I have started this post a dozen times in a dozen different ways, and today there’s no getting a handle on my emotional roller coaster, so I’m just going to jump in and start writing from my heart and stick with it this time.

On April 26, 2010, I met Rick face to face for the first time. We’d initially “met” online, emailed and talked on the phone for a few days, then we’d tentatively agreed to take “it” to the next level. Whatever “it” was…

I suggested we meet on the Seaside prom at 10 a.m., roughly “half way” between his home in Hillsboro and mine in Long Beach. I got there a short time ahead of him, and blended in (okay, I “hid” among the masses) with the crowd at the turn around. When he arrived, he sat nervously on the bench where I’d said I’d find him, looking this way and that, like at a tennis match, wondering, he told me later, if I’d even show up.

After I determined he did, indeed, look just like the photos he’d shared, and it didn’t appear he had a chain saw or machete stashed underneath his quilted flannel shirt-jacket, I approached him, pulled a small squirt gun from my right pocket and shot water at him.

“Hey! Hey! What’s this all about?” he said as he held up his hands to defend himself from the spray of water, laughing as he did so.

“I’ve decided you’re an okay guy,” I replied, and sat down beside him, “and not some internet stalker weirdo creep.”

“Nice to know,” he said cautiously. “So what if you’d decided differently?”

I grinned and leaned closer to whisper. “I’ve got pepper spray in my other pocket.”

We sat there and talked for several hours, then decided to go get something to eat at the Pig-n-Pancake down the street. As we walked, Rick very gently reached over and took my hand. “Is this alright?”

I squeezed his hand, looked up into his eyes and smiled. “Absolutely.” And that, as they say, was the beginning of a very beautiful friendship.

The first day we met, he told me of his already long-term survival with congestive heart failure (CHF), and what the end of his life might look like. “Then you better get a passport right away,” I replied. “We’ve got some traveling to do while we both still can.”

By summer, we were nearly inseparable. Although Rick had never been a big sports fan, he learned to love the Mariners, and we went to many games at Safeco together.

He started attending my writers’ group with me, and completed a one-act play and the first five chapters of a science fiction novel before working with the community theater in Ilwaco started taking all his “free” time.

When his passport arrived, we tested our traveling compatibility by short trips to Victoria, BC, and Cabo, Mexico. As predicted, we traveled great together, and in short order, we went touring Italy, Austria, England, and Scotland.

But Hawaii was much closer, and cheaper, and since we both loved sitting in the shade under palm trees at the water’s edge, we went there twice. The second time, in May, 2013, which turned out to be our last big trip together, we were there to celebrate his 60th birthday, and we spent a full two weeks in Lahaina, Maui.

The photos I’ve finally chosen to include on this post (gleaned from many hundreds taken during the past five years) are from that last trip to Maui. At Fleming State Park, our final full day of vacation, we sat on rocks at the end of the short beach and held hands, watching a dozen or so green sea turtles feed and flip in the surf. He asked me then, and repeated his request often, that I return with a small portion of his ashes some day so he could swim with those turtles.

We constantly referred to our relationship as “The Bonus Rounds.” When he was first diagnosed with CHF, he was told 80% of men with his diagnosis die in the first two years. Rick was already in year 11 or 12 when I met him, and very determined to keep on beating the odds.

In September, 2014, he qualified for an LVAD heart pump, and we were told he’d get “four to seven good years.” Unfortunately, the right side of his heart was far too damaged for that to happen. Nevertheless, I am grateful for every single day we had together—even the last eight months, of which he spent the vast majority of his days in the hospital.

Weeks ago, Rick asked me to write (and deliver) his eulogy. I preferred to call it “The Story of Your Life,” and since I wasn’t around his first 56 years, he dictated much of it to me from his hospital bed. I did the best I could, but his time was shorter than either of us imagined, and I’ll just have to make do with what I have.

This April 26th, five years to the day since I met him, Rick and I will complete our Bonus Rounds when I read The Story of his L I F E at his memorial service in Hillsboro. We have gone full circle.

“They say” he is resting in peace now, and is not in any pain. That much I believe; right now I’m in enough pain for both of us. My beloved traveling companion, tech guru, and all-around bestest friend ever is gone. Gone as in passed on. Left the earth. Isn’t here for me to call, or hug, or kiss, ever again.

I love you, my BCB— my Big Cuddle Bear—and you know I will miss you every single day of the rest of my life, which at this particular moment, I can’t even imagine without you.