That’s what Derek called me. His puzzle piece. I fit neatly into the corner of his shoulder, like I was supposed to be there. It also represented how we felt about our relationship. We had both been knocked about in love and relationships for many years. So we were surprised to find ourselves acting like teenagers in love for the first time. It was just so easy to be together.
It had been like that from the first day.
At the time, I was stationed in Norfolk, Virginia, serving as faculty at the Joint Forces Staff College. We taught ten-week operational planning courses, and the College often sent teams of three faculty members out to conduct satellite courses. I volunteered for the satellite course in Omaha, partly to get out of Norfolk for the summer and partly because I always loved seeing new places. I’d never been to the Midwest, figured this would be my only opportunity, and thought it would be fun.
The College, in its infinite wisdom, decided to make me the team lead. I’d only participated in two ten-weeks courses in Norfolk. I had not been a team lead, nor had I participated in a satellite course as a faculty member. I was unprepared, stressed out and unsure of myself, to put it mildly. The other two individuals who had traveled with me from Norfolk were not particularly helpful. The only person who was helpful was the one person who didn’t have to be.
The University of Nebraska Omaha (UNO) had offered classroom spaces to the College to conduct the ten-week course. Derek was our primary point of contact. He was a consistently helpful, kind and gracious host. I was so grateful for him. Whenever I had a question, the answer was always, “Yes”. We quickly bonded over the challenges of classroom technology (he was the tech master), especially trying to use my Mac. He jokingly nicknamed it, ” the Gameboy”.
It took me a while to figure out whether we were flirting or not. It took me longer to build up the courage to do anything about it. I remember accosting him in his office, asking why he would not let the faculty take him out to lunch to say thank you for all that he’d done for us. (I thought I was being so subtle) Well, he said that he wasn’t allowed to accept “gifts” and since lunch would occur during the workday, it was considered a “gift”. A drink after work, on the other hand, might be ok . . . . hahaha . . . . and so it began.
That first night, Derek told me he was sick. I knew better than he did how much time he didn’t have. He tried to scare me away, but I wouldn’t be. I knew he was special, and I felt that we could have something special. For someone who grabbed life with both hands, there was no way I was going to miss out on this – even if it meant I had to say goodbye too soon.
We squeezed every bit of life and fun into the time we had together. We went camping, cooked breakfast and dinner (vegan – bless him for joining me on all my food adventures, and having fun along the way), visited wineries, danced outside CVS for no particular reason at all, spent a fair bit of money on plane tickets and told each other how much we loved each other. We spent so many hours in his work Zoom room that the admin folks asked if there was a new university contact in Norfolk!
We lost Derek on September 8, 2020.
Our lives will never be the same.
I loved Derek more than I have ever loved anyone. Derek cherished me and took care of me in a way no one has ever done. He positively showered me with love. It was just easy to be with each other. I was happier in our short time together than I’ve been at any other point in my life. I am forever grateful for the time we had, for the joy and love we shared.
I could not bear to leave Omaha, thinking it was for the last time. I could not bear to leave Omaha without taking Derek with me (at least in spirit). So he came along with me on the plane, and I will take him with me on my future adventures.
We had wanted to travel. He wanted to take me out West, and to take a sailboat around the Caribbean. I’ve tentatively got a trip out West planned for this coming summer. It has taken me a long time to get to a place where I could write this post. I miss Derek every day, and am still coming to terms with my life without him.
Rest in peace, baby. We love and miss you so very much.