The front desk in the story is like the one where I used to work. Everything else is made up based on thinking about how people are usually way different then we first make them out to be. For better or worse.
The name tag worn by the guy at the guard desk read Dan. His job was to check the ID badges of the employees as they entered the huge office building through the revolving doors from the parking ramp. All day long during his eight hour shift he eye-balled everyone that passed by, checking to see if the photo on the badge matched the person wearing it. His eyes were steel gray and they never seemed to stop moving, missing nothing. His hair was buzz cut so close that his scalp shone through. His blue uniform strained against his protruding belly. His gun belt was thick and black and the revolver seemed too big for its holster. He looked to be about fifty years old.
Dan never smiled. He rarely spoke and he seemed like the kind of guy you just wanted to avoid at all possible costs. So when tall, thin, haggard looking Jeremy Larson tried to walk by without his badge and Dan stopped him, who knew what was going to happen.
“Just a second, there, buddy.” Dan spat out aggressively. “What do you think you’re doing?”
Jeremy paused, confused, acting like he had no idea where he was. “What?” The question squeaked out.
“Your ID badge, pal. Where is it?”
Jeremy looked down at his shirt pocket where his badge was normally clipped. “Sorry. I must have forgotten it”
“You can’t go in, then. Rules are rules.”
Jeremy looked around, suddenly very distraught, like he didn’t know where he was. His eyes watered up. Then he dropped his briefcase, put his head on the counter and started to cry.
Dan was taken back. This just didn’t happen. People passing by glanced at the scene unfolding but just kept walking, clearly embarrassed for Jeremy but not wanting to do anything about it. Dan quickly took over. He called his boss, asked for an assitant, and then hurried around to where Jeremy was hunched over, all the while his eyes never missing a face or a badge passing by. He put his arm over Jeremy’s shoulder, picked up his briefcase and carefully moved him away to a quiet corner beyond the counter.
“Take over for me,” Dan said to the assistant when she showed up. “I’m going to take this guy for some coffee.” As he started walking away with Jeremy, Dan’s demeanor changed. “What’s the matter, man?” He asked compassionately. “What’s going on?”
Jeremy was clearly very shook up, but was able to softly articulate, “My wife passed away a month ago and I thought I was ready to go back to work. Guess not.” He added, with a weak smile of embarrassment.
Dan walked slowly beside him, arm still around Jeremy’s shoulder. All around them people hurried by, only a few giving the odd looking couple slowly making their way down the crowded hallway a passing glance. Dan’s eyes softened. He slowed his steps and ducked his head close to Jeremy’s ear. He almost whispered, “Hey, man, I understand. I lost my wife ten years ago. It’s still painful.”
Jeremy looked up at the big guard, searching his face. “Does it ever get better?” he asked, a hopeful expression in his voice.
Dan looked at him, taking his time with what he wanted to say. He felt for the guy. Felt an affinity with him and wanted to give him a sense of hope. “It does,” he said, quietly, and then added, “It’s hard, especially those first months, like you’re now finding out. But you know what? If you’re lucky, you eventually learn to live with it. It does get better with time.”
“You know, that’s what people tell me. But I don’t know if I believe them. I loved her so much.”
Dan slowed his pace and then turned Jeremy so they were facing each other. “You’ll find a way, man. You’ll have to.” Then he added. “For me it helped when I thought about what it was my wife would have wanted me to do. She would have wanted me to go back to work. You know, get out in the world and keep living.”
Jeremy snuffled back his tears. “Really?”
“Yeah. It helped me a lot to think like that.”
They continued walking down the hall. Jeremy seemed a little more comforted by Dan’s words. By the time they got to the break room, he seemed more in control of himself. “Thanks, Dan. I appreciate your patience with me.”
“Don’t mention it,” he said as they found two chairs and sat down. “It’s hard, I know it is. Believe me, you just have to have a little faith. It can work out.”
Jeremy smiled with a sense of relief. “I hope so. It’s been hell so far.”
Dan went for some coffee and they sat for a long time talking. Jeremy seemed to calm down and start to come to grips a little bit more with himself and the death of his wife. Dan was happy to see that. He wanted things to get better for the guy. But all the time they were sitting together he never let on the depth of the sadness he still felt. In fact it had been ten years, two months and seventeen days since his wife had died. The pain was still there. The loss still intense. The love not diminished. He was out in the world. He was working. Doing the things he should be doing. All those years that had gone by since her death and he was still waiting. He was still trying to heal. And, despite what he had told Jeremy, the truth of the matter was that for him, it really wasn’t getting any better.