Meet Gil, and then make a donation

Last year when I did the full-on marathon with Team in Training, I did the event in honor of my friend, Nick.  Thinking about Nick’s journey to recovery helped keep my feet pounding the pavement far beyond when my brain had gotten tired of running and the rest of me wanted to go home. His story was an inspiration to me and I think knowing that he was alive and well was an element of that inspiration. As most of you know, this year I’m taking on a different challenge and trying to be a little more patient with myself as I walk a half marathon.

I considered not dedicating the training to anyone in particular, but my thoughts kept drifting back to my friend Gil. Unfortunately, Gil’s story does not have a happy ending – he died in 2008 from Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia at the age of 41, leaving behind a wife and 6 year old son. I have often commented on the brutality of the way Leukemia afflicts such young people, and I guess this situation isn’t really any different. Is it not just as brutal for a young son to lose his father? Sadly, when Gil passed away, I had not been in touch with him in almost 8 years and I had no idea he was living just across the state in Spokane, let alone battling Leukemia.

I met Gil when we were both in college at the University of Kansas. He was a graduate student in the Department of Geography and I was an undergrad working in the department office, also studying Geography. In some random way, I don’t really remember now, he also wound up living in the same apartment building as me and my then boyfriend (soon to be first husband), Steve. I guess because our daily lives intersected so much at both school and home, we spent countless hours together with Gil and his girlfriend, Lisa, who was also a friend.  Gil was a night owl and would often call or show up at 10 or 11pm to see if we wanted to play Spades or Hearts, and I have many memories of long nights of playing cards and laughing until our faces ached.

You see, Gil was the oddest human being I have ever met. He enjoyed being outrageous to the point of being absurd. He told me once that he yelled out at some women in a car next to him, “I bet you don’t even sleep with the sheets on!”  No one knew what that was supposed to mean, not even Gil. He loved to make crazy movies that also did not make any sense. I happen to have a few on VHS (that sadly I can’t watch any more since I no longer have a VCR) and in one he runs around the campus sneaking up on people with a large piece sheepskin on his head and filming their reactions.  He was very hot headed and if he got mad during one of our card games, he would scream and yell and get red in the face, but a few nights later he would be knocking at our door again to play cards and as near as I can recall, we always played. He often accused me of having a ‘difficult’ sense of humor and would do things he thought were funny that I would often only find amusing. This would frustrate him to no end and he would get weirder and weirder trying to see if he could get me to actually laugh out loud.

After we all left college, we stayed in touch off and on over the years. I got married, then divorced, and spent many years of my career as a road warrior. There were countless times that I called Gil from some random hotel room and we would spend hours talking on the phone about nothing in particular. He would give me quizzes with questions like whether I thought it was funnier for someone to die by having their guts fall out or whether it was funnier for someone else to die by having guts fall on them. (Again, no one ever knew where he came up with this stuff or what it meant.) It was sometime during these years that I developed quite a crush on him. He was crazy, and handsome, as well as a very loyal friend. I saw him a few times when he lived in California and had high hopes for something more, but his feelings were always strictly platonic. I now admire his ability to maintain our friendship and still make it clear that he was never going to be interested in me in any other way, even if it frustrated me at the time.

We drifted apart and I met and married Brian. He lived in Japan and eventually married a Japanese woman, Keiko. He invited us to his wedding in Florida, which we attended (and I am now of the opinion that one should never pass up wedding invitations – it’s not the first time I have rekindled a friendship over a wedding invitation). In May of 2000 Brian and I planned a trip to China to visit my father and stepmother and decided to stop in Tokyo and visit Gil and Keiko. We did a few touristy type things, but my fondest memory of that trip was playing Hearts and laughing way into the night. That was the last time I saw Gil. We may have traded an email or two after that, but Gil wasn’t much of one for email and Japan was simply too far away for hours-long phone calls. Life moved on and we went our separate ways, although I always expected we would reconnect again as we had so many other times over the years. I had no idea he had started a family, no idea he had moved back to the US, and I certainly had no idea that he battled Leukemia for years, including some rather intense treatment sessions. Instead I learned of his death from his old girlfriend Lisa, who when we spoke simply said the world just didn’t seem quite right without Gil in it and she could not have said truer words.

So, my friends, cherish your friendships – reach out to someone you haven’t talked to in awhile (because you don’t always get second chances) and please make a donation to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society on my behalf, so that 6 year olds don’t  have to lose their dad, wives don’t have to lose their husband, and friends don’t have to lose each other.

Walk on, Lyda

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