Dear Faith, Austin, and Lydia.
This entry is an emotional reflection of our good friend Calvin. It is also an abbreviated version of an e-mail that I just sent to his mom, Lydia, and his wife, Faith, and their son, Austin.
We heard about Calvin’s illness the week before last. I e-mailed him and he responded on Friday with the positive and optimistic approach that he would be able “beat this.” It came as a tremendous shock to learn about last week’s news, then.
The day after he e-mailed us, we left for neighbouring Kyrgyzstan to do some exploring. We met some Aussies at a hostel in the city of Bishkek, on Sunday night. Calvin was clearly on my mind as I related some of our youthful exploits of two decades ago.
Even if I had left here within 5 minutes of learning how bad it went, I wouldn’t have been able to make the service in Dawson Creek and we really appreciate the difficult task many of you performed by informing us, via e-mail.
The friendship that I had with Calvin was enduring, especially, I think, because it was framed around one intense year, 22 years ago.
Certainly I knew him before we went to Australia, but I sometimes think my first marriage took place when I was 19--we spent more time together than newly weds would have. We relied on each other fairly heavily. When we ran out of money in the islands, it was Calvin’s idea to use our last few bucks to buy a fishing rod so we could catch Yellow Travelli. On the top ten list of meals that I have had, eating fresh fish on an abandoned, rickety old dock in the tropics with my ingenious friend ranks among the highest. When we ran out of money in the city, it might have been my idea to take up an invitation from the Hare Krishnas and join them for a free dinner every evening, but it was Calvin’s idea to go into their temple kitchen and help do the dishes afterward.
When we were in Queensland, we would separate occasionally because it was easier to hitchhike. We agreed to go to the post-office of whatever town we were travelling through, at noon, and wait around to see if the other would show up. I spent many sunny afternoons waiting on the steps of post offices, eagerly scanning the sidewalks, looking for Calvin. Although I missed him for a few days at a time, the part of the reunion that I anticipated was hearing about what he had been doing and what he had seen. We enjoyed a particularly good laugh when we realized we didn’t need each other to get into trouble--he told me that he smelt pizza late one night so he followed his nose and found the back door of an open pizza joint.
Hoping to get some sort of freebie, or at least work off a meal, he poked his head in and said “hello.” No one responded. He stepped in. There was no one in the kitchen area. Or in the seating area. He checked the front door. It was locked. The staff had left for the day and they simply forgot to lock the back door. Kind of like the three bears story, no one was home.
Calvin checked the fridge, found some pizza and nuked it. The coffee was still warm, and the price was right, so he had a cup of that as well. Then he went out to the seating area to find a newspaper or something, and that is where the breakfast staff found him in the morning, sound asleep. Again, kind of like the three bears story, except that you know Calvin did the dishes first.
I am currently living in Kazahkstan with my wife and kids, so I am unable to attend the service celebrating Calvin's life. I am also unable to access an old box of photos that depicts two malnourished but very happy teenagers having their first real adventure in life. But a lasting memory I have of Calvin is his image walking away from me on the side of the road in a near desert setting. He went ahead to start hitchhiking. He left me there with so much indifference that I thought he was happy to get rid of me for a few days. He just walked away with his frying pan swinging around on the outside of his duffle bag. I had never really felt lonely in my life, but it did make me realize what being alone was like.
The next time I saw him, he was sitting on the end of a dock on Magnetic Island, jeans rolled up, holding a fishing rod, Huckleberry Finn style, except for the Corey Hart sunglasses. We were quite happy to see each other. We exchanged a few stories and then he said something like "It felt real shitty to watch you drive past me standing on the side of the road." But I didn't see him, I just assumed he was always ahead of me. More than that, I couldn't believe he had an emotion about being alone, and I told him that. He said when he left me, he felt worse than that feeling you get when you ask a girl to dance and she says "no." I told him he wouldn`t be sleeping in my tent for a while.
And that's a good way to end this short essay describing my lifelong relationship with Calvin, or rather, his friendship with all of us--we should truly value that, whether we saw him daily or bi-annually, he was a solid friend with a deep and reserved, yet thoughtful, appreciation of friendship.
CBC and other agencies are posting hundreds of letters and comments from people all over Western Canada. I thought one or two from central Asia would add to the ‘dimension’ of Calvin’s reputation.
I hope to speak with you in person some time soon.