bill and i went to high school together. but it wasn't until our 20th reunion that we became friends.
the night before the reunion there was a backyard party hosted by our mutual friend, fern. that's where i bumped into him. literally. i turned around and bill took a red solo cup to the well dressed wrist. i was embarrassed and shooting my apologies a mile a minute, he was chuckling and nonchalant about it. while mopping up we got to talking. and hands down had one of the better conversations i'd had not only that weekend, but in some time.
i'm a stay at home mom. i home school. the minute people hear this *i* can hear their eyeballs fighting to not roll back in their heads. i am patronized at best. sometimes people struggle for even the slightest kind thing to say. like when you hear someone sincerely profess their love of dressing cats. mostly the conversation gets changed and the room scanned for an out.
not bill. he seemed genuinely interested. he asked me questions and listened to the answers. i was impressed not only because i was well aware of his vast intellect and genius, but that he was so damned sincere. we were chatting away so much that a half an hour passed before i knew it. and in my typical subdued style i whacked him on the shoulder and said
'OH MY GOD! i like you SO MUCH!'
(to his credit he didn't run away screaming. he just chuckled.)
then i said
'how come we didn't know each other in high school?!'
to which he replied in a very matter of fact way
'umm, we had classes together every single year.'
along with being a klutz and a brute, there's my memory; not so good.
anyway the rest of the weekend i ended up spending more time with bill and other friends. and found in bill a kind, funny, and hilarious new friend. funny on purpose, and sometimes funny like the straight man to chaos. and i won't go into detail in order to protect those who are way more than old enough to know better, but it is fair to say some of the best times i spent that weekend included bill in the mix. and it is also fair to say they were totally judd apatow worthy moments. seriously. it's always those quiet genius types you have to watch out for.
i saw bill again the next year at a mutual friend's wedding in portland. he met my kids and my husband. he told me he was charmed by my kids. and he and my husband were like two geeks in a pod bound for verbal destinations unknown and not understood by me. or anyone else at the table. but boy, they seemed to be basking in whatever the hell they were talking about.
and that's where my point and remembrance comes in, i guess. about bill. whom, admittedly, i didn't know well. but see, watching him talk with my husband and watching him talk with my kids and with anyone and with me, what struck me most about him and what drew me to him was his presence. i know people always use that phrase 'in the moment.' but i have to say, i saw that on bill's face. that cold rainy portland afternoon...the talk in the backyard...other times catching a glimpse over a long weekend surrounded by the people who for better or worse shaped a good deal of who you became. or in more than a lot of cases tried to shed.
the thing about bill is that he listened. he heard. and he responded. and he was genuinely interested and intelligent enough to get to whatever level you were at. higher (rarely, i'm sure) or lower or in between, it didn't matter. he could and would get there. he was curious and willing and open. and this may not seem like much to some, but to the person being listened to it might as well as be a superpower. he wasn't checking his watch, his device, or scanning the room above your head. he was there. right there, his head slightly cocked and gently pitched forward, his eyes on yours while you blathered on about whatever. it was if all bill had right in the moment you were with him was time. for you. and what you had to say. this is so simple and so rare as to be totally and completely remarkable. and memorable.
i have two boys. and i would be more than proud to know that they grew up to be so present with others. that they might use whatever intelligence and curiosity they possess to be able to apply that anywhere. and to anyone.
the rest of my friendship with bill was one of the ubiquitous facebook kind, some messages, some e-mails, etc. and while i didn't know bill well, i considered him a friend. and looked forward to another time we'd get to hang out. maybe another reunion, another wedding. perhaps, unfortunately, a funeral. places people in our time of life and our kind of friendship might meet up.
so when i heard bill had passed i was shocked, and genuinely sad. all my little family was. i told the boys and they said 'oh no! i liked him so much!' now bear in mind, this was a man they met along with so many other people one rainy afternoon three years ago. they were 9 and 13 at the time. and they remembered him. they didn't ask 'who?' they remembered exactly who. and that's something right there. that's bill.
and in this life i find that it's rare to meet someone like bill. unexpected. like a gift. and what a wonderful gift he was to those who knew him.
i am going to miss bill. so i can only imagine how those he knew well must feel. those he was closest to; family, dear friends, loved ones. those who he loved and cared for and who loved and cared for him back.
it is to those people bill was closest to i send my deepest condolences. and i am so very very sorry for their incredible loss.