When I started college in 2007, I was a biology/pre-med major. I wanted to be a doctor (for more on this, see this blog post: Why I Wanted to Be a (Medical) Doctor). I was taking a biology course with a four-hour lab that fall, and I got the flu one morning during the week and had to miss lab. Of course, I had to make it up once I was well, so I went in on a Friday with another student who had been absent to complete the lab activities we missed. This student's name was Steve, and we had never talked before since he didn't sit close to me, but we hit it off right away. I was 18, fresh out of high school, naive, focused on nothing but school. He was a paramedic in his late thirties with gray hair and six kids. We didn't have anything in common, but somehow we developed a wonderful friendship.
From that point forward, I sat with Steve in class and a couple other classmates, Heather and Cyndi. We all became close and would work together and study together for our biology class, often taking our work to South Bend's famous Oaken Bucket across from campus. They would drink beer, I would drink diet Pepsi. We would share appetizers. We would talk, laugh, and sometimes get some studying in.
We would talk about becoming doctors and achieving our dreams and goals. Steve said he wanted to go to medical school in Chicago and that he would take the train from South Bend to get there. I admired his drive and determination. He was very intelligent and seemed to know all the answers in our biology class.
Steve was very progressive and was on the fence about religion. I was a new Christian, eager to talk about my faith, but also wanting to hear the stories and beliefs of others. Steve invited me to Fiddler's Hearth, a well-known Irish pub in downtown South Bend for dinner one night, and we ended up talking for hours. He told me about his time in the Navy, his ex-wife and the four kids he had with her, his partner Erica and the child he had with her (his daughter Aley wasn't in the picture yet). I told him about my family, my best friend Cohen, the campus ministry I was involved with. I told him about my father and his accident and how he somehow survived. I will never forget Steve's response: "Kristin, he should have died. As a paramedic, I would have given him a 1% chance of survival." I think that was when he realized miracles existed, that they were real.
We ended up having many of these dinners at Fiddler's Hearth. Steve, an Irishman from a Catholic family, would drink Irish coffee and beer and we would eat cheese from a platter. We would share everything with each other, me always enjoying a rarebit grilled cheese with fries and plenty of ketchup. I thought of our meetings as a "theology pub" - a place where two completely different people with completely different beliefs would meet and talk and share stories and views and still be the best of friends. Steve was one of the most interesting people I've ever known, and he taught me a valuable lesson about people and life - you don't have to agree with someone to love them.
I got to meet his partner Erica and their son, Dominic. Later, I got to meet Steve and Erica's newborn daughter, Aley, and Steve's second-oldest daughter Brittany from his first marriage who became a cherished friend.
I was dating a guy named Josh when Steve and I first met, and he would always ask me if Josh was treating me right and that I deserved only the best. When I started dating Justin, Steve recognized him from classes he had taken with him at IU South Bend (Justin was also a science major for awhile). Steve called him a "punk," but gave his approval when he would see how happy Justin and I were together. His opinion mattered so much to me that I invited Steve to lunch with Justin and I so they could get to know each other better.
Justin had sinus surgery while we were dating, and I had to take care of him. There were a few complications, and I would be on the phone with Steve telling him about what was going on and Steve would be giving me advice, helping me stay calm, offering to come over as soon as possible. He was always calm in tough situations.
Right after my last semester of college ended, I was going through some crazy stuff in my personal life. I needed a place to stay, and Steve and Erica let me live with them. Their house had three bedrooms, one for them, one for Dom, and one for Aley, but they moved Dominic into Aley's room so I could have my own space. They didn't charge me a dime to live there. Steve's daughter Brittany had moved in with them, as well, and she was staying in the basement. There was one shower for the six of us, but it worked. I lived with them for the whole summer before I got back on my feet and was able to get an apartment with my best friend, and it was an experience I will always remember. I was a part of the family, and I could so strongly feel the love that their family felt for each other. Justin was always welcome, and Steve never thought I was weird when he would see me leaving the house at midnight with tennis rackets because Justin and I wanted to play a late-night game of tennis. Brittany would cook perogies for us, I would feed little Aley green peas off my plate, we would sing and dance with the kids. I loved being a part of their family.
Steve and Dom came to my graduation party after I finished college. Erica and Brittany celebrated with me at my wedding shower and my bachelorette party. Steve and Erica danced together at my wedding reception.
We lived life together. Steve was a once-in-a-lifetime friend who made a huge impact on me. He taught me about love, acceptance, generosity, caring for others. He is one of the most generous people I've ever known. He took in children who were not biologically his. He took me in.
I found out last night that Steve passed away. I am heartbroken for Erica and the kids. I can't imagine the pain they are feeling right now. I hope and pray that Steve could see God through me during all of our dinners together at Fiddler's Hearth, during the nights when Dom and Aley would come in my room after I had been sleeping and I would hug them and send them back to bed, when he would come to my campus ministry meetings with me on Thursday nights in college. I hope I will see him again one day in heaven.
Thank you for your friendship, Steve. I will miss you.