My co-worker’s last day was yesterday. He is moving on to work security at one of the middle schools. Some people have a lot of co-workers; I really only have just one. I have a supervisor, a co-worker, and then a 3rd person who works per-diem 4 hours per day (so, a co-worker, but it doesn’t feel the same.) We didn’t actually work “together,” but we worked at the same time, and for the majority of each day, it was just us in the building (along with after-school activity groups.)
He started roughly 3 years ago, and we got off to a rocky start. I can’t really explain it, but it wasn’t just rocky – it was jarring, and jagged. It was, in effect, a disastrous mix. Things slowly repaired themselves, with time and effort, and I learned a ton about human connection and priorities, during this process. Maybe someday I’ll really write about that, but it won’t be here.
In some ways, we are opposites he grew up in a rough part of the city and now lives in the suburb I grew up in, and he generally stays put out there. He seems to know everyone there. I moved to the city as soon as I was able to, and I never spend time in that suburb, unless I stop at the grocery store after work, or get gas, etc. I feel a comfortable level of anonymity within the city…
We had a complete turn around within the time we worked together – he was the person I confided in the most. He actively participated in being my ally in a bunch of different ways. I wrote about this a little, over a year ago, here:
I came out to my co-worker
As soon as I told him about my preferred name, he started using it when no one else was around. He called me “Kam-Ron” at first, and then just shortened it to “Kam.” This later became, “Killa Kam” and “Cuz.” He lightly pressured me to come out at work when he could feel it was imminent. I appreciate it more than he’ll know. Well, he does kinda know – I explicitly told him yesterday that I wanted to thank him for being my ally, most specifically.
Super early on, he organized a district-wide work happy hour at his dive bar. I was the only one who showed up. Later, he narrowed down the guest list, and our co-workers / kitchen staff hung out one time outside of work. That was a first! He later bonded with me through my enthusiasm with a local community radio station I volunteer with. He came on the air with me on two occasions, taking pics and putting them on facebook and just hyping it all up in general. One time, we met for lunch before work. That was a first.
Last night, I picked us up some tacos from that place we had lunch the one time, and we just chit-chatted one last time. He had gotten a bunch of cards from students, like whole classes-worth, and a couple of gifts from teachers. He was exuberant, like he often is, gesticulating a lot, not sitting down, etc. I was low-key, like usual, trying to offset that a bit. While still being interested / engaged.
I’ve never met anyone like this person. I observed the ways he navigates through situations with my eyes and ears perked. Out of everything I learned from him, I think the most all encompassing thing was what he summed up as “teamwork makes the dream work.” (He would say this a lot.) But not teamwork in the way I knew of teamwork – this is a different brand of teamwork. I thought of “teamwork” as doing the same thing at the same time with another person or group of people, until the job was done. But whenever I tried to enact that with him, we would usually clash. His teamwork involves a network of small favors with as many people as possible, like, “I do this, which motivates you to do that,” kind of thing. Which may or may not work depending on the other person, but he is an extremely motivational person. In addition to just going way above and beyond, in that rare situation which arises from time to time, just to help you out.
He made a personal connection with probably almost every single person, whether principal or teacher or part-time staff, in the entire school. And now he’s moving on to go do that in a school that’s twice or maybe three times as big.
I’ll miss him.
I also wrote about the co-worker I had before this co-worker, here:
Saying goodbye to my mentor / co-worker
That was when he retired, two and a half years ago.
My co-worker just retired on Friday. This is someone I’ve seen almost every day for the past 8 years – not many people in my life I can say that about! (My partner, and others at work, basically.) I will miss him a lot. Some people have a lot of co-workers. I really only have just one. I have one supervisor, one co-worker, and one other person on the cleaning staff who is only there for 4 hrs a day (more of a higher turnover. A co-worker, but it doesn’t feel the same).
We didn’t actually work “together,” but we worked the same hours and we were still a team. I clean the first floor, and he cleaned the second floor. We probably only saw each other for a total of a half-hour every day. Still, I felt very connected with him. We commiserated together. We listened to each other. If I needed anything, I knew I could go to him. I knew if I helped him out with something, I was being highly appreciated for it.
I’d have to say he taught me more than any other person, in my journey to becoming a janitor who is very good at his job. He always had an opinion about how things should be done. And he had a lot of tricks-of-the-trade up his sleeve. He always wanted to pass those on to me (and anyone else who had the patience to learn from him – most didn’t). He was really difficult to understand. He’s from the Caribbean and has a super thick accent. He also has a speech impediment (I believe) on top of that. Over time, I began to be able to understand every word out of his mouth. Most people – teachers and other people in the building – could really understand roughly half or less of the things he was saying. Even after interacting with him every day for years and years and years. Sometimes I felt the urge to be his interpreter, but I think he might have felt insulted, so I really only did this if it really seemed necessary.
One of my favorite word-disconnects he uttered, was anytime he was talking about someone with Alzheimer’s, it would come out sounding like “Old Timers.” How great is that? I’ve pretty much started using that in my own lexicon. There are plenty of other neologisms and intonations I’ve adopted from him. Just one way I will always remember him.
There was a party for him after school in the library (this is the first “library party” I’ve attended – usually I haven’t felt like I was welcome / I haven’t gone). We ate cheese squares and broccoli & cauliflower. We drank Pepsi and had sheet cake. He made a brief speech and he cried. I was touched. He was presented with a few gifts, including a scrap book the Social Committee made for him. I contributed two pieces for it. This is what I wrote:
I think that he saw me as male. Or at least as not female. He always referred to me as “Man,” or, more like, “Mon” (the Caribbean thing). He was old-school in a lot of ways, but he never once tried to do something for me (unless he was showing me a better way to do it) or told me I couldn’t do something / lift something. I always appreciated that. There’s no way I’ll ever forget him. He impacted my life in ways he may never know…