I had a meeting today and arrived to find the parking lot relatively empty. Upon reading a sign informing me of the lack of parking rules for the holiday, I proceeded to a spot much closer to my building and left my car there.
I congratulated myself on my lightweight blouse, frowning only slightly when I noticed it was quite sheer. Apparently I have a habit of wearing nearly transparent clothing of late. I pushed my way through hot humidity toward the office, pleased that I wasn't perspiring too much. A quick check in the mirror confirmed that this shirt was borderline inappropriate, but my hair and make-up survived the hike to my desk.
I woke up my computer and changed my calendar over to July, saying good-bye to the baby giraffes and hello to the baby deer peeking through yellow flowers. I thought briefly that if I told you about the baby deer, I'd look up the appropriate name for it. Dog:Puppy as Cat:Kitten as Deer:something other than baby deer.
I didn't get to google it.
Instead I made a text file for my meeting and headed over to talk to a faculty member, Tim, about some results before I met with a group outside my speciality this afternoon. I'm the only one of us going, so I wanted to touch base, confirm my conclusions, glance through my data.
As I stood there, just beginning to look down at the graphs I brought with me, my boss - kind and wise and lovely - entered the office, and I automatically smiled to greet him.
"Hello!" I said, not waiting for him to return my greeting. I'm nothing if not efficient. "I was just going to go over some of this histogram data. You have good timing!" Then I stopped because my happy statement was met with a relatively blank stare.
"I have some bad news for you." He said, and I glanced at Tim, still seated behind his desk. He looked away and I returned my increasingly concerned stare to my boss, cocking my head. Saying nothing.
"We think Winnie was killed in an accident this weekend." Then he paused to gather himself while I clutched my papers tighter.
I blinked rapidly and asked softly, "We think? Or we know?"
"Her other department called this morning." He said, and I noted tears in his eyes and closed my own briefly in an attempt at dignity. "They seemed sure, but I've been unable to confirm it."
I looked down, then asked if her children were rumored to be with her. He said not, and I nodded.
"I'm sorry." I whispered, though it wasn't directed toward either of the men in the room. But it was a true statement - I am deeply sorry.
"You'll let me know if you hear differently. If it isn't true." I said at the same time he stated that we'd try to get something together for her family.
He pressed his lips together upon hearing my request, and nodded. "I'll find out as much as I can today." Then he left, leaving me alone with Tim.
I met his eyes momentarily, looked down, and swallowed. "I don't know what to say." I offered, hugging myself tightly, blinking back tears.
"Yeah..." He sighed, shaking his head. "We can go over that later." He nodded at the papers clutched to my chest.
"Yes." I nodded, took a couple steps away. "Of course. Thank you."
I made my way to a rest room, washing my hands and listening to the water run. It soothes me. I gave myself a moment beofre wiping my eyes and telling myself to assume it was a misunderstanding. Then I returned to my desk.
I kept working. Answering email. Making calls. Trying to arrange meetings for the remainder of this week and next to make sure everything's arranged - ready to start - planned. And my hands shake because Winnie likely did the same thing on many days. Arranged notes in binders so she could find them later. Noted meetings in calendars for when she got back from her trip. Mapped out a grant she'd submit in October - I hadn't yet emailed her my files so she could work from an example. She was finishing papers to fill holes in her CV. She looked forward to spending more time with her children and husband. She'd had an appointment about some health concerns. I was going to ask her about it the next time I saw her.
I wrote email to Dryden last night - mentioned that someone had drowned near my house. How awful that must be - to go for a day with friends and never return. How terrible it would be to expect someone to return - to have no reason not to be ready to see him or her - and to learn that wasn't happening.
I watched The King and I once on television. I started to get upset when it didn't look so good for the king. Threatened to stop watching. Mom told me it would be fine - that he'd awaken and begin to dance. He didn't. I cried. Sometimes it doesn't turn out the way you wanted. Likewise, as I comforted myself with the thought of rumors, I was prepared when I checked in before leaving. Boss would have details of the services soon, he said. He did have more details of the accident.
I'm completely sorry and deeply regret that she's gone. We'd spoken recently of the impact our work was to make. How we'd improve outcome for cancer patients and that the long hours, stress and time away from family and friends were somehow worthwhile. It was a struggle, yes, but one that seemed worthy of our time and attention.
She was beautiful. Friendly and genuine and welcoming and funny. She stopped to ease my nerves before my talk, explaining some concept I was too nervous to grasp. I assumed I'd just ask her to tell me again sometime, trade knowledge we'd gained through years of education. Offer additional support through trying to navigate the academic world, though we were too busy to become real friends.
I don't know what to say, other than to let you know that I think the research community lost an incredible member, for this was a surprisingly, profoundly sad day. I've avoided close friendships since arriving here - the knowledge that I'll leave in the relatively near future keeps me pretty contained. But I'll miss her - wish that I'd made more time, looked a little closer, and been more aware that some relationships are more fleeting than I expected.
I'm just so very sorry. And sad. And this is one of the few times that writing it down didn't help at all.