My very first skydive.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


Several weeks ago I promised to write a few memories of Bryon if I reached a fundraising goal for my upcoming marathon. I made the goal in one day but it's been difficult to carve out the time to do the post justice. And sometimes it's hard to go down memory lane. But this race and the cause I am running for are important me so today I made the time.   

It’s hard to know where to begin when reflecting on all of the stories I have about Bryon Lane. We were friends, and then partners, for so long that I feel like I could write a book about who he was, or at least who he was to me.  I’ve picked a small collection and written them in chronological order. I hope they give you a glimpse of the loving, courageous, and funny guy I knew. 

Bryon and I knew each other superficially for years before we started dating. When you grow up in a small town, you could probably say the same thing for most of your peers. All throughout high school we knew of one another but it wasn’t until his senior year, and my post-grad year at home that we really formed a friendship. I give all the credit to Mike and Ginny Papanicolas, owners of Athena’s Pizza in White River Junction, VT. The crew that worked at this small pizza place were like a second family to me. For a long time I was one of two women who worked there and I withstood my fair share of teasing and endured endless hours of talk about football, Beavis and Butthead, the Rolling Stones and whatever else was on the boys’ minds at the time. Despite being a staunch feminist, I loved it. These were really good people, with huge hearts and healthy senses of humor. When we worked, we worked hard.  There wasn’t a break room, which was fine because we never took breaks. Bryon came to work there as a good friend of the owners’ son, Jason.  On weekends we would work Friday and Saturday nights, sometimes until 12 or 1 am. Especially during the summer, once we’d closed up shop we would gather at Ben or Jeremy’s place and drink cheap beer, and play cards or darts. If it was really warm out, we would sometimes go down to the rope swing on the river and risk life and limb swinging from a tree. It’s hard not to romanticize these times, they were some of the best in my life and even now the memories make me laugh and feel a little bit young again. Somewhere in all of these long hours and crazy nights Bryon and I became smitten with one another. It was never easy, there were other’s feelings at stake and I was full of a restless spirit that would take me to New Mexico and back. And we were young…so young.

But I digress a little bit…the point of giving you some back story to the pizza place was for this: we had one small walk-in refrigerator in the back of the restaurant. On the back wall of the walk- in we kept the trays of dough, the large containers of shredded cheese (which we shredded ourselves-a very awesome blend of mozzarella and cheddar) and the huge vats of pizza sauce. The cheese and pizza sauce were stored in these tall, heavy-duty Tupperware containers with lids that snapped on and off. When they were full, we often used them as step stools to reach the dough from the top shelf or to reach things that had been pushed to the back of the fridge. One night Bryon went in to grab a tray of dough or something and used one of the very full sauce buckets to reach it. All of sudden the door of the walk-in flew open and there was Bryon, covered from head to toe in pizza sauce. Apparently the lid had slipped while he was standing on it and he’d fallen in. I remember he was laughing so hard and then everyone else started laughing ...except for me. At the time all I saw was a huge mess and the fact that we were now one bucket o’ pizza sauce short for the night. (Don’t judge, someone had to be serious in that place!)

But stuff like that happened all of the time. Accidents and shenanigans. We threw extra dough into the trees to see who could get it to land on the highest branch. We stuck sausