The first time I hung out with Chad outside of work was at a Christmas party thrown by one of our coworkers. I walked into the party not sure that I would know anyone there besides the hostess and, being the shy wallflower type that I am, was relieved to see his million dollar smile beaming at me from across the crowded living room.
“Oh my God, Chad,” I exclaimed when I finally managed to make my way over to him, drink held high and precarious over my head as I bobbed and weaved my way through an impromptu mid-room dance-off. “I don’t know anyone here!”
He threw his arm around me and squeezed with enough exuberance to slosh whiskey out of my previously well protected glass. “You know me!” he bellowed and laughed his boisterous laugh. “And now you know these people!” And he began walking me around the perimeter of the living room, introducing me to our fellow guests – most of whom he’d not yet met himself.
Eventually we got engaged with other party-goers in separate conversations and wandered away from each other. Probably a couple of hours passed before we met up again in the office near the kitchen. “How’s it going?” he asked. “Feeling more comfortable now?”
I was, though that probably had more to do with the whiskey than his earlier introductions. “Yes! And there’s a man in the kitchen I have to find my way back to. The universe demands it.”
He raised an eyebrow in interest, and then laughed his laugh again. “I met someone I need to find again too,” he confessed. We shared details of our insta-crushes and giggled like giddy little girls over the perceived possibilities. When both our drinks ran dry, we returned to the kitchen together to refill our glasses. I headed to the fridge for some water and he went to the booze counter. Moments later, we excitedly reunited in the middle of the room, our respective fingers rudely pointing toward the kitchen door. “There he is!” we announced simultaneously.
I was the first to notice we were pointing at the same person. “Wait. What? That’s MY guy.”
“No, Kellee. I’m pretty sure he’s gay. That’s MY guy.”
“No he’s not!” It was a wail of desperation and disappointment. “He’s not! Is he? He’s not. You take it back, Chad. I demand that you be wrong!”
“It’s possible, I guess. I’ll go find out…”
And off he trotted to determine the truth. Though I had struck up a conversation with someone else, my ears perked up when I heard Chad begin talking to the object of our shared affections. The woman I’d been chatting with continued talking to me, but I was so eager to hear the outcome of Chad’s conversation that I couldn’t concentrate on what she was saying. I actually interrupted her to say (I can’t believe I’m about to admit this): “I’m sorry, but there’s a REALLY interesting conversation going on over here.” And then I turned my back on her in order to focus all my attention on Chad’s conversation. I blame the whiskey for that terrible behavior.
I don’t remember the details of their conversation, but I remember the outcome: he wasn’t gay. And he also wasn’t offended or otherwise put out by having been asked if he was. Score and score. (And thank goodness for that, because the man in question happened to be Josh. As in THE Josh – the Josh I’m currently engaged to.)
Shortly thereafter, I managed to maneuver my way into my own conversation with Josh. When the flow of the party naturally pulled us into different rooms once again, Chad returned to my side to say that he’d been observing the two of us, that our chemistry was through the roof, and that we must get together. The rest of the night, he was on the case. If Josh and I were apart too long, he’d find a way to usher us closer together. Whenever he’d see me talking to someone else, he’d give me an admonishing stare. He’d pull me aside for quick updates, wanting to make sure I was still interested in Josh so that he wasn’t inadvertently pushing someone on me that I’d changed my mind about. And when Josh had to rush out abruptly and unexpectedly near the end of the night (to drive someone to the airport who’d missed his cab), he stood by my side just as shocked as I was that my phone number had not been requested. And then, before I could panic, he patched together a plan for tracking Josh’s email down through a friend of a friend of a friend who knew him. When Josh reappeared 10 minutes later (the cab was back!), Chad squealed right along with me. There might have even been some jumping up and down, but that was probably mostly me.
My point is, he completely had my back on this one.
As the party crept into the wee hours of the morning, the few remaining guests congregated in the hostess’s bedroom where the night took on the air of a co-ed slumber party. Josh and I continued our flirtation dance, and Chad and I discussed our newfound friendship. We talked about his family, where he grew up, coming out. The conversation made Chad intensely serious, enough that he was actually beginning to make me a little nervous. It felt like we were dangerously close to one of those overly emotional tirades that can only happen after too much to drink and too long without sleep. He leaned in close, eyes boring into me, and in almost a whisper asked, “Would you ever go out with somebody like me?”
The question surprised me, and I wasn’t even sure what “somebody like me” was supposed to mean. In my sleepy and inebriated state, I answered with an ineloquent, “Sweetheart, you’re too gay for me.” Chad threw back his head and laughed, pulling me into a giant bear hug so tight I almost couldn’t breathe.
“You’re awesome, Kellee.”
“You’re awesome too, Chad.”
Eventually, the sun came up and we all made our ways home. At work the following week, Chad was his usual uber professional self, but his smile was just a bit broader when we would pass in the halls. He would stop by my office periodically for quick updates on Josh, taking on a protective older brother persona to warn me that the boy was no good for me (he wasn’t, at the time). And, of course, there were the occasional happy hour drinks to tend to. None of our subsequent conversations ever matched (or even came close to) the intimacy of that first night we hung out, but they were always delightful and they were always accompanied by that contagious smile.
Chad passed away unexpectedly last week, and our night at that party has been replaying over and over and over in my head ever since I heard the sad news. I wanted to share it here, not because it’s particularly profound in any way, but because it’s a memory that has always made me smile – and has continued to make me smile, even through the tears.
Rest in peace, my friend. You, indeed, were awesome and you will be missed.
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