I used to work overnights at a coffee and donut shop. I served hot beverages to the bored the restless and the inebriated. At around 4 a.m. that's when my guys came in. Tom and Al and Jim. Three old men who still worked and didn't take shit off anybody. They hung out and bullshitted the time away with their senior coffees.
I saw Tom every night without fail. He always walked in the door at 3:45am. You could've set a clock by him. We talked and laughed and he made the time pass quicker for me. I'll never forget him talking about some punk kid who wasn't pulling his weight at work.
"So this punk is trying to tell me how to do the job I've been doing for thirty years. I told him I've been at this since you were swimming around in your daddy's nut sack. Shut the hell up and work."
I loved that guy. He became a friend and felt like family. He always watched out for me.
He had a heart attack which triggered a stroke while he was behind the wheel of his truck. The man couldn't do anything small. He lasted for four days in the hospital. When he was told he'd be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life, he gave up the will to live and died the next day. His wife, who was in the car with him, survived with a multifractured leg.
I felt awful. I meant to go see him in the hospital but there wasn't a convenient time. The night before his funeral, I decided to drink my sorrows away. Never tried that again. I was so hungover I was vomiting until 3 that afternoon. I missed the funeral. I was sick about it.
This was a man I'd seen 5 days a week for 3 years. He was a part of my life. Now he was gone. And I didn't say goodbye. I was heartsick.
The coffee shop had a door chime that let me know if someone walked in while I was in the back baking and decorating the pastries. The next few days, I took care of customers and made pastries and served coffee. And every morning at 3:45 am, the door would chime. I'd walk out front to help the customer and no one was there.
It took me three days in a row for me to get it. The door chimed for no reason and I looked at the clock and it hit me.
"Tom? Is that you?" I asked looking out at the empty coffee shop.
I felt invisible arms come around me and hug me. Then a pat on the cheek. Then he was gone.
The door chime never chimed at 3:45 again. There was no reason for him to linger there anymore. I got the message.