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I’m a morning person, so being up at 5 a.m. is a given for me. But I don’t usually text anyone that early.
The only person I’ve ever texted in the early morning hours is my buddy, Nate Metschke, and that’s because in the summers he led the detasseling crew and was usually up and headed to a field at the same time I was starting my day.
Still, texting at 5 a.m. on Christmas Eve seemed a little odd, but I did it anyway. Nate was having surgery that day to remove a cancerous mass from his liver, and I almost always sent him a pun or joke to lighten the mood on tough days.
No one loved puns more than Nate. As a longtime band teacher at Neligh-Oakdale, he slipped in at least three groaners during every holiday or spring concert. No one could make a crowd groan and smile at the same time with a “What do you call a ...” joke like Nate could.
But Monday morning felt different. I couldn’t send a joke, so I typed a short “you got this” message. Then I hit backspace and deleted it. It wasn’t enough this time. I’ve known Nate since high school — we both graduated Class of 1997, him from Chambers and me from Orchard. We went to college together at Midland, though I liked to remind him that I graduated two semesters earlier and beat him done.
His first and only job was at Neligh-Oakdale, where he taught both of my daughters. Nate and I have been close for years, so of course I rubbed it in last September when he turned 40, asking him how it felt it the big 4-0. He said, “A lot like 25.” I’m almost a year in age younger than Nate, so he promised to break in 40 for me, like a good friend would.
I thought about what to text for a couple of minutes. Finally, I told him that he inspires me to be a better person. No matter how tired and sick he felt from the chemotherapy, Nate never let his students see it. He always smiled, asked them about their lives and stayed positive.
In my text, I told him surgery was going to go well and I’d be down to see him when he felt up to having company. Nate was like my brother, so when he told me he had cancer, it was a punch that almost knocked me to the ground. It was nearly a month before he said anything publicly, and I didn’t say a word to anyone other than my husband until he put it out there. Honestly, I didn’t want to say the words out loud.
But the night he confided his sickness, Nate told me he was going to beat it. And he did - he rang that victory bell. But when the cancer came back, it attacked hard and fast. Yet, he again told me he would beat it, and he had a plan.
I typed that his surgeon was going to get all of the cancer and added to my text, “Love ya buddy.” I’m not sure I had ever typed that to him before and l can’t explain why, but I needed to tell him.
Nate and Darcy were almost to the hospital when he received my message, so he replied immediately. His text was seven sentences. Those were the last words my friend ever sent me. It’s funny, we texted and messaged often, but it’s his voice I keep hearing in my head now that he’s gone.
I’ve learned so much from my friend, and he continues to inspire me to be a better person. Still, I could really use one of his trademark texts, lifting my spirits and telling me I’ll get through this. Although I’ll never receive that text from him, I do have memories and a goal of being more like him.
I’m starting today, so . . . What do you call someone who puts everyone else first, can bring an entire community together with just one phrase and is looking down on us all right now while directing a choir of angels?