Monday, October 31, 2011

You've Got a Friend

"Just yesterday morning they let me know you were gone….I walked out this morning and I wrote down this song. Just can't remember who to send it to…."

We got the news on a busy Saturday. There were soccer games and trips to Rockville for gymnastics. In fact I think I was driving back from Rockville when I read the news on my blackberry stopped at a red light. It stopped me cold. Two days later I thought about Girard as we took off for Worcester, Massachusetts sitting on the runway at National Airport. I thought about our friend who had loved to fly. He flew around the world to see all of his friends who he had met working for the Associated Press on the overnight in New York before being sent to Bonn where he covered the Velvet Revolution and the fall of the Berlin Wall able to blend into the crowd because he looked a little East German. He taught me to freelance, inviting me as a 22 year old at Greg's suggestion before I moved to South Africa to a dinner in Old Town where he taught me the art of writing one story and pitching it and selling it four or five different times to different publications. That's how freelancers make money. That's how I paid for my travel and learned the art of the pitch. Girard was a great salesman, who loved to hear about everyone else's adventures. Years later when he heard that I had flown with the Thunderbirds, pulling 9.2 G's - and throwing up all over the cockpit, Girard sent me my own "flight log book", a black leather bound book, with the hopes that it would become a habit, which happily it didn't, as I continued to find myself in Blackhawks, Chinooks and C-130s covering the wars and the Pentagon. Girard had transitioned to the NTSB where he wrote crash reports and about flight safety. He still came to Washington quarterly and assembled his friends at a variety of ethnic restaurants up and down Route 1 and in strip malls in the DC suburbs. He loved Afghan food, Thai, Lebanese Taverna, and anything Greek. I think it reminded him of his travels. He died at age 60 of pneumonia, much too young for a guy who still looked 45 and loved to talk late in the night with a bottle of something, anything really. The last time I saw him he stopped by the house to drop off some t-shirts he had made while I was going through chemo. He had found the original print for the AP t-shirts the gang used to wear in Lebanon that said, "Don't shoot," in a variety of languages. There was an AK-47 on the front. It was a little AP joke that only AP veterans got. I think it was after my mastectomy that we were sitting in my living room. I didn't feel well and didn't really want visitors and now I regret not spending a bit more time with my friend. The last time he had been at our house he had stayed up all night by the pool talking about the Bosnian war with our Croatian friend. And then I had offered him a bed - albeit a small uncomfortable Ikea iron bed covered in Princess sheets. Somehow it did the trick and he was still up before the rest of us in the morning ready to talk some more. Girard was so detail oriented and would travel so far to see friends that once when we were in St. Louis for a few days on home leave, he packed his new bride Jean in the car and drove 8 hours round trip from Illinois just to have dinner with us. And he was the only invited guest at our wedding who noticed that the address we gave for the old stone church outside of Charlottesville where the wedding was to be was not really in Keswick as I wrote on the invitation but really in Cismont. I thought who knew Cismont but everyone knew Keswick. In 1994 Girard was the only one using a GPS. An aviator with a precise memory and precise friendships, who would have flown anywhere to see a friend and did. I wish I had had one last all night bull session with you, my friend.