Monday, April 28, 2014

The Day I Met Chris Was The Day He Died

He was riding his bike home from his last final. I was working in a job I had learned to hate, depressed, sick and dying.

On the corner of where I work and where he was hit. We met for the very first time. I watched as they put him on a stretcher. I kept an eye on the guy who hit him as he languished at the corner for five hours. When the whole block was partitioned off and more cops arrived on the scene. I knew Chris had lost this battle.

It rocked the small community of people who live in that area. Chris was a very likable guy who was funny, gregarious and extremely smart. He almost had his degree in computer science. His last test taken on the last day of his life.

We know what happens next. Time marched on. It left Chris on the corner of University Dr. and it carried the rest of us in its riptide.  Everyday I'd leave work exhausted, anxious, my heart pounding out of my chest and a lot of times, crying. And everyday I was faced with Chris's Ghost Bike memorial.

He was gorgeous but not in a "I think I'm gorgeous," haughty sort of way. Just naturally beautiful and not a bit concerned about it either. I grew up with guys like him in the mountains of Wyoming. Naturally athletic, kissed by the sun. Shining examples of health.

Chris haunted me everyday as I drove home. He stuck to me like a bur when I quit that miserable job and reclaimed my pride. He rode on my shoulder when I faced how unhealthy I was and worked to stop all the abuse I had put my body through. But above all he cheered me on when I bought my first bike.

I believe it was because of Chris I bought that first bike. I can't describe in words what it was like driving past a ghost bike day after day after day..........after day. In western culture we are not faced with death. It isn't really a part of our society. So it's a bit unsettling when you are faced with it, two to three times a day.

He died riding his bike. And this is what his family wrote about him.

 Chris enjoyed so many aspects of life, but he was an avid cyclist, runner, snowboarder, traveler and was a self proclaimed “geek”. 

He had passion. Just reading his eulogy its filled with adjectives that describe a life lived to its fullest. What would mine say? She worked for__________ and was mom to________and wife to________. And ate a lot of________. That was my life at the time. I had no interests. My interests were anxiety, depression and killing it all with food and cigarettes. Do you think Bill would put something about that? Kari did not really enjoy life. Instead she avoided facing the issues in her life and used food as a way to deaden the pain. If I had died then, he should have. It was the truth.

Did I want to die doing something I loved?  Or did I want to die on the toilet from a heart attack?

I bought a bike. I rode that bike and everyday Chris was with me. I'd feel the sun on my face and a beautiful spring headwind. And I'd wonder, was it this that made you an avid cyclist? When you ran did you feel the sense of calm that eventually steals over any runner who is putting in their miles? Did he have the same geeky thoughts I did about life and death? What is important and what's not. Did he make life altering decisions with a pair of running shoes?

I don't know, I'll never know. But I can tell you this. We die, that's a fact. What I had to face because of Chris is my inevitable demise.  I'm going to join Chris someday, no doubt about that. But what will my life say now? Is it a life I am proud of? One that I want to be written about? Have I affected people in a positive way? Will someone make life changes because of me?

I hope so. I hope I can pass on what Chris did for me. Four years I have lived and seen his death anniversary pass. I visit his Ghost Bike memorial and I remember a man who should have had the right to continue his life. He died on a bike. He died because we are careless drivers who are only thinking about just how fast we can get to the next thing. He died doing something he loved.

Whenever I put on my bike helmet he's with me. So is the realization, today I could be yet another ghost bike memorial in Oregon. That's the world I live in. Its still a far sight better than dying on the couch eating Cheetos.

To Christopher Volpe and to all the others who have died riding a bike. And to all of us who are still brave enough to don a bike helmet and face our biggest fears.....

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Rest in Peace Christopher. 
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