He was one of the best friends I ever had, only a friend at work, but still one of my fondest memories. I can't remember how many years he had been a park ranger, not too many; and he soon became a bike ranger on that little 19 acre state park right in the midst of the metropolis. The downhill side of middle age, it wasn't uncommon for an older lady to flirt a bit with him; as he always looked like a seasoned Swiss hiker in that summer shorts uniform with those beefy calves, really handsome.
'This guy's way too negative to waste time on' was my first impression. Always greeted my 'good morning' on his entries into the gift shop with 'what's good about it'. I liked his looks, seemed intelligent, and even with the negative remarks, he didn't walk about with a perpetual black cloud hanging over his head. I wanted to get to know him. Of all the ones working there, I wanted to talk to him most. How does one break the ice with a person showing no interest in too many friendships? My feeble or cunning attempt was to greet him the next morning with just 'morning Ross', with the accent on morning, and that actually worked as he laughed and said hi. It all just gradually from there blossomed into a really close, trusting friendship.
I would be sitting at the counter in cash register area of shop, and he would set up his chair on the other side with his cup of hot tea and morning paper. Sometimes we talked about very personal feelings of spouses and families and ourselves. Chicago raised, he often bantered with me on naming my new cat, Sophie, as that was his no-love-lost ex's name. Sometimes we talked about the news from the newspaper he was reading or from whatever I was reading. Lots of times we talked about food (don't ask me why...we just did), and shared our experiences with great places to visit in town, out of town, out of state. Sometimes we talked about nothing. It was just silence with us sipping tea and reading. One time on a slow weekend he brought in darts and a board, and we attached the governor's photo, and had a blast for the remainder of that afternoon.
Days that became hectic with many tour bus stops, he was the one who always stepped in to keep me from drowning in all that craziness. He was the ranger who took pity, and worked with me on monthly inventories. I never had to ask, he was always there just at the right moments. It was a relationship that fit like a cozy warm glove. When I transferred to my current job, he was my one regret on leaving that crap hole of a place. He was also at the time transferring to another park closer to home, his and mine, but I never saw him again after that...I don't know why...I just didn't. Once I called, and he was on vacation. The next time he was off that day. There was no third time. I wondered about that sometimes. Maybe I was afraid that the magic between us would no longer be there. He was after all just a friend at work, and we no longer worked at the same place. We no longer had that one thing in common, that connection that bound us together. He never did look me up. I wondered if he half tried like I had.
My boss told me Ross was hit and killed by a car while checking his mailbox, and I cried and cried and cried. I had an amazing number of people call me that day and ask if I was okay. No, I wasn't okay, but they apparently thought we had kept up the friendship, and I just could not tell them that wasn't so. More asked at the funeral, and again I let them assume we had always stayed close. I'm writing this now and my eyes are filling with tears, but neither one of us kept up the relationship when distance was put between us. He was one of the best friends I have ever had, only a friend at work, but still one of my fondest memories.