A Privileged Hello is Worth a Painful Goodbye.
The roads in Okinawa, Japan are paved with ground up coral. As in… from the ocean. This is just one of many things about that beautiful, tropical island I had the privilege of living on from 2009–2013 that differs from most places in the world….
Why is this significant? Because that coral is very slick in wet weather. I learned this first hand before and certainly during the one-car wreck I had in 2012 when my car hydroplaned at about 20 mph (though my speedometer read in kilometers). My little girl and I began spinning… and kept spinning, and turned, and turned and turned and finally hit a median. That impact was both painfully jarring and welcome because it felt like the car was speeding up. It felt like we would launch into orbit, if not overturn. For the record, I was driving a straight line, not making lane changes, not texting or even listening to the radio when this happened. But at the age of 37, even having been in a number of collisions over the course of my life span, this was hands down the scariest wreck I’d ever been involved in. To this day I have a fear of wet roads, even back in the States with good old “American” paved roads. An experience like this can change a person and it certainly changed me.
Enter our new acquaintance, Brian Verville. Known to his friends and cohorts as “Phrog.” My husband and I had already met him a handful of times under casual circumstances. My husband was interested in the motorcylce club that Phrog was involved with so we met Phrog in conjunction with this theme. We’d seen him around. We’d talked to him in passing. But he wasn’t a friend in the traditional sense. He was just a nice person we knew.
Until my wreck.
For the record, I’m recounting this story as I remember it. It’s entirely possible that I’m getting details wrong or others remember it differently.
But what I know to be fact is this: When my wreck happened, it completely wrecked my confidence along with my car. Aside from the financial burden of replacing the entire front end of my vehicle, I was scared. I needed to get to work each day (too far to walk) but I was damned well SCARED to get behind the wheel of a car. And I only wallowed in that sensation for a matter of hours before Phrog stepped in. I had no idea where that would lead but I’m grateful for it every day.
The day after my wreck we went to a place and met up with some people, including Brian, a.k.a. Phrog. The next thing I knew he was telling me, “I know you’re scared to drive. I know you don’t want to do it, but you have to. You have to get back behind the wheel NOW. Plus you have a job to get to.” He threw me a set of car keys. “This is my other car,” he said. “Don’t worry… it’s a front wheel drive with a small engine that will get you anywhere you need to go. It’s very safe and won’t let you down. Drive it until you don’t need it anymore.”
“Who does that??” I said to my husband. Who, indeed?
I drove that Nissan Cube (model year 1998, I think) for nearly 3 months. As in THREE MONTHS. As in 1/4 of an entire calendar year. As my husband rebuilt my Nissan Skyline (equivalent of an Infinity G-35 in the States) with parts as we could find and purchase. I just kept driving Phrog’s car. Every day. He asked for the car back just as we had repaired mine. Why? Because he had another friend who needed a vehicle. And even then, he just wanted to know how we were coming along.
He wanted to help.
In the name of brevity and because much of this story isn’t mine to tell, I have to skip ahead.
Over a period of time, my husband became very close with Phrog and his community. He became a member thereof. And that made me a very close bystander.
Phrog knew I was a bit timid about getting on the motorcycle. He knew that I knew nothing about the community or the lifestyle or the people. So he taught me. He wasn’t the only one, but he was instrumental.
We’d go on rides around the island and he’d give me tips — usually presented in a snarky fashion with a devil-may-care laugh — about how to be more comfortable. He’d laugh from his belly and grin from ear to ear. He’d give me a rashion of s#it when he felt I was being uptight. And he’d take a hard line with me when he thought I needed to know something and failed to grasp it on my own.
On top of everything else, he could fix anything with anything. Engine blown? Give Phrog a bandaid and a good word on the side of the road and you’d be back on the move again.
So within a year of my wreck and Phrog’s white knight intervention, I saw him as something between a mentor and an uncle. He was an immeasurably valuable part of my every day existence. He wasn’t perfect. He was far from a saint. But he was beloved by people far and wide and I knew first hand why that was so.
So when the call came in I lost my mind. I don’t remember exactly how it happened but as my mind retells it, I slapped my husband across the face when he told me the news. I’m not sure I actually did that. Maybe I only thought I did because at the time it felt like the reaction I would have. Because the news was unwelcome to the point of being unbearable.
Phrog had suffered a massive heart attack and died outside his home.
He was gone. That was it. There’d be no more parties or weekend rides or random week night hangouts. There’d be no more him busting my chops or me asking him sarcastic questions.
He was gone.
It’s impossible to put my feelings that day and in the weeks that followed into words. Aside from the obvious grief and anger, I felt guilt. I felt like it wasn’t my place to hurt so much at his loss. Not when he had a wife and daughters and old friends and motorcycle club brothers who certianly hurt more? Did I have any right to feel the way I did?
Regardless of my feelings of unworthiness, I cried every day. Every DAMNED day for months.
Today marks the 2 year anniversary of Phrog’s passing. And though there’s much I’m leaving out of this story in the interest of brevity (as in how emotional the memorial was, how different Okinawan funeral customs are from ours, my husband standing watch over his brother Phrog’s body for 2 days, the dozens upon dozens of Americans and Okinawans who showed up to pay tribute, and our temporary ownership of Phrog’s bike brought back to the States and what that meant to me) I’ll say this: I no longer feel guilty for grieving this loss. What Phrog was to me was something other than what he was to different people in his life. His daughters certainly feel a greater void than I. His motorcycle club brothers and close friends certainly feel something different than what I feel. But I get to say that he was a great man. He wasn’t perfect. He was prone to fits of stubbornness and cantankerousness. He wasn’t a sophisticated dresser or a PhD. But he was an AMAZING human being.
No matter how much it hurt to lose him and still hurts at times to think about him as not being part of our world, I am more thankful than words can say that I got to meet him. I got to know him, love him, be there with him for a short while and learn from him. I’m better for having known him.
I don’t ever want to feel this kind of hurt again. The hurt of losing someone too young and too important in my life. But I can imagine something worse — never having met him at all. I am beyond grateful that this happened. So my doors will remain open. I’d rather know a generous, unique human being for one day and lose him or her than never know them at all.