I remember when I first saw him, a tall, lanky figure with flowing white hair flowing beard, wearing a leather duster, striding across the parking lot at work. Somehow he wore it like a medieval surcoat and I could easily imagine him as a knight of old, or at least as a noble gunslinger of the American West.
As it turns out, he was both.
We spoke occasionally until I was put on the same team of experts with him, answering agent questions and solving problems. I learned more about this person, who became my friend. He had indeed used a sword, having been a heavy fighter in the Society for Creative Anachronism. He had been a weight lifter, had practiced Kenpo, and he liked to go out to the range with his friends on the weekends. At one point he’d also ridden Harleys, so I guess you could say he’d had a mighty steed, too. As is common with people skilled in the use of force, he had impeccable manners and treated everyone with respect.
He also had a sharp and active mind with a deep knowledge of history, the type of guy who could tell you the difference between lorica segmentata and lorica squamata and which one he liked best. He knew why “Decimation” means only to remove ten percent, and the content of the rations the rest of the decime would eat during the rest of their punishment. (Barley, by the way.) He liked anime and got all my references to old movies. Along with his courtly ways he had a very dry wit. I lived for conversations with him.
One day he didn’t show up to work, he was missing for weeks. He came back with a leg missing and an account of how he’d been laid up in the hospital with a terrible case of sepsis, which he had only survived through the loss of his leg. It had turned out that the cause was a small cut on his foot. His slightly curmudgeonly attitude had changed for the better, his blue eyes now sparkled with the joy of life and he smiled more. He got a tricked out wheelchair and was upbeat about his loss of a leg, calling himself “gimpy” and “pogo,” but refusing to let anyone feel sorry for him. He never surrendered to self pity. He took pleasure in the smallest things, like having an apple.
Time passed and my friend got an injury on his head. This didn’t get better, even though he took care of it, and eventually it became clear that it was a nasty MRSA infection. Back he went into the hospital, this time for four months, in total isolation, on a constant antibiotic IV drip. I caught every scrap of news and was sure he wasn’t going to make it. Yet, one day I saw him wheeling back in. I yelped for joy, charged him and gave him a great big hug. I was so happy to see that my knight had returned. I happily had many more great conversations and when I left that job I tried my best to get him to come with me. But no, he was used to where he was, and he didn’t want to leave. So he stayed.
I found out today that he died sometime yesterday, of congestive heart failure that was likely brought on by damage from those systemic infections. He was only 52. I can do nothing but think of his life, his great smile, the fact that he never let his various ailments get him down. In fact, even when wheelchair bound, he and his friends still went out shooting at the local gravel pit, having a good time together. He still insisted on doing everything for himself and he never gave up. I’m sure he fought to the end.
In his memory I am going to do two things. Every time I have an apple I’m going to take an extra bit of time to notice its crispness, its sweetness, and enjoy it that extra bit. And I’m going to make sure and remind anyone who has an injury that isn’t healing to get it looked at, because it really can turn into something nasty, even if you are taking care of it and are otherwise living a healthy lifestyle. So clean that cut when you get one! You don’t want the bugglies getting inside.
My friend was a wonderful, courtly person with vast knowledge about a lot of things. He also treated everyone with respect and didn’t believe in running other people’s lives, or having them run his. n my head I always thought of him as “my knight” because that’s the way he was, and I told him so, too. He got all embarrassed. But at least he know how I saw him. My only regret is that I won’t get a chance to spend more time with him.
I’ll miss you, my gentle knight. The world is a darker place without you.