Maybe it is time to write about Richard. I think so.
Richard and I met sometime around 1983 or so. Danny and I had returned to San Jose from a year in Mississippi where our son, John, was born. That was a rough year. No California born and bred hippie should try to transplant in the south! I had investigated returning to work where I had already put in many years, but to my dismay, there was no opening. There was, however, an opening for the Operations Supervisor (herein called OpSoup) at another local branch.
I had an interview with the manager, David Windler, at the end of the day, and was awarded the job on the spot. We headed over to a local pizza place where the rest of the branch employees were celebrating a birthday. When I walked into their table area, I experienced my first what I call a threshold.
Rich was sitting with his girlfriend, back to the wall, facing me, staring at me like he has seen a ghost, all 5'2 of him. What I got, beside his stare, was, ''Who the HECK are YOU?'' so loud and clear for a moment I thought he had spoken it out loud. I was too overwhelmed to even think and proceeded to put up the biggest, thickest brick wall you have ever seen.
Time passes, work progresses, and it is time for some company event. Rich has broken up with the blonde he was with (I have a picture of them but can't for the life of me remember her name) and we were finally talking alone at the very end of whatever we were attending. I will remember the conversation forever, outside the building doors, leaning against a tree.
He shyly and politely asked me if he could talk to me, and I said sure, heart thumping, and held back from going in with the others. Who was this little, older guy?? I was almost hearing, ''Danger, danger, Will Robinson!!'' He asked me if I had felt something odd, as he had, when we first met, I could only nod. He said, ''There is something going on, do you know what it is?'' I shook my head. He laughed and said, ''Neither do I, but I think we have met before.'' As I started to shake my head in a negative response he quickly inserted, ''In another time, another place.'' And he laughed again. He wasn't kidding. In light of what happened when he met, I knew this was not a pickup line. We parted as he said we would talk later when there was plenty of time.
We did manage to finally get together, and talked for hours. Rich became one of the closest friends of my life quite quickly, fitting in our life with ease. He was there when I bought my first computer so I could play with my dad on them, a Commodore, and was there when I advanced to a real PC after my dad was gone. Rich taught me more about computers and DOS than I can now recall, I still hold him responsible for my computer and web site addiction. He was there when Jena was born, when Dan could not be there as dad for the kids when he worked weird shifts, when John fell into the fire while we were camping, and most importantly, there for me when Dad died, and there for the funeral. He was there to understand the story of how my dad had come by to say goodbye moments after the accident, but I did not realize what it was until it was too late.
The last time I saw my father, just a short week before his death, Rich, John and I had gone up to my father's ranch for the weekend. Dan, as usual, was working. When I was out of the room, my father politely but sternly asked Rich, ''What are you intentions towards my daughter?'' Rich's eyes twinkled as he told me the story later (gawd, I love the way his eyes did that) and Rich responded, ''I love your daughter with all my heart, sir.'' That seemed to appease my father who had never been happy with my choice of husbands, but Dad never said another word about it. He and Rich spent the rest of the weekend on the computer, as usual.
Rich would rarely show a down side, always had a great story, oft times an off colored joke, and always a quick smile with those twinkling eyes. A truly handsome man. Rich was there when my computer broke down, repeatedly. Most times when he was over for dinner or spent the weekend, we had to pry his hands off the keyboard just to get him to eat. We just brought him another Drambuie, a drink I still cherish how many years later.
One night, Rich called, quite late, after we were in bed, to tell me of a dream he had, a bad one, and it seemed a warning. He could see me in the distance, a tall, thin man stood between us with his hand out towards Rich as if he was saying ''Stop!'' to Rich. Rich described the man to me in detail. As my husband listened, he suddenly took the phone away from me and talked to Rich for some time. Pretty unheard of. It turns out, Dan, a total non-believer, had seen that exact same man in his dreams and thought he was simply dreaming. Quite a night. Later, we found out that description fit a rich rancher and town founder named Robert Cooper to the teeth, someone who played a very active part in the lives and history of the George family who originally lived in our home. Robert would be seen a few more times, by myself and others, but we never learned if he was who we called Andy, an active entity in our home. Rich was heavily into body travel, and practiced regularly. One night, I actually woke to hear Rich beside me as I slept, and yet, when I opened my eyes, no one was there but Dan behind me.
