One of my oldest and closest friends passed away a few hours ago. Her name was Cheryl, and she lived in California. We first worked together in 1973 at the University of Illinois as teachers (we both taught French language courses at the university starting when we were in our early 20s).
Both of us spent the 1974-75 school year in Paris — she spent the year teaching English in a high school there, and I was working for the U of I year-abroad program. Experiences we shared there cemented our friendship. There are always high points and low points when you're a stranger in a strange land and trying to live in a foreign language. We all supported each other as best we could. We struggled. We laughed. We cried. And we learned a lot.
Cheryl ended up moving to California around 1980, and I moved to France at the same time. Out there, she met and married John, who passed away in the late 1990s. Over here, I met Walt, and we eventually got married too. When Walt and I moved to California in 1986, we needed a place to stay while we looked for an apartment. Cheryl and John took us in. They were our hosts for three months. Cheryl was always very generous with her friends.
It was thanks to Cheryl that I got my first job in Silicon Valley, in 1989. She was working for a software company that needed to hire an editor. I was miserable in my job in San Francisco. She recommended me. That job changed my life and later made it financially possible for me and Walt to make the move to France. Through Cheryl, I met a number of people to whom I have grown close and shared a big part of my life with (you know who you are...).
Cheryl visited us half a dozen times after we moved to France a dozen years ago. In 2008 we three went down to the Ile d'Oléron and spent a week eating seafood and seeing the island. Then we went to Paris, where she and Walt attended the Roland Garros tennis tournament. A few days later, Cheryl and I had a memorable three- or four-hour lunch in a restaurant in the Marais. Those are especially good memories for me, and I know they were for Cheryl.
|Cheryl at the Château de Montpoupon in 2003|
The last time she visited France was in 2011. She came and stayed with us for three weeks, which she could do because she had retired from her 30-year career as a computer programmer and manager in Silicon Valley. Did I mention how smart she always was? She was also very funny and charming when she felt comfortable, and we could spend hours reminiscing about all the different unexpected and amazing experiences we had shared in Illinois, California, and France.
If she could read this, I would remind her of a load of powdered dried tomatoes dumped on the highway, and of driving around in the French car we called the magic bus. Of the coffee maker in our gîte on the Ile d'Oléron that wouldn't cooperate. Of the big plumes of black smoke from piles of tires striking fishermen were burning. Of the birds called hoopoes. Of the gift shop full ceramic and porcelain owls in Vouvray. Of the three-month postal workers' strike in Paris all those years ago. Of the time I spilled a glass of red wine all over her when she, Walt, and I were flying to Paris together one summer 15 years go. We really laughed a lot over the years.
In 2011, it was obvious that Cheryl's health was declining. She was having mobility issues, and she was frustrated about it. When she left to go to Paris and back to California that year, I took her over to the TGV station in Tours to help her get her luggage onto the train and make sure everything went as planned. As the train doors were closing, she looked at me, waved, and asked me not to forget what good friends we had been for so long. As the train pulled out, I had a feeling I might never see her again.
And so it was to be. RIP, finally... too early, but nothing can be done about it now.