After hearing news about the Thursday passing of Timothy Dwight College dining hall employee Donna Colon, Jared Dworken ’11 decided to draft a letter of remembrance about his former friend. He e-mailed the letter to the Timothy Dwight community Monday morning.
I remember my first day at Yale, moving into TD. It was a warm and sunny August morning; the leaves still a rich summer green. Living only minutes from campus, I was obviously the first freshman to arrive at TD that day, a bright and early 7:30. In fact, I was so early that Dean Loge had to gently turn my father and me away. “We won’t be ready until 8:30,” he said softly. I went back to the street and sat in the front seat of the car. The rays of sunlight warmed my skin as they came through the glass.
My heart was pounding inside my chest; there were pains deep in my stomach. Although not far from home, it would be my first time “away” from home. The thought of embarking on this new journey, of being “on my own,” brought both feelings of anxiety and excitement. Needless to say, I felt like vomiting on my shoes.
The time came; it was 8:30. Travis, my freshman counselor, aided by his band of ready and willing red-shirted TD underlings, came to assist me, their first customer, with my various bags and boxes, not to mention the “massive TV.” Wow! They were so eager to help. I, of course, capitalized on the opportunity, not lifting even a finger to help, except to point out which door was mine.
Having “moved myself in” and with nothing to do, I wandered back out into the courtyard, my dad in tow, and saw from entryway F a table near the town hall doors. There was a woman there, setting up what looked to me like – oh, God yes – giant urns of coffee. My dad and I walked over to fill our respective travel mugs (never leave home without one). The woman then turned to me and said smilingly, “Hey babe, my name is Donna, and I’m gonna be takin’ care of you here.” She could see how little blood there was in my face. “You’re gonna see me every morning, and I’m gonna take good care of you,” she repeated.
Indeed, she did, and hers was the first face I saw nearly every morning for the next two years.
Being, as Master T once wrote, Jared “Early Bird” Dworken, it was my face, too, that Donna would first see come through the dining hall doors each day. My alarm was set for 7:50, an ungodly hour to the average TDer. But Donna had been up since 5 and had been in TD since not long after. The sun rose each day as she prepared the morning meal. It was quiet, the children still fast asleep. At 8, I would arrive. Donna would be sitting at the desk reading the Register. “How ya doin’, honey?” she would say. “Good,” I would reply, smile, and proceed.
In the kitchen, the fruit was freshly cut, the coffee made, the bagels and cream cheese all arranged, cereal bins full, and oatmeal steaming hot – as if by magic. Donna would not let me forget, though, that magic it was not. “You know who cut all that damn fruit, don’t you?” she said as I forked slices of cantaloupe onto my plate. “Thaaaank you, Donnaaaa!” I would reply with obnoxious intonation, like the way kids answer when asked, “Now what do you say?”
With no one else around, Donna and I took to bitching about life, usually loudly, and almost always with gratuitous profanity (she would joke that I was a bad influence and was likely going to get her fired). Our complaining was all in jest, though, and we generally came to the conclusion that life could be a whole lot worse, and that we just needed to get through each day as best we could. “Just do what you gotta do,” she would always say. I took that advice to heart.
This year, I have been in the dining hall much less frequently. Being across the street, or “wherever,” made the trip for breakfast that much more of a trip. It no longer felt like I was walking from my bedroom to my kitchen. The street is a strange divide. Donna called me one day to find out where I’d been. I told her, I’ll be around more often, I promise. I just have to cross the street. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it over as often as I had hoped. I can only regret it now.
Donna was, in a way, like a mother to me. I rolled out of bed each morning and walked across the courtyard (in winter, always underground) to the sight of freshly cut fruit, the smell of hot coffee, and to Donna sitting at the desk waiting for me. Although the fruit and coffee will still be there, Donna’s smiling face and sassy attitude sadly will not. For me, she made this house a home. My home. I will miss her desperately and will remember her always.