One-sided conversations with old friends
Vail, CO, Colorado
Mt. Guyot is a place where I visit old pals. Whenever I’m up there, I call out to my friends Tim and Steve.
So far I’ve yet to hear back from them ” probably because they are dead.
Both Steve and Tim, and Steve’s dog Jackson, were buried in an avalanche on that peak near Breckenridge over 20 years ago. I was part of the group that found them a day after the slide occurred. It happened about five miles from my home at a spot where three trails intersect, and at the base of a popular peak to ski.
I’m at almost the exact spot where we found them at least 20 times a year. Every time I’m there, I call out to my old pals.
If I’m biking, hiking or skiing with others, I’ll whisper their names under my breath so as not to appear a raving lunatic. But when I’m alone, I call out loudly. In addition to yelling their names, I’ll occasionally catch them up with a little news and gossip about friends and family.
Last Saturday, I was bicycling alone on the single-track from Humbug Hill to Little French and I turned downhill less than 50 yards from where we found Steve and Tim. The sky was getting overcast, but the sun was split between two clouds and seemed to focus on a field of wildflowers vivid enough to sexually excite a hummingbird. I remember thinking this was a nice place to meet your end.
The wind was blowing so I had to yell to be heard.
“Hey guys, it’s Jeffrey. I just wanted you to know that you are still missed and loved.”
I went on to inform Tim that the recycling center – Tim founded one of the first recycling center in the country – had expanded far beyond what I imagined was his wildest dreams. I yelled to Steve that I occasionally bump into his old girlfriend who, when his name comes up, always has a kind word to say.
I went on to some other local news: “Just in case you haven’t heard, Chris and Ray are moving back to the mountains, Elwood has been rebuilding New Orleans and Jeff and Barb’s kids are great athletes.
“Well guys, I’ve got to head down. It looks like we might get some lightning, but I guess that doesn’t worry you guys too much. I hope you’re happy, in heaven and still skiing. See you soon … but not too soon.”
I’ve probably had more than a hundred conversations like that with Tim and Steve, and I’ve yet to get one word back.
And it is not only Steve and Tim who ignore my conversation. I seem to always be talking to the dead with no response; I’ve done so since I was a kid.
Growing up Catholic, every couple of years I’d attend the open-coffin wake of an elderly relative. I’d kneel in front of the casket to say the obligatory prayer, but under my breath I’d whisper: “If you can hear me, move a finger. I won’t say anything to anybody.”
When my own friends began dying, I was cautiously optimistic that one of them would make an effort to stay in touch. So far, nothing.
This brings me to three possible conclusions. My dead friends don’t want to talk to me; the dead can’t make contact with the living; or, though I’m crazy enough to talk to the dead, I’m not crazy enough to hear an answer.
Whatever the case, I’m going to keep trying.
Perhaps there is another option. Perhaps those who have come and gone speak to us daily; we just need to listen. They speak to us by the legacy they left behind with their friendship, selfless acts and kindness and compassion. It’s been over 20 years since my two friends left us. Yet their words, deeds and influence have long outlived them.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who still calls out to them at the spot where they took their last breaths.
Granted, Tim and Steve were not saints or perfect – none of us are – but, like them, we all will be remembered for what we did, how we behaved and who we touched. Hopefully there will be some old friends of mine still calling out my name 20 years after I’m gone. And hopefully it’s not just my wife asking where I hid the spare keys to my truck.
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be seen on RSN TV, heard on KOA radio, and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Biff’s book “Steep, Deep and Dyslexic” is available from local book stores or at Backcountrymagazine.com.