by Alma A. Hromic
(Swans - June 20, 2005) I first broke bread with Richard Macintosh in the back yard of his home in Blaine one weekend in early June of 2003. Before our move to Washington State in February of that year, all I had known of Richard were the articles he wrote for Swans and then the e-mail inviting us over to tea so we could meet in person. I discovered, when I met him, that he had a firm handshake, a set of principles and beliefs that one could build a world on and never have to see it crumble, a warm sideways glance and a chuckle that was an instant invitation to shared mirth, an invitation into his world.
It was Providence that gave me that meeting, because only a few days after it had occurred my world was shattered by the stroke my husband suffered on June 20, 2003.
We had been in Washington four months to the day. We barely knew anyone yet. In a nightmare of feeling isolated and alone I remembered a throwaway comment made by Richard in the conversation of the previous weekend: "Back when I had my stroke..."
I turned to him in the worst crisis of my life, in a friendship barely budded, but never could I have found a greater source of strength and support than that which he and his wife lavished on me during those dark days. I left Deck in the hospital emergency room at 5 AM the morning after his stroke, came home to deal with other practicalities, returned to the hospital some three or four hours later... and the first person I saw there was Richard, who was at the hospital before me, who had brought in his own doctor to look in on Deck, who hugged me and held me and told me that it was all going to be okay, who waited with coffee and a smile just to be there when I arrived so he could be there for me.
Truly, some people you can know all your life and you will never know them. Others you meet once, and the next time you see them you greet them with "Hello, old friend." That awful morning at the hospital I had no sense whatsoever of having met Richard Macintosh a week before. I had known him all my life, and he had known me. The solidity of that strength and support, which never wavered, became the spar I clung to during the worst of times. I shared every small triumph and disaster with Richard and Jacque, as I would have done with family. I cried with them and I laughed with them, and what I owe them is a debt of gratitude that is paid only with the depth of friendship that we shared.
We did not live close enough to one another to see each other with very great frequency, but we were in constant touch -- by phone, by email, the occasional lunch or picnic or simple get-together engineered just to give us a chance to meet and talk. We discussed the state of the world and the nation, political disasters great and small, his children, my books, our pets, health and fitness, exchanged jokes and poems and recipes. We went to their house for Thanksgiving, with its trademark cranberry sauce made from scratch by Richard, and they came to ours for my Slava, a traditional feast day kept by my own ancestors. We ate each other's salt.
There are some people whose absence shapes your world, whom you keep searching for, blindly, and you are constantly surprised to find only the pain. I still can't get my mind around the fact that he is gone, that the many small things we kept "for Richard" will never be read by him, that I won't hear him chuckle at something on the phone again, that my cats will never clamber on his lap again and curl up with infinite trust and go to sleep knowing that they were safe and secure with a Good Man. I can't believe that we won't pop out for lunch again somewhere, with Richard listening gravely to something Deck is saying, with Richard reporting back on something that was going on in his own life.
We shared only two years of our lives but it feels like so much longer, so much more. In the last phone call we had with him -- only a few days ago -- we were making plans to go out and see him when he got home from his latest hospital stay, when he was rested and a little happier to receive visitors. I was planning on taking him a funny get-well card, perhaps a bunch of daisies or something to cheer him up, and now I won't, not ever again. And for some reason that very thought stings my eyes like tears. At least there is this: in that last phone call, he said he would look forward very much to seeing us next week. And that he loved us. And we told him we loved him too.
Goodbye, old friend. Wherever you are, I hope you can find some rest, some peace. We who are left behind, we will miss you.