My phone vibrated for what seemed like the one-hundredth time that morning. I was stuck in another endless meeting and I knew that checking my phone was taboo. In order to see if it was an important message or an FB notification required me to dig my phone out, it was a gamble because my megalomaniac boss had a “thing” about cell phones during meetings. I gambled, unlike most in my office, my job required of me a lot of access by our customers so it wasn’t uncommon for me to take a call. It was a company phone after all. I put the phone in front of me while feigning interest in the monotony going on around me and glanced at the tool bar. It was an FB message from my mountain biking buddy Barbara.
did you hear about Rick?
He died last night
call you as soon as I can
That indelible moment when you realize you just lost a good friend.
Rick, Barbara and I mountain biked together. Barbara and I were part of a larger group but we paired up a lot because we were the same skill level, had similar schedules and were close friends. Rick was a Fire Chief by day who was a friend of a friend of Barbara’s who had recently joined us on some rides. Rick and I became fast friends and it wasn’t long before he and I would squeeze in an extra ride on nights when others weren’t available. The night before was one of those rides and I had the bloody shin and bruised ego to show for it.
Rick had gladly assumed the role of making me a better rider. He wasn’t much to look at but he was very athletic for his age and body type and surprisingly coordinated. He had been making me try increasingly difficult terrain and I was doing well. That night we went somewhere new, a State Forest notorious for its technical (difficult) terrain. 30 minutes and 2 miles in, I followed him across a makeshift bridge of 2X4’s over a muddy ravine. I panicked, I helplessly watched as my front tire wobbled and I went in, face first.
It was horrible. There was only black, putrid mud. I went in elbows deep, my torso from my chest down was drenched. I stood up, in disbelief, starting scraping the shit off of me and there is Rick, laughing his ass off.
“I’m sorry to laugh, I should ask if you’re ok first.” He wasn’t sorry, he was having a blast. I must have been a sight!
I was a little bloody, but my ego was bruised worse than my leg. And my bike was broken, the front brakes were damaged. The wheel wouldn’t move. I was looking at a 2-mile hike carrying a bike. Then Rick somehow fixed it enough that I could ride it out. He just happened to have the tools.
In the parking lot, he looked at me and we both started laughing. I was a mess, covered in mosquito bites (the little bastards loved the smell of that mud) and I was stained black.
“Want a picture for memories sake?” Defeated, I agreed.
I’m glad for this picture, after all how would I know that I would never see him again? He died at home, of a heart attack about 4 hours after that picture was taken.
I called Barbara, she was an emotional wreck. It turns out they were dating. He was estranged from his wife, I knew that she was a “cheater and a liar” from our many conversations while pounding through the woods. She had found him, she went to his house after he didn’t answer her calls. She asked if I would go to his wake, of course I agreed.
Have you ever been to a Firefighter’s wake? Or a Chief’s for that matter. There were thousands of people, police details, Firefighters in full dress, friends, family and respectful citizens patiently waiting in a line that would wind through the old Victorian Funeral Home for 2 hours. Barbara and I and a few other Mountain Biking friends waited together. Finally, as we reached the point where we could see into the viewing room, I saw a pair of legs that looked hauntingly familiar. The first thought that came to mind I immediately tried to chase out of my head.
No! The widow, AKA the cheater and liar is Deb?!?! I waited impatiently now, to get a better view. As I got closer I realized it was true. The widow was my first serious girlfriend out of High School. Not the one that got away, I let this one get away. She lied to me and cheated on me too. I, 20 years before Rick met her, parted ways with her for the same reasons.
I got to the receiving line, we made very awkward small talk and I got the hell out of there. Outside, Barbara asked me why I looked so messed up. I told her. Her answer…
“only you, dude. Only you could go to a funeral and have this happen.”
Rick was a very nice man. I know we would continue to be good friends had he lived. But it turns out we shared a lot more than he would ever realize. I know that he would laugh his ass off if he heard this story.