The last time I really talked to him, he had just learned of the disease that would quickly take his life.
We were eating at a small, crowded and overheated restaurant where he’d asked me to meet him, said he needed to tell me something – something he didn’t want in the paper but that he understood I’d need to know.
He was going in for surgery in a few days.
It was late summer, and I was very much pregnant and his sons’ age and he tended to forget I was a reporter, that our regular lunches were about area news, not personal news. But mostly I let it pass, because building relationships is part of newsgathering.
We’d look at pictures on his phone of his sons, their wives; talked about trips he’d taken with his wife, his goal of eating ice cream in every state, about his lake house and whether he’d ever move out of state, join his sons once grandkids started coming.
He wanted to talk about the baby, about how I was feeling.
That hot day he asked me to drive him home, doctors’ orders kept him from behind the wheel. And just before he left the car he handed me the box.
It’s never good when a source gives a reporter a gift and men giving women jewelry is a whole different layer of problems; and so I had to give it back.
I can get fired over something like this, I told him. I know you meant it as a friend but I can’t take gifts.
I saw him once or twice after that, after the surgery and when I came back from maternity leave, but we never had lunch again. It was different, somehow.
He died last month, out with his sons.
I saw his picture in the paper and remembered how quickly he returned my calls, how easy he made it to cover his area. I remembered our last lunch.
And I wished it had ended differently.