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I’ve been saying “I love you” a lot recently. Not because I have been swept off my feet. Rather, out of a deep appreciation for the people in my life. My children, their significant others, and friends near and far.

I have been blessed to keep many faithful friendships, despite the transitions we all experience throughout our lives.  Those from childhood, reunited high school classmates, children of my parent’s friends (who became like family), and those I met at college, through work and shared activities. While physical distance has challenged many of these relationships, cell phones, and Facebook have made it easier than ever to stay in touch.

One such person was my college friend, Bill. I say was because I was shocked to learn he had recently passed away. Bill and I messaged each other very often, so how the void went unnoticed for several weeks is a testament to how preoccupied I was with my own life.

Bill and I met during my time at a large East Coast university. He had transferred from a revered military academy, and I from a small Boston-based liberal arts college. He was an Army brat, the oldest of three siblings. I was just a brat, the middle of three. It was the early 1980s, and we bonded over music (he must have worn out Michael Jackson’s “The Wall” senior week) and gin and tonics. He was ROTC, and I was a sports geek.

After graduation, he enlisted in the military, and I got a job at a local newspaper. Two years later, he took a leave to visit his college roommate, and we spent the day together.

That day will forever be etched in my mind. Not because we did anything fabulous. We were just a bunch of friends chatting, undoubtedly drinking and reminiscing, but because of an incident that changed how I saw things forever.

Bill and I were traveling from one campus to another, which required driving through the small city that houses the university. A recent urban renewal project had placed speed bumps throughout the streets. About halfway through the short trip, we noticed a police car that was closely tailing my car (a 1983 Buick Skylark, not a sports car). After two blocks, the police officer set a warning over his speaker, alerting me I was doing 30 in a 25-mile zone. Two blocks later he pulled me over, and a probationary office approached the car.

“License and registration,” he barked as he peered into my car. As he stared at my friend, he asked all sorts of questions, trying to determine where I was going. As the sister of a police officer, I politely but nervously obliged, and he returned to his car. After what seemed like hours, he returned with a ticket, which I later contested. When we went to court, the officer said he recalled the ticket (yeah, right). Yet, the officer who recalled me in the halls of the courthouse was not the one who wrote the ticket.

You see, Bill was African American, and I was not. A year later, the same police department was sued for racial profiling as were several other departments in nearby cities. Neither of us ever forgot how we were the victim of this practice, long before we knew the term for it.

As the years went on, we stayed in touch via phone calls and Bill’s wonderful Christmas cards. Eventually, we both married and set off on different paths. However, we remained in touch.

Despite being decommissioned during the closure of U.S. military bases in the early 1990s, Bill remained closely tied to the Army. He became a reservist and worked in information technology. His expertise made him highly sought after, including a secret trip to Iraq during the second Gulf War,

After his tour, the now-divorced Bill settled into a Southern city, near a military base, and resumed his life. He worked as a contract worker for the government and volunteered at the local performing arts center. I looked forward to his enthusiastic reports and reviews surrounding his experiences as an usher for opera, ballet, and chamber music performances. I shared my life as a mother and non-profit executive.

About a year ago, he temporarily moved closer to me for what was supposed to be six months. A mere six weeks later, the contract was canceled, and he returned home before we could meet up. I will forever regret the winter storm which prevented us from seeing each other.

I was disappointed, but he was happy to be home. A few weeks later, he casually mentioned he was not feeling well and would be visiting his VA for a checkup. Over the years, Bill had gained some weight and was also suffering from high blood pressure and controlled diabetes (both prevalent and often overlooked in the African American community).

Sadly our texts began to take on a more somber tone. “FYI Have an appointment with a pulmonary specialist tomorrow morning. Hopefully will diagnose why I am suffering from Pulmonary Hypertension and how to treat it.”

Then, “I just spoke w/pulmonary specialist. He’s going to schedule me for some tests, and I will be back in a couple of weeks to discuss the findings. Maybe be assigned to a Pulmonary Hypertension clinic as a follow-up.”

“Good afternoon. Went to the office to verify the PA submitted for both medications. Am now waiting at pharmacy.”

And finally, “Checked with appeals office; appeal for (one medication) was DECLINED; now to get back in touch with office.”

On January 21, I suggested that he work securing the drug and paying out of pocket and deal with it later” and he responded, “I think it will too be expensive without health insurance.”

A week later, he was gone, survived by a father, brother, large family, and many heartbroken friends, but before discovering he had passed, I sent the following unanswered texts. “Long time. no hear. Ok?” The next day, I sent the same message from my cell phone, “You okay?”

When that went unanswered, my heart sank, and I Googled his name; I knew. His obituary popped up. The last text I sent, said simply, “I love you 💗”.

Thankfully his brother has not removed his Facebook account, and I can go back and read over a decade of texts, emojis, and memesall a testament to a friendship begun on the Banks of the Old Raritan.

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Beth Bate-DuBoff

Beth is not just a regular mom, she is the proud mom, more specifically wrestling mom, to three sons (30, 27, 23) and two rambunctious cats. Writing has been the constant in her life since she was a child. Once a sportswriter, Beth is now a non-profit executive who uses her talents and passion to help advocate for people with mental illness and ensure they receive equal access to the services they need to live healthy, independent lives.   When she is not watching her young men grapple she can be found in the gym or by the beautiful Hudson River where she loves to walk and enjoy outdoor concerts in the summer. Beth sincerely believes that the hardest times often lead to the greatest moments of your life. Thanks to the love and support of her her friends and her sons, who have shown her that “once you've wrestled, everything else in life is easy" Beth can see the best is yet to come.

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