December 20, 2006

Goodbye To A True Friend

I learned early this morning that a longtime friend of mine passed away late Monday night. This page is insufficient as a memorial to such a good and honest man. He was a my partner and mentor in the NYPD.

It will be of little importance to those whom he protected in those surly New York City neighborhoods where we patrolled together that such a brave officer died. Stephen was indeed courageous. He knew police work backwards and forwards. This was one of the reasons why I wanted to work with him. In any police emergency, he knew what needed to be done and how to handle it.

Yet, Stephen was more than just a cop. He was a father and a loyal friend. When we both left the police department, he built a business and worked diligently to pay for his son's college education. And, when I couldn't find work and times were rough for me and my young family, he had me work for him. He was a fighter who traveled the tough housing projects of New York City with confidence; and he battled cancer with determination.

After a full recovery, he set about making a new life for himself and his son. He closed his business, as many businesses these days succumb to a bad economy. But, he continued to work hard, often taking midnight shifts to keep his son in school. We stayed close. Only recently he told me what a good friend I had been to him. Listening to him speak with such sincerity, I told him the same. His response was "Hey, we worked a sector car together. That's for life." There's plenty to that statement that folks who never had to rely on someone for backup would never understand. Stephen did, and he meant it.

On this ordinary day, I received a message from a friend of my friend that he died suddenly in his home. Stephen was alone at the time. His girlfriend found him. A nice woman at the Medical Examiner's Office confirmed all of this for me and erased all of my denial. As I await the details of his wake and funeral, I sit at my desk, stunned, unable to mourn. His phone number is in my cell phone, begging me to call him so I can make sure he doesn't answer it. Somehow, I imagine, this is all a cosmic joke; and it will be revealed if I would only work up the nerve to call him. But no, that won't work.

In and out of the office today, folks have been coming and going wishing both me and those I work with "happy holidays." I wish that for them too. The last time someone said it, before I sat down to write this little piece, I wondered if the same scene was playing out at the Medical Examiner's Office, and if the nice woman with the sympathetic voice who told me my friend was dead was wishing everyone "happy holidays" as well.

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