It’s been 3 years already. I can’t believe how recent if feels.
3 years ago this morning 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 toolbar. It was an FB message from my mountain biking buddy Barbara.
Did you hear about Rick?
He died last night
***shock sets in***
I’ll 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 frequently. 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, 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?” Rick asked.
Defeated, I agreed.
I’m so thankful for this picture now, 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 stepped outside and called Barbara. She was an emotional wreck. She had found his body. She had gone to his house after he didn’t answer her calls. It would be then that I learned that she and Rick had been dating. She surmised that I may have been the last person to see him alive.
Rick was estranged from his wife, I knew that. He never mentioned her name, but told me that she was a “cheater and a liar” during our many conversations while pounding through the woods. She had betrayed him so he left her. I never interrupted as he talked of her, but if I did I could have told him a similar story. Mine was over 20 years ago but so similar.
Barbara asked if I would go to his wake with her. I gladly 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 patiently 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.
She was the story I wanted to tell Rick about. What are the odds?
I got to the receiving line, Deb and I 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.”
Barb and I would ride together for another year before I got sick again. We found a tree on our favorite trail and carved his initials in it. Every ride we would stop, take our helmets off and reflect, say a prayer by the side of the pond and then move on.
Rick was a very nice man. He walked the earth with zero pretense and true love for his fellow man. Our friendship was only beginning but I know we would have grown to be great friends had he lived. The world was a better place with him in it, that I know for sure.
As it turns out we shared a lot more than he would ever realize. I almost wish I could tell him about our common connection. I’m pretty sure that he would laugh his ass off. In fact, I know he would.
I bro-hugged Rick, mud and all, that night. I had every reason to believe that I would see him again but it felt right to let him know how I felt about him. That is the only real consolation I have. If you care about someone, tell them. You might not have another chance.
***segments of this post are borrowed from a previous post (of mine). Noone read it then so I added to and revised it on this 3rd anniversary of my dear friend’s passing***