A couple of weeks ago my wife was going through the channel and The Empire Strikes Back was on. Ever since high-school Empire has been my favorite Star Wars movie. I have two great memories of it. One is, on our third date, my wife and I watched it. Empire’s her favorite Star Wars movie too, she really likes the At-Ats (I also like the way she says At-Ats). The second would be on the night before I got married, Rich and I watched Empire at his place eating the best Chinese food in the world.
But this time, as I walked into the room and saw it, I felt sad because of Rich. As I’ve said before, my friendship with Rich was made on Star Wars. Our whole time as friends, nearly 30 years, we were nerds for it and spent hours playing Star Wars, discussing the films, and collecting it. We had two long running jokes when it came to Star Wars. One was we’d always say to one another matter-of-factly, half serious, half joking (more serious I would think), “Why don’t you give me all your Star Wars toys?” The second was a constant debate about who knew more about the original trilogy. One day Rich took it to the extreme by claiming I could say any line from the movie, any word of dialogue, and he could finish the quote. I took out my Star Wars screenplays, searched through for a scene, found one, and said, “the.”
“What the hell is that? ‘The’” he asked.
“That’s your word, finish the line.”
As teens in high-school who could drive, that meant we could go and check for Star Wars stuff whenever we hung out. We did this a lot. Of one of my best memories of this is from our senior year of high-school. Rich had perfect attendance at the time while I, well let’s just say I didn’t. Rich didn’t want to get the perfect attendance award at school when we graduated, so he decided to call out one day. Rich was my ride to and from school, so when he said he was calling out, I told my mother I was calling out and she gave me no trouble.
My mother never believed me when it came to being sick. Mostly she was right because most of the time I wasn’t sick, except for the time my senior years my glands in my throat were so swollen that I made her take me to the doctor, her not believing me, until the doctor told her I had mono.
The day Rich and I called out though, that was a cool day. He came over to get me and we went to the mall and bought Star Wars models to build and paint. Rich was such a better model builder than I was.
Collecting with Rich meant we were always on the lookout for collectibles. When we were younger, these were the days before the internet, which meant we had to shop through catalogues, go to the mall, flea markets, garage sales, or when our school would hold some kind of junk sale in the gym where people could get rid of things.
When we were in high-school is when we started going to conventions. These were the best. We usually went to a horror convention twice a year, or science fiction conventions. My favorite convention we ever went to was also the last one we went to. That last convention I’ll never forget. I remember sitting on a curb outside the hotel, each of us drinking a nice cold coke and eating a soft pretzel. I’ll never forget that warm spring day. Even when he was here it was a convention we often spoke of. We talked about going to another convention but just never got around to it.
Walking the dealer room with Rich was great. We’d point things out to each other, stop at tables, and whenever Rich saw something of the Tantive IV, the Rebel Blockade Runner, Rich’s favorite ship from his favorite Star Wars movie (even until weeks before he died, the last time I spoke to him before the next day I was told he had two weeks to two months left to live, while his memory was slipping, I could ask him to name his favorite movie and he would look at me like nothing was wrong and say Episode IV). When he saw this ship, Rich would nerd out. I liked when he nerded out, it’s what made him and I friends.
But honestly, the past several months without him have been terrible. If losing my truest friend was this tough, I’d be crippled without my wife. My wife has been here for me when I need her, and I’ve noticed my sister spending more time with us (perhaps for me, or maybe for herself since she was good friends with him too) but they knew I was not doing well with it. My parents knew, my sister knew just by speaking with me. I never brought it up, and when they would ask how I was doing with it I would just say fine. But I wasn’t fine. Not when I was having panic attacks, not when I would go to call him to tell him something stupid like we always did, not when I would be driving home from work and think what he was doing, especially not on special days like birthdays or holidays when I knew he normally would be with us.
I never talked about it, but I thought about it. One time my wife was out with her mother and I was home. I was watching TV when I thought to myself, “If Rich was here he’d either be over right now or I’d be with him.”
Those thoughts always hurt. So when I walked into the room that day I just wasn’t ready for Empire with the memory of the night before being married. Empire always brings the thought of my wife and I and our third date, but remembering watching it with him that night before I got married, well, it hit me and made me miss him more.
Which brings me to this past week. My wife and I were at Target and I just happened to have my camera with me. I was checking out the Marvel and Star Wars toys like I always do when I see this toy:
Just a kid’s toy of Han Solo and Chewbacca. But there was something about it, I of course thought of Rich, but this time I didn’t feel sad, this time I smiled.
Han Solo always was my favorite Star Wars character as a kid. I would act like him, his tough guy personality and Rich would always tell me when he would go home from playing at my house he’d act that way and get in trouble. If I was Han Solo Rich was Chewbacca (and not just because he was taller than me). Rich was as loyal to me as Chewbacca was to Han. It was like he had made the “Wookiee Life Debt” to me as a friend, and extended it to my wife when we got married. He was very good to my wife, whenever he came over for his weekly dinners I’d cook, he’d always help her with the dishes. He’d bring gifts for us both, thanking us for having him over every week, and he never once forgot her on her birthday or Christmas.
So, when I saw this toy I smiled because it made me think of him, and it felt like the old times when we’d be out looking for Star Wars stuff, and for a moment, it felt like he was there standing right next to me, like how the Jedi’s are in that blue-ghostly style. I don’t know if he was there or not, but I’d like to think he was. So, for those few seconds, Rich and I were nerds once more.
If Rich was there with me, I do have a message for him I hope he gets. “Hurry back, Rich. I miss you.”