by John. John’s oldest & coolest friend died by suicide in 2010.
A.’s father is fading now.
Color is edging out of his face, and he leans harder on his cane. He would interrupt here to politely insist that this is immaterial; he’s been dead eight years. But he endures.
I don’t see him often enough, not least because he’s quality entertainment. Rich is an archetype of the Gloriously Mad, like Mr. Toad or Jack Sparrow. We’re meeting for lunch, and he plunges into explaining his current project: going to the mall before it opens and feeding the resident stray cat community. He finds a quiet spot, opens the back of his jeep, and relaxes with the forgotten little creatures.
For some reason one brisk morning, a mall cop told him to clear out. Honoring A.’s fondness for our whiskered cousins, Rich responded with indignant defiance probably not fully backed up by trespassing law. I can’t remember the precise insult he used, but suffice it to say he was bursting with glee while he repeated it and is now persona non grata at the mall.
Since a feud had opened with the mall cop community, Rich couldn’t let matters rest. He turned to stealth to continue his catering. First, preparation: he carefully noted the cops’ morning routines, days off, and comparative thoroughness. Recon complete, he adjusted his schedule and positioning of his jeep to avoid searching mall cop eyes. I’m happy to report the cats remain full.
A drove the racer, a ‘72 Nova, in high school
We’re at a diner close to where he lives. He’s finished her truck and wants to show me. A. had an old blue truck with her in LA. It was a sort of noble, mostly a raggedy and scuffed sort. Rich has spent the last few years performing basically a concourse restoration on this 1998 S-10 pickup. It looks better than it did when it rolled off the assembly line, with a lake-deep paint job and blinding chrome. He referred to the project as therapy. Rich and A. had gone drag racing when they weren’t bow hunting or shouting at the news together. She drove their racer, a ‘72 Nova, in high school (she was the coolest).
So he also put an LS in it (translation: a big old V8). I hop in, he bludgeons my shin with his cane, and off we go. Rich never raises his voice anymore, and I can barely hear him over the roar. Similarly, he’s never fully paying attention, which makes barreling through the hills with him exhilarating.
He stops on a straight stretch. “I wanted to set it up like that old Nova, just fun, nothing crazy. A tribute, really. We had a lot of good times with that car…” Having illicitly operated said Nova, I nod in absolute agreement.
He continues, performing an enormous burnout and pretty swift ¼ mile without changing his tone or volume, “…I think she’d like the way this turned out. Don’t you?” I nod again. I can see her collapsing in laughter at us two goons. Victory.
Why am I telling you about this? It can’t be because Rich is that fascinating a character (although he is), or that we have such a glorious but volatile universe of memories (although we do).
It’s because Rich is a man continuing to live even in the worst circumstances imaginable. It wasn’t just once that I told A. she was the reason he existed, and it wasn’t just once she marvelled at his love. I can’t remember anyone else whose purpose had such a pure focus on another person as his did on her. Now, life as he knows it has been annihilated. His address is Dante’s ninth circle; the agony he endures is complete.
But I use the word “endure” for a reason. Endure is an unusual word whose popular use has fewer connotations than its formal definition. We use it when referring to drooping runners or battery life, but it literally means: To carry on through, despite hardships. To bear with tolerance. To continue in existence; last.
These definitions acutely convey the spirit of Rich’s journey. He has carried on by keeping her memory alive and keeping himself a helpful presence to others. He has borne his fate with tolerance, most of the time. And he has lasted admirably, if imperfectly. He has survived, so the mall cats do, too.
His story is worth passing along, I hope, because Rich has activated reserves of some sort of human strength I didn’t know existed. He lives with grace and honor, somehow. It’s my goal that someday we, too, can all fixate on covertly feeding a parking lot of stray cats. And it’s my dear wish for those of you who have been pulverized like he has to feel a glimmer of, if not yet hope, that feeling called “strangely hope-like.”
If you or someone you care about are struggling with suicidal thoughts please get help. 911 | 1-800-273-8255 | text “4hope” to 741741