The pandemic has been going on for over a year now and for the most part, I have just gone about my life as normal while following whatever protocol is out at the time. It is simple, do what you have to do for yourself and do what you have to do for society.
Thankfully, I have been fortunate enough that no one close to me has been severely affected by the pandemic. No one that I love has lost a job or a life. I know people have been dying, I hear the news, but it has never really sat with me pulling at my heartstrings until recently. At the beginning of August, the death of a former classmate really had me in disbelief. We went to high school together, she was my age, appeared generally healthy, lived a happy life, was pregnant when she got COVID and before she passed, she had just given birth to a baby girl that she never got to hold. When I found out the news, I could not stop thinking about it. It felt so wrong for life to just go on after something like that.
Then yesterday morning as I was getting ready for the day, I received a text from my friend letting me know that his sister, my former assistant manager and friend had passed away. I had recently found out that she was in the hospital due to COVID and reached out to him for updates. This is definitely not the update and outcome I pictured. I cried.
Valerie was a trip to be around, she was usually very happy and when she wasn’t, it was very hard to tell because she didn’t get angry like the rest of us. Valerie had her own way of dealing with things, involving stuff like smoking fake cigarettes and eating peanut m&ms. Valerie gave no fucks about what anyone thought of her, she marched to the beat of her own drum and that’s what was so great about her. You couldn’t help but smile at how she really didn’t let much bring her down. I always envied that about her because I care too much what people think.
I first met Valerie when her brother was my manager at Handy Andy and she would come in to buy groceries. She loved going to Handy Andy because she had also worked there. We often reminisced about the simple days of scanning groceries, listening to oldies, trying to see who could remember the most fruit codes, and fighting over who balanced the office the fastest. When Handy Andy closed its doors, Valerie recommended I apply to bank. I got the job and stayed for just short of 10 years. I picked a tent as my 5-year gift and as I browsed through the catalog, I wondered who would pick the bank engraved jewelry. Valerie always wanted to be a banker, she lived for the bank and wore her gold bank ring with 3 stones (one for every 5-year milestone) with pride.
You never know the impact you have in someone’s life. Valerie is the reason I got the job working in banking that gave me the tools to manage my finances properly and the professionalism that eventually landed me my dream job in environmental. I hope I can be remembered the way I know everyone is remembering Valerie right now.
There are many vivid memories I have with Valerie, but I am going to share the one I always give when someone asks for my most embarrassing moment at work. When I first worked with Valerie, we worked in a very dated office space that was bipolar when it came to the temperature in the office (kind of like the Hot N Cold Katy Perry song). I often had Freebirds for lunch because it was the closest somewhat healthy option. My Freebirds order is a salad with, chicken, black beans, and all the veggies and salsa I can fit. On this particular day, when I returned from lunch Valerie called me into her office for my check-in. We were talking business, but the door was closed and it was getting kind of warm in the room, so I decided to take off the scarf I had been wearing in the cold teller line. As I removed the scarf all I see is a single black bean falling from my scarf and rolling down the desk, turning slowly, and stopping just short of Valerie’s keyboard. I was mortified (still am). Valerie just went on with my referral goals. I love telling this story because that’s the kind of thing that I feel only happens to me and yes, they did call me beaner after that. Thinking back on that moment now, I’m so glad my bean rolled onto Valerie’s desk because I tell that story atleast once a year and every time I tell it, I will smile and think of her.
I can’t imagine the hurt my friend and his family are feeling right now, hug your loved ones because you never know. I have been overwhelmed with a helplessness feeling and even though I know death is a fact of life, it scares me. Please stay safe out there.