At 18 years old, I left my home in Alaska, and flew to Texas to go to Abilene Christian College (not yet a university). I remember looking out the airplane window as we prepared to land in Amarillo, where I would change planes, and wondering, "What am I doing here?!" It was so dry and so brown and so foreign.
I arrived in Abilene early, several days before school started (I'm still one of those people who thinks she's late if she's not 20 minutes early to work). Although the dorm wasn't officially open yet, they let me move into the old, brick, three-story McKinzie Hall, that would be my home for the next two years. For two nights, I was the only girl in the dorm, and every step I took echoed through the empty hall. You can probably imagine how relieved I was when some other girls started moving in. I waited anxiously, and a little nervously, to meet the one who was going to be my roommate. I knew her name was Joanna, and that she was a second-year student at ACC, someone who would know the ropes.
At last, the night before classes were to start, a girl, lugging a big suitcase and a box, burst into my room and, with a huge smile, said, "Hi, I'm Chris. I think we're roommates!" I immediately liked her, so was reluctant to tell her that she was mistaken; my roommate was Joanna. She straightened things out when she explained that her name was Joanna Christine, but she went by Chris.
Chris was a petite gal, with very short hair and big brown eyes, and cute as could be. She was a Yankee and proud of it. Once she showed up, our room was never empty. Everyone loved Chris. Our friendship grew rapidly. I don't think I ever knew anyone more full of life, more dedicated to Christ, or who cared about other people any more deeply than Chris did. I couldn't have asked for a better roommate or a dearer friend.
Chris began dating Larry about the same time I began dating Dan, and two years later (Summer of 1969) Chris and Larry married, and so did Dan and I. Chris and Larry rented the front half of an old house, which had been split into a duplex. When the back apartment came empty, Dan and I moved in, to share the house with them. There were times that you'd have thought you were watching Lucy and Ethyl in re-runs of I Love Lucy, if you could have peeked in on Chris and I. We had such good times in that old house, sharing meals, going on outings together, playing games in the evenings.
All good things must come to an end, I guess. At the end of the school year Chris and Larry graduated and moved away to the Dallas area. I had one more year of school, so with lots of hugs and tears, we said our good-byes. We didn't see Chris and Larry again until I graduated and we were moving to Alaska. We drove through Dallas then and stopped to see them.
Thirty years later, in 2001, when I was working for the Alaska Department of Education, I was sent to Washington, DC, on a business trip. While there I got together with a mutual friend of ours, named Janice. Janice and I decided to call Chris and have a three-way telephone reunion. Although we had kept in touch by mail, once or twice a year, Chris and I hadn't talked since that time we visited in Dallas, in 1971! Janice, Chris and I talked for an hour-and-a-half or more. We caught up on each others' lives, and reminisced about old times. When I checked out of the hotel, I was shocked to see an $85 fee on my bill, for that telephone call. I felt a little guilty, and chastised myself for spending that kind of money so frivolously.
A year or so after that, Dan and I came home from work one day to find a message from Larry on our home phone. We returned his call, only to hear news like you never want to hear. Some weeks earlier, Chris had been in a terrible car accident that took her life. She left behind her loving husband and four children.
Immediately I remembered that recent telephone reunion we'd had, and any regrets about the $85 phone bill instantly vanished. I knew I couldn't have spent it on anything more valuable than that last conversation I had with my good friend, Chris.
Four Nights In Tofino
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