Toward the end of “Tombstone” (the awesomely trope-y and irresistibly quotable 1993 movie starring Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp and Val Kilmer as Doc Holiday), Wyatt Earp visits Doc on his deathbed and tells him that he wrote a book about him. The book was called “My Friend, Doc Holiday.” Doc didn’t seem all that interested, but the intent was clear: Wyatt loved his friend and wanted to commemorate his life.
I want to commemorate my friend’s life. I’m a writer; I should be able to do that. But every time I give it a start, I find myself writing down the usuals: great guy, passionate hiker, was good to children and pets; loved his friends and family. That’s an obituary, not a commemoration.
And yet in something this side of book-length, I’m not sure how to do that. And when I think, Fine, I’ll just do book length–writer, duh!–I once again have to accept that my memory is a sieve. I depend on my friends and my photography to be my memory for me. And so what will happen is that I will drive by a trailhead and suddenly think of that time Chris and I went hiking in the Mark Twain National forest in southern Missouri, completely unprepared for the humid, 99-degree day (ie: no food, no water, no compass, no nothing but our clothes and a desire to do a bit of a walkabout). We managed to wander off the trail and get a bit lost. Tired, hot, losing our tempers and our hope, we bushwhacked for a while and then came across the most wondrous find: a spring trickling over a small, stony cliff, filtered by moss. We put our hands under the dripping water and drank, our parched bodies not caring about bacteria or microbes or deer pee. It was the best water I have ever tasted.
I think of that and cry.
Or I pull out a gaming book to prepare for a session and remember how Chris and I first met, way back in 1990 (good lord, that long ago?) when he was looking for a game and we were looking for a player and spotted just the right index card in the rolodex at our Friendly Neighborhood Gaming Store: it was this guy wanting a group that was, “mature adults without a lot of drama.”
I think of that and cry.
Or I wander by my DVD collection (yeah, I still have one of those; leave me alone) and spot “Tombstone” there on the shelf and remember those multitude of times he and my then-wife and I watched and rewatched it, until you could hardly hear the actors’ lines because we were drawling out the quotes.
And I cry.
I want to tell you about the hikes we went on. So many hikes and camping trips. I want to tell you about the life he wanted to live: one that involved a VW Van and bumming around Mexico. I want to tell you about the experiences he had on his several treks on the Appalachian Trail, even though I wasn’t able to join him on those. I want to tell you about our always-shunted-into-the-future plans of hiking the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain. I want to tell you about the various times we were roommates and the adventures we had.
But I’m afraid I’d tell it wrong. Because I also want to call him up while I’m writing that book and say, “Hey, do you remember that time we came across that weird water mill north of Springfield? Why were we up in that area? Was that the time we also found that little fenced-off and abandoned cemetery, went in, and came out covered in deer ticks?” And he’d say, “No, we were looking for that bridge where you were supposed to be able to park on it, put your car in neutral, and then it would move forward on its own and you were supposed to be able to find dusty handprints on the trunk. And that water mill wasn’t north of town.”
“Man, do you remember that first house we were roomies in?” We called it the Incredible Sinking House because every time it rained it seemed the house sank another 1/8th of an inch below the surrounding terrain. We’d go into the kitchen in the mornings and there would be slug trails across the floor. My cat would catch rabbits and snakes and bring them–still alive!–into the house. “Of course,” he’d say. “Remember that oil drum out back we were afraid to open because we assumed there was a body in there?”
I do now.
When I was living in Mexico with my then-wife, Lora, Chris came down and visited. I showed him the usual destinations: the Zona Silencio (a radio dead-zone, ’cause, y’know, aliens); the ghost town of Mapami and its old mine accessed via a 900-foot long suspension bridge; downtown Torreón with its colorful shops and tasty foods, watched over by the world’s third-largest Christ statue, the Cristo de las Noas. But the most memorable bit of that trip was the trek we took heading back up to the States, and not just the armed checkpoints where guys in military fatigues would ask us, “You have any drugs in there?” pointing at the car, and when I said no, responded, “You want some?” but also when we got to the border, having loaded the trunk with alcohol requested by various friends back home, only to learn that we were only supposed to have, like, a liter and a half of liquor OR a case of beer, and NOT an entire trunkful of booze. Yet the pre-9-11 border guard was nice to us and let us pay the tariffs on all of it, rather than confiscating any. And talking about this, Chris would say, “Nah, man, that was after you and Lora broke up. We were just down there for a visit. Which means it wasn’t a pre-9-11 border guard, either.”
Thirty years of memories. I’d screw the book up, is what I’m saying.
Thirty years of being friends. We weren’t always living in the same city, but we’d call up and chat quite often. Bemoan the state of the world. BS about whatever. Recently, after Chris’ esophageal cancer went into remission against all the odds, we decided to do a podcast together. We couldn’t quite get a handle on what we wanted it to be like, so I snagged the domain name SomeKindofPodcast.com and we started recording us chatting. Just talking, but recording it rather than letting it fade into the aether of memory. We only got enough material for about three episodes. I’ll post a link here when those are ready for you to listen to. When I can finish editing them without, y’know, crying.
I wish we’d had the time for a hundred more.
I miss my friend.
Anytime, anywhere, man. Ah’m your huckleberry.
. . .
You may or may not have known him, but if the spirit moves you, the family has asked for donations to go toward Esophageal Cancer Awareness in the name of Chris Cook. I would also add that Chris would have been pleased if we also threw some money toward our local Trail Associations. Thank you in advance, everyone. And, hey, savor every memory and moment you have.