Rich came to talk, having some bad news to break to me. Rich was quite closed mouth about the family he left behind in Illinois, and I could only assume he and his wife were broken up from the fact he had been in a relationship with Sarah. Ah, Sarah. He mentioned his son, Ritchie, a sister Georgia, but that was about it. He would talk about the days he worked on a barge floating down the Mississippi, rarely spoke of his military days, and even less of his parents still back in Illinois.
The bad news was that his wife, Joyce, and his daughter Tracy, were coming out to live with him from Illinois. I used to have a postcard collection, and one of them was a crocodile head sticking out of water with a bird sitting on the nose with the caption, ''We have a strange and wonderful relationship.'' That was us, a strange and wonderful relationship. Lovers in a past life, forever friends in this one. Something Joyce would never understand.
It turned out better than we expected, and now gatherings included both Joyce and Tracy, but were not as often. Poor Joyce and Tracy would witness their very first large earthquake only weeks after moving to California! I do not remember why they moved to the Livermore area, but that led to less visits.
By the time of my divorce in 1998, communications with Rich were almost what you could call rare. He was always trying to make a living on line, and had opened some kind of store, but it never became successful. He had been laid off from work at Walmart, and I knew he was financially ailing. I met David and we invited Rich and Joyce down for dinner. Tracy had moved out, I believe married. Everything was fine until Rich was so drunk he fell asleep and spent the night on the couch, only to disappear quietly before David and I awoke. My memory fails me, perhaps that was after Joyce left and married someone else. It would be the last time I would see Rich.
Christmas cards came and went, a very occasional email, and no straight answer to the question, ''How ARE you?'' He would answer the phone once in a blue moon, and rarely initiate any conversation in any form. It was odd, and unlike Rich. He told me he was helping, and living with, a female friend to fix up her house to sell it. One other time after that, he told me she had cancer, and he was helping her out as best he could. Now, I am firmly convinced he was trying to find a way to tell me he was the one with cancer, but could not find the strength to upset me, as that news would.
The next Christmas card came back. Email was returned as ''Account closed for lack of activity.'' Those words burned in to my heart. The phone was disconnected. His aol account closed. Time stopped for a minute or two. I did manage to let it go, trying to pretend he was fine and would someday pop up back in my life. But, as Rich would, he kept tapping me on the shoulder, whispering in my ear. I kept asking, ''Where are you?'' but never received any response. Late, late one night, after I had been asleep for some time, I heard that I should get up. I popped his name into ancestry.com, and there he was. Rich died May 13 last year. He died. He left me and never said goodbye.
It took me more than another year to try and find out what happened, I did not have the courage. I created a memorial for him on findagrave, but did not have a location of burial. Late last month, I made a list of mortuaries and cemeteries in the Livermore area. One by one, I was told, ''No, sorry.'' The last call, the last possibility, I reached Peggy, who casually said,''Yes, I have him.'' My tears rolled. Bless her heart, Peggy shared with me that Rich died of cancer, the arrangements were made by his son, Ritchie. Rich was cremated and returned to Illinois. A wonderful person in Illinois photographed his stone for me, where Ritchie will someday join his father. I believe a little dog is placed at Rich's stone. Maybe I could send a tiny bottle of Drambuie?
Rich continues to tap on my shoulder, so there is still something to be done. I am still angry, but I cry easily now, a good thing for it has to be done. One step at a time to mourn the passing of one of your best for life friends.
Rich Stotler memorial on findagrave.com
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