14 Feb 2017
It’s Valentine’s Day today, the birthday of a young friend, the day I donate blood and make Kiva loans. There’s another day, in August, when I do likewise. I’ve been doing this now for seven years.
Andy was the first friendly face I saw in America. Oh, there were people smiling and chatting. Mostly in uniform as I went through immigration in Los Angeles and was chivvied on to my onward flight. But when I finally found the luggage carousel at Dulles, there was Andy, watching my big yellow BookCrossing.com bag go around, looking to see who would claim it.
I was so glad to see a friend after the longest, most exciting and confusing Friday of my life, I nearly hugged him. When I see him now, I don’t hold back, and I don’t let go.
Andy is everything that makes America great. A lifetime in rescue and public service, a thoughtful disciple of the great fathers of democracy, a warm, caring helper of people in distress, and above all, a family man.
He was the American Dream, and he showed me his suburban kingdom with pride. Beautiful house on a quiet street, two cars, a cat and a dog, a sweet and charming wife, and the real joy of his life, almost lost against the walls covered in their photographs, his two daughters. The pride on his face when he talked of them was like the sun coming up.
Two total darlings, keen to sample the Tim Tam chocolate biscuits of a visiting Aussie, happy to hear tales of a strange land where kangaroos jumped past Parliament House and the stars formed a bright cross in the night sky.
Becky and her older sister had their parents sussed out. Andy would look gruff as he ordered them to finish their homework or take themselves off to bed, but Becky would grin at me – she knew that her father’s frown would melt in a moment if she gave him a hug.
I’ve met Andy and his family several more times since then. Once in Sydney, a couple of times we drove down to Charleston together, and again in 2009 when I collected my BookCrossing mate Discoverylover from her rural Girl Scout camp and we drove to Andy’s place for a backyard barbeque, the warm twilight fragrant with cooking and surprising little zips of light under the trees.
Becky gently caught something out of the air and showed it to me on her palm, the first firefly I’d ever seen. It flashed off and on before she released it to join its mates in the dusk.
Next morning, I prepared the rental car to drive to the airport for my onwards flight. Becky climbed into the boot, saying that she wanted to come back to Australia with me.
In August 2010 we heard the news from Washington, devastating in the few choked words Andy posted. Becky had been riding her bike and been struck by a car. She was dead.
My heart went out to Andy, his wife and surviving daughter. I couldn’t bear to think of the pain they would be suffering and would continue to feel as the autumn leaves fell into a cold and empty winter.
Kin, friends, church and community gathered around, a comfort to the family as they went through the necessary rituals. I sent some money to the local BookCrossing group for a basket of fresh fruit – flowers wither, but fruit is a symbol of life continuing – but Andy with a shadow of his usual good humour protested that the house was so full of food gifts already that any more would surely spoil before anyone could touch it.
A flicker of brightness. Becky is in her grave, but not entirely. She was an organ donor, and three other children have received a precious gift from her.
In the dark and emptiness, I feel the happiness of having known Becky, a joyous soul, her bright eyes and cheery smile forever a spark in my memory.
I looked in the Australian sky and renamed the brightest star in the Southern Cross after her. I won’t forget her spark, not while I have eyes to gaze up to heaven, and a heart to feel the hole Becky has left.