I dreaded this day. It had been coming for months - ample time to prepare. But I still still dreaded this day because things were going to change and the change was going to remind me that Time can be a right old bastard.
This story really starts in June 1988 when I began my employment at the place where I toil to this very day (forgive my Dickensian flourishes). While I was somewhat experienced in my craft, I was still young with plenty of space between my ears to fill up with experience and knowledge. There I met Charles, already a veteran of the Firm and one of the smartest computer geeks I had ever met (or ever would meet, as it turns out). Charles needed a programmer to work with him on a bit of a research project and I was the kid assigned to write the code for him.
What was supposed to be a 3-week engagement turned into a 23-year partnership of sorts. Inside the office: he was often my mentor, we worked together on countless projects, we travelled the continent on behalf of the Firm, and we somehow survived the brutality that is life inside a mega-corp. Outside the office: we played in the same D&D group, knew each other's families well enough, shared similar hobbies, and considered ourselves friends.
Through the years, I think we always just assumed we'd always be at our desks, always a shout away. No matter what changes Time would impose on the Firm, at least we'd still be around to chat about how great things used to be. But in the back of my mind, I knew Charles - 15 years my senior - would not be at desk someday.
And so I dreaded November 3, 2011, because that was the day Charles was leaving the desk just across the hall from mine. It had happened gradually, I suppose. We seldom worked together on the same projects anymore. Charles' work took him out of the city more and more, and while we kept in touch almost daily, his desk was often abandoned. I got used to it.
I had expected Charles to retire. He kept promising he would, but it was always 'just a couple more years'. So we were surprised when he announced that, rather than retire, he was moving (reluctantly) to another city to be closer to his current work assignment and closer to where his grown children (and grandson) now live. Again, retirement was going to be 'just a couple more years' away.
Houses were bought and sold, and Charles set a date to leave the local office for good. We couldn't let the day pass uncelebrated, so myself and another co-worker spent the afternoon with Charles taking a long, expensive lunch break and then retiring to a lounge with comfortable chairs where we could talk about the old days while a waitress kept our glasses full.
At the end of the day, I helped Charles carry the last of his office possessions to his car. A sunny day turned grey with clouds and the wind grew cooler. We stood there, just the two of us, by his car.
"Well, buddy. This is it, I guess", he said, extending his hand. His voice cracked.
I shook his hand and mumbled something about keeping in touch. And then we hugged in that awkward way men hug. Both remarked at how surreal it all was, and then I wandered off into the darkening afternoon.
We will keep in touch, of course. Our work lives will intersect from time to time. And Charles will likely need to visit the local office now and then. I'm guessing we'll even get to take one of our usual lunchtime walks on some of those occasions.
But everything has changed. Time has seen to that. What has been constant for 23 years has disappeared, simply because it must make way for new constants. But that doesn't make Time any less a right old bastard.