mess of the store, the drop ceiling reduced to paste atop much of the merchandise. The day of Franny's death, she and I handled crisis after crisis as worried seniors tried to get refills and manage aisles amidst an unsafe environment. It was a tiring day. We all walked out worse for wear. Little did Franny realize it would be the final time.
I did not believe *Frederick, my boss, when he relayed the news the next morning. I was stunned to the point of catatonia. I literally could not move.
Maybe you've experienced it - having just been with someone and then realizing they were gone forever. Like a cruel joke. Despite the comforts of my faith, for a period I felt unsafe and vulnerable. Not in some abstract way as I had when I heard about or read of folks dying. This was palpable. Franny would never again spot me a few bucks so I could get lunch from the deli next door. She would never speak of her sad family again, of her mother who lived in a local development she dubbed "Sterile Village."
The sadness lingered for a long while. My other co-worker, *Sally and I could not stop talking about her. Sally had a much deeper reservoir of memories and feelings than me, and when she wasn't reduced to tears she would speak at length of Franny.
My boss, far from being an emotional sort, dealt with it in a muted stoicism, but I could tell he was devastated. He and Franny had fought constantly. I often cringed when Frederick berated her. I was too timid to intervene on her behalf; I was still the new kid. After a few years, the timidity fell off of me like a snake's coil, but by then Franny had been gone a long time.
Even sadder: a month or so after Franny died, her husband, a rather odd fellow who spoke with a horribly nasally voice we all imitated, succumbed to his unrelieved sadness and took his life. I didn't know him well, didn't ever talk to him beyond a hello, but I always knew somehow how completed he was with his wife. Her absence just made things pointless.
If there's any bright spot, at least Franny wasn't around to witness would would happen 2 years later.....
TO BE CONTINUED
*Not the real name.