The first time I saw him, he was striding down the back hallway of the Marriott Hotel where I worked as a banquet captain. My boss, the Director of Catering, had announced that we were getting a new assistant Banquet Manager from a property in Tennessee. This was the Big Night of his first appearance, where we would get to size each other up. I was probably a bit more wary than the rest of the crew, since I was the only female captain on the staff. I hadn’t been a captain too long, and had spent a lot of time and effort overcoming resistance and resentment of the fact that I had been promoted “from the ranks”, particularly being a woman, and more particularly being white–a distinct minority in that employee pool. No matter. The women were behind me and the few men that did make some noise were silenced pretty quickly by the fact that I was there before they came in to work, stayed after they left and worked rings around them.
I felt I had some good experience under my cummerbund to offer this new guy. I hoped we would get off on the right foot. The night he showed up, we were just getting ready to open the ballroom doors for a big party. All the supervisor staff was lined up in the hallway, getting our last minute details coordinated. I looked up and saw an unfamiliar form in a tuxedo striding down the hall with a ground-eating splay-footed gait. This had to be him. My absolute first thought was, “This guy should be in a Confederate soldier’s uniform!” A bit over 6 feet tall, he had red hair that was mellowing into a sandy roan color, matched by his big, bristling mustache. His blue eyes could pierce a target at 100 yards, and trust me, I learned you didn’t want to end up being that target. He stopped when he got to our clump and proceeded to introduce himself and shake hands all around. His grip was firm on mine, but not that bone-crushing kind of handshake that says the owner has to dominate everyone around them.
The function was about to start, so I headed over to the corner door to keep an eye on things. He followed me. He struck up some kind of conversation about his car and having a flat tire while driving here from Nashville, where he had transferred from. We chatted easily from the start, but I couldn’t help wondering why he was telling me all this. I was a little more reserved, especially since he was going to be my boss, but I didn’t want him to think I was anti-social, either. Still, he pitched right in, asked questions, got the lay of the land in a hurry and from that first night, there was never any question as to whether or not he would mesh with the current employees.
That night, we fell for each other. Not in a romantic way. There was never any question of that, never any desire. But somehow, each of us knew that the other one could be a friend, a sounding board, a refuge. From the first story about the flat tire, I liked him and I trusted him. As time went on, I learned that he could be glib with the truth, but he never lied to me. He told me sad stuff about past relationships, and shared the immense love he had for his 4-year-old son back in Nashville (who I would later meet).
He was the only person that I have EVER loaned a substantial amount of money to. His car, a 1970’s land-yacht white Lincoln Continental, was constantly breaking down. Not to mention the gas it sucked down daily. He had had some kind of crisis, and was supposed to go to Tennessee on his days off to visit his boy. I was off that day and he called me, nearly in tears. I had been saving cash money in a Mason jar in my closet since I couldn’t seem to not spend it if it was in my bank account. I had $1,400.00 Not a massive sum, but to me, paying off back taxes and a bankruptcy, it was HUGE.
I offered the money. Don’t ask me why. I am NOT free with money like that. I mean, I have no trouble picking up dinner or buying a coffee or putting gas in the car if someone drives, things like that. I’m not a cheapskate.
But this was a LOT of money, AND it really was all the savings I had. I hadn’t told him that I had anything to lend; I think he was more calling just to download all his frustrations on me. After thinking it over while he talked, I offered to lend him most of the money. He greeted my offer with shocked silence. I told him I meant it. He swore he would pay me back in 3 months. I said fine and he came over and got the money.
He paid me back. In 3 months. With interest that I hadn’t asked for.
We worked insane hours at the hotel (the busiest Marriott in Atlanta–right by the airport), then wanted to go out and eat breakfast in the middle of the night and hang out on our days off. We went fishing together, drank together, laughed till we peed our pants together. I loved him desperately but I was never in love with him. I would have fought with him for or against anything he asked me to and I know he would have had my back in any kind of situation.
Our “office” was 2 small adjoining rooms off the main hallway going to the ballrooms, that 5 or 6 captains shared. We were never in them long enough to really need more space. Sometimes, when the wait staff had questions or if it was payday for the pool employees (I handled that payroll and they were paid in cash at the front desk), we would be snapping our banter back and forth and some of the staff would look from one of us to the other and ask, “Are you guys married or something?”
When I met him, he had a terrible fondness for the “N” word in private. In public, he never put a foot wrong and was all buddy-buddy, and home-boy like. But behind closed doors, he really let loose. The first time he did it, I was too shocked to say anything. But I was raised by Southern parents who had brought me up that using that word was worse than taking the Lord’s name in vain and only trash people said it. The second time he started in on one of his tirades, I told him to stop. I said I hated that word, and I hated it worse coming out of his mouth. I said I had no control over what he said, but if he wanted to keep working with me, he simply couldn’t say it around me. That was it, no compromise.
At first he made a big deal out of it. He would start to say it, then look at me, roll his eyes, and come up with something else. Eventually, he broke the habit and it quit coming up at all.
He held me when I raged at the universe because I found out I was pregnant despite all precautions and offered to go with me when I made the choice not to keep the baby. I wouldn’t let him go–went alone, but he rearranged my schedule without my asking so I could have 4 days off to recover.
I got him home from bars when the drinking got bad and unhappy memories of a cold, nasty father crept in and the worries that he would do the same thing to his son tormented him.
I think I felt for him the way soldiers feel about their combat buddies. During the time we worked together, in our little universe of odd, long hours, pressure, party deadlines, and irate guests, I think we would have died for each other.
After nearly 5 years in the Banquet department, I was getting restless. I wanted to move up in the hotel, but interviews with the existing “higher-ups” told me that wasn’t happening any time soon. Discouraged, I started looking for something outside the hotel business, and after 9 long months of job searches and interviews and being told my “personality was too strong” I finally landed a decent-paying admin assistant job in a high-rise office building light years away from the bumptious atmosphere of a hotel back service hallway.
The hardest thing I did was walk away from him, but we vowed to keep up with each other. I knew there was some stuff going on at the hotel and that his days there were not going to be long, and I sure didn’t want to work there if he wasn’t there.
A month after I started my new job, we found out my father was terminally ill. I called him and cried. He was there for me, and the whole crew sent huge flowers and he came to stand with me during the wake at my mom’s house. Just having him there helped me get through it. We could laugh and tell stories about hotel craziness that helped everyone feel better.
About a week after that, he called me. He had promoted 2 other banquet captains shortly before I left, and now one of them had apparently stolen some money, but was blaming him. He knew he was going to get fired, but wanted to leave first. He wanted to go back to Tennessee to be with his son and try to figure out what to do next.
I asked what I could do. He said, “Can you loan me $30.00?” I said sure and put $100.00 in an envelope. He came by shortly and picked it up. We hugged hard in my driveway and told him he better be careful and call me.
A few days later, he did. His voice was overflowing with emotion. “When I opened that envelope and saw that $100.00….well, nobody’s ever done anything like that for me before.” I told him I figured he could use it and he could pay me back one day.
That was the last time I ever heard from him. I don’t think of him as much as I used to, but sometimes I miss him something fierce. It’s hard to lose someone who “gets” you, for whatever reason.
I’d like to think that he kept himself out of trouble and that one day we will meet again. Sometimes I think about his little boy, who was just a few years younger than my daughter. I think about the twists and turns the road of life lays out in front of you and I think about how grateful I am to have had this person so vividly in my life that after nearly 20 years, he’s still as alive in my head as he was when I worked with him every day.
If you read this, you’ll know who you are. Even with all the changes in my life, you will be welcome if you decide to show up.