The Big and Gentle Giant

I received a text from my boss yesterday calling an emergency meeting for today at 8:30 am. I didn’t respond to it until this morning. I was a bit annoyed that she contacted me during the long weekend. I expected something minor had occurred and she was blowing it out of proportion. But when I walked in to the office, I discovered teary eyes, an odd silence and eyes darting back and forth expecting some sort of reaction from me. I walked into the conference room and asked my co-worked what was going on.

“You don’t know?”

“No, happened? Is it Jennifer’s Dad?”

Last week during our staff meeting we had learned that Jennifer’s dad (another co-worker) had been diagnosed with cancer and was told the prognosis was not good.

“No, she said. Someone died.”

“Who?” I asked, growing more concerned each second.

“It’s Claudio, he had an aneurysm and collapsed on Friday. He was taken off life support on Sunday.”

I felt my face go numb, my mouth dropped open and I just stared at her for what seemed like a long time. My eyes started to well up with tears and I dropped my hands to my sides and sank into a chair.

Claudio. Claudio. Claudio. I couldn’t grasp what she was telling me.

I didn’t  know him well.

I never engaged him in conversation much. Anything I knew about him was because I had inadvertently joined in a conversation that someone else initiated.

Claudio intimidated me a little.

He was a tall handsome guy with a slight goatee, tattoos up and down his arms and along his neck and huge hands. Always well dressed and polite and friendly. And he drove a huge truck.

But I never engaged him.

I never knew what to say.

I never knew where to begin.

This past Thursday we had a staff meeting and Claudio arrived a bit late. Someone commented on his haggard appearance. He looked tired. His sister had been ill and he and his family had been holding vigil and waiting for word that everything would be okay. After a few days away from the office he had returned that day to do some work and to join our meeting. He talked about his family and how much he cared for them. He shed a tear at some point when he described the feelings he’d had to experience in the last week. His sister had almost died! During the course of the meeting I volunteered to lead a writing group with some of the youth that come to the clinic for case management services. At the end of the meeting he came up to me and expressed interest in helping me.

“I’ve written poetry,” he said, “And lyrics, maybe we can do the group together.”

“Really!?” I replied.

“Yeah, I used to be in a band and I would love to do this with you, ” he said and gave me a huge smile. The kind that reaches your eyes and made his wrinkles stand out.

Claudio…the big, gentle, tattooed giant with plugs in his ears had things in common with me.

We had poetry in common. He and I both grew up in the San Fernando Valley and he wanted to run a writing workshop with me.

Why had I had been so intimidated by him?

I don’t know but I need to find the answer soon. I can’t miss out on making friends with men like him. The good ones are few.

Rest in peace Claudio.