Finding Friendship at City Hall

Posted on August 8, 2022


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What I’m Reading: Just finished Normal People by Sally Rooney, Wonder by R.J. Palacio, and Seven Days in June by Tia Williams

What I’m Listening To: Maggie Rogers’ Surrender

What I’m Watching: my dog, Lola, carrying her beloved Burt around the house

“Why is Sarah calling me?” I thought to myself. My heart rate picked up. “Why isn’t Brian calling me?” The phone grew hot in my hand, the sound of my kids running around the kitchen island muted, as if underwater. The phone vibrated again. MISSED CALL.

I stared at the bright screen, frozen as if ignoring the call would delay the inevitable on the other end. I texted Sarah back, “Is everything OK?” knowing deep in my soul that everything was not OK. Three little continuation dots appeared while I made my way back to the bedroom and closed the door.

“No,” Sarah replied. “It’s Brian.”

To this day, I don’t know Sarah’s exact words. Heart attack. Sudden. Didn’t make it.

“I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.” I repeated it over and over. My ears buzzed, my body numb, chest tight. Shaken.

Hold it together. Hold it together. Hold it together.

“Mommy, are you OK?”

“No, Mommy is not OK,” I said slowly as I crumpled to the cold, tile floor in long, hot, heavy sobs. I have no idea how long I was on the floor before I finally got up.

Brian Chatman was my first friend at Fort Worth City Hall in 2009. He was the gatekeeper for website edits (among other things) and our Department’s web pages were years out of date. I was on a mission to get permission for admin rights and Brian was not going to let me have them without vetting me first. I groaned at the idea, but Brian quickly won me over with his snark and dark humor.

Brian and I became fast friends. We ate lunch together nearly every Tuesday due to “Double-punch Tuesday” at our favorite sandwich joint, although we ate anywhere that could count as a sandwich, including tacos. Often we would walk to lunch, following the path of the “Walking Man,” sometimes walking an extra block (or three) to avoid having to stop and wait for traffic. When it rained, we would walk under the shelter of City Hall’s covered walkways, competing to see who would get all of their blinking FitBit dots first.

We coded web pages while listening to Ted Leo and the Pharmacists. We overshared, talked about the world, what we were struggling with, things we found funny (even if only to us), and music over frozen pizza while we patiently waited for our iPhone 3Gs to update over his wi-fi. If you look up the word, “audiophile” you will certainly find Brian’s name. Our music taste was exceedingly different, but we swapped CDs (!) and mp3s anyway; music was our common religion. He insisted vinyl was the ideal way to listen to an album and introduced me to Good Records and the magic of Record Store Day. When Sarah and Brian got married, Quiet Company played at their wedding reception.

I remember the first time Brian introduced me to Sarah, right before a Double-punch Tuesday lunch one day. They were electric, absolutely perfect for each other. As soon as she left, I told him that they would get married. No surprise, I think he already knew.

Brian had a million amazing, wonderful ideas around city planning, public transit, and web design, some which would later come to fruition after he passed. His humor would leave you in stitches, his wit and love for his TCU Frogs unmatched (except second to his love for his wife, Sarah and his son, Jonas), and was unsparingly generous. He was full of kindness, cared deeply for those he loved, and questioned the world in the best way. Fort Worth – and City Hall – were better for it.

Once we got into an argument, but today I couldn’t tell you what it was about. All I know is I would do just about anything to have those days back. 

Brian’s premature departure at the age of 35 left a giant space in the hearts of many. I still visit his grave when struggling with something, to share good news, or just be and share a half-and-half tea. Friendships like these are as rare as red diamonds, transforming our lives endlessly richer. I was lucky enough to find Brian. May we all be lucky enough to find dear friends, even in places where we may least expect it.

Even at City Hall. Especially at City Hall.

“We should be remembered for the things we do. The things we do are the most important things of all. They are more important than what we say or what we look like. The things we do outlast our morality. The things we do are like monuments that people build to honor heroes after they’ve died. They’re like the pyramids that the Egyptians built to honor the pharaohs. Only instead of being made out of stone, they’re made out of the memories people have of you. That’s why your deeds are like your monuments. Built with memories instead of with stone.” ~ Auggie Pullman from Wonder

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