Absent friends

A decade ago, I lost three of the closest people in my life, over the course of about a year. One simply vanished, his inbox overflowing, fate unknown. The second was my first wife, Donna, who died of breast cancer in the summer of 2008, after a three year battle she would never win.

The third was my friend Perry Clark. He was a gamer I met when I first moved to Seattle in ’97. A chef and raconteur who was endlessly charming and lovable. Former navy man who occasionally got called up to do things that involved disappearing without a trace for a week, and then coming home, unable to discuss.

But a dear friend.

When he had to return to Georgia to deal with an ailing parent, he drove there and then got stuck. Six months turned into years, and he found a job and and a good woman. I used one of those old Southwest travel passes I had accumulated in the day job, to fly him to Seattle for a week so he could be mybest man when Donna finally let me marry her, right at the end. Mostly, though, so I could get him home, to remind him.

Then I handed him off to some other friends who hadn’t seen him in years either.

That’s how good a friend and a man he was.

In February, 2009, I got a call. His number. A woman’s voice asking “Is this Blaze?”

And I knew immediately.

He had been at church on a Wednesday night, cooking dinner for the congregants, like he always did. Wasn’t feeling well, so he sat down, suddenly unable to breathe. His lips turned blue and he died in the arms of the pastor, surrounded by his other adopted family, returning to him all the love he had always given to those around him.

His sister told us the story. She flew up to Seattle a few months later, returning a few things, like the little brass telescope I had given him as a Best Man present, something he prized enough to have told her and others about it.

I miss him.

I miss them all, but today would have been his fifty-sixth birthday, and I never got a chance to say goodbye, or how much he meant to me. I hope he knew. I can only wake up and look at my phone, when it flashes the birthday reminders each day, and think about how much he would have enjoyed where my life had gone to.

He always took joy in the happiness and success of others, and I have tried to live my life the same way.

But today I miss him.

Happy birthday, dear friend. You are not forgotten.