I first met Curt in the Cairo airport. We'd emailed each other a few times before this jet-lagged rumpled shirt meeting, and he confessed to having a thing for redheads.
My email at the time had been email@example.com, and he assumed the rdh stood for redhead not RDH as in Registered Dental Hygienist. He had already taken a shine to the gal behind the moniker. And, my hair was a tad red at the time, so even though I explained it to him, I don't think he ever thought differently than "Cathy Redhead."
I proceeded to spend the next month traveling Egypt with Curt, his wife Bev and a handful of well-traveled and delightfully interesting people. As I traipsed solo through the North African desert, Curt and Bev quickly became my surrogate parents though they had a decade on my own 'rents. We smoked hookahs in a tea house, ate shishkabobs in a star-blanketed picnic on the bank of the Nile, and even raced through the cocoa dunes on camel back. The trip was magical, and the company a joy. Departing Cairo at the end of the long and other-worldly adventure, I thought, well, here's another pair to add to my Christmas card list.
I couldn't have been more wrong.
Curt told Howard the last time we saw each other that I was his "best friend." He was 88 years old and had flown out for a wedding in Virginia. He rented a car and drove a total of 8 hours to see us for one precious night. We laughed and he talked non-stop about his adventures. He had just gotten back from Japan, where he and his wife had lived for a year teaching English many years ago. He'd reconnected with old friends there and surveyed the changes in his old stomping grounds.
He told us of the sale of his house, the one he and Bev had purchased in the sixties when GE had moved them from East to West Coast. A few million-dollar bidding war ensued for the pretty property with gorgeous gardens in Los Altos. Not that he needed to worry about retirement income. He had invested well, and after leaving the corporate world, he spent his time with Bev volunteering and traveling the globe. I was fortunate enough to meet them on one of those jaunts.
We stayed in touch, we emailed often, and, when I moved out to CA, I found myself a mere 20-minute drive from their home. They had my sister and me in for tea, for lunch and for friendship. My sister became a pen pal/mentor to their special needs granddaughter.
When Bev got breast cancer, we prayed for healing, and God delivered. She joked about her wigs and gave us her trademark laugh, but there was worry in Curt's eyes. He couldn't hide his concern and I'm not sure he even tried. He was a gentle, sensitive soul, and loved to tease.
When I got married, Curt and Bev had a honorary place at my mother's side. They toasted us, and we wished to emulate their marriage and their gusto for life.
Curt and Bev held my newborn daughter in their arms, babysat her in their home on occasion, and even donned little pink party hats at her first year birthday party.
When the cancer came back, it was Bev who kept everyone's spirits up. But you could see Curt start to crumble. We'd moved away by the time Bev lost her battle, and had only email and cards to connect us to Curt. It was enough. Friendships aren't written in time spent by someone's side, but in the depth of your heart.
The letter came in the mail today. The three daughters sent out a form letter to the people in Curt's address book and told us that he'd suffered another stroke. He died in his own bed on tax day.
Howard had tears in his eyes when he told me the news. I said, "Now, he's with Bev and they're together again."
And, my friend is gone, but not forever gone.