Goodbye, Old Friend

“Give us a call if you’re ever in the Bay Area.”

“Sure,” I wrote in reply, feeling a little bit disingenuous not because I wouldn’t call if I were there, but because San Francisco (and really any major urban area) is pretty low on my list of places to go.  Despite the great things many cities have to offer I’d rather be out in the wild.

“You’d love the Muir Woods.”

I never did get there.  Never called.

February 17th was a very normal Wednesday for me.  I can recall what we had for dinner because I use my calendar for menu planning.  I can tell from a review of my work email that I was very busy that day, but nothing was out of the ordinary.  I also recall that my husband and I were making final arrangements to meet another couple out for dinner on Friday night.

A couple of days ago, I received an email from an old boyfriend.  We’re in touch only now and then though we live in the same  town.  Usually about something related to electrical engineering.  The subject line of the email read:  “I don’t know if you’ve seen this yet”.  Fairly normal, since we usually shared links to the development of a new product or some other equally good or at least neutral happening.  Not so this time.  I could see from the text in the link that something horrible had happened.  I clicked on the link to find that an old friend of ours and two of this man’s current coworkers were killed in a small plane crash minutes after takeoff.  February 17th was obviously an awful day for three families, the company for which they all worked and for those who lived near the site of the crash, though in a small stroke of luck no one on the ground was injured.

Although we’d been in touch only a handful of times a year and usually by email in the last few years, this is someone I’d known since the early 1990’s and with whom I’d spent a lot of time in 2001-2002.  We did some cross-country skiing and some hiking.  We canoed often during the spring and summer of 2001 during the course of the stressful time surrounding my first home purchase which was also the summer after his divorce from his first wife.  It was the first time I’d had many opportunities to canoe since my father sold his canoe when I was ten years old.  We went a lot of places.  Cherokee Marsh, the Yahara River, the Pecatonica River and the Sugar River.  I actually bought Brian’s canoe when he moved to take a great job out of state.  I still canoe occasionally, though canoe ownership also led to the purchase of one kayak, then another.  I still go to Cherokee Marsh and the Yahara River when I’d like a quick paddling outing.  Often we’d canoe right after work and get some food afterwards.  Once we cooked a couple of venison steaks from the previous fall’s hunting trip and some Jimmy Nardello peppers alongside a salad of heirloom tomatoes that he’d grown in his garden.

Brian was scary smart and really funny.  He had interests ranging from everything about cars, motorcycles, both playing and listening to music, nature and the outdoors.  Since he moved away, we’d drifted apart with distance and life.  I met D. and got married.  He enjoyed the life his new state had to offer (downhill skiing through June!), advanced his career working for two great companies, remarried and had a daughter.

His death is not my tragedy and I wasn’t really sure I should write about it.  He leaves behind a wife and a daughter who turns 2 years old later this month.  From what I could tell she was the light of his life.  I hope everyone in her life who knew Brian can share with her who her father was as she grows older.   He also leaves his parents, his 3 brothers, an ex-wife with whom he’d managed to cultivate a friendship and countless friends and colleagues who have had more contact with him in the last few years than I have.  Except for a chance meeting a couple of summers ago when he and his dad were in town and had ridden down to campus to have lunch in library mall where I was having lunch with my sister, our contact has all been by email.  He’d send a link to his labs at the companies where he worked, or he’d email and talk about his daughter and include some pictures.  I’d send links to photo albums from paddling trips, told him about the great flood of ’08 and informed him when his favorite area restaurant changed its cuisine from mainly Argentinian to Norwegian (cured, brined, smoked and fresh anyone?)   When I’d changed my preferred email address some time in the past year and distributed that information, he sent me a link to a botanical community that exactly summed up my new email address.  I’d already seen it, but I thought that was nice.

We all walk through each other’s lives and leave things or learn things that we’ll associate with a certain person for all time.

Goodbye, old friend.  I think I’ll plant some Jimmy Nardello peppers this year.  I’ll also think of you now and then on the river trips.  Actually there’s always been a piece of you on the river trips.  Rest in peace.

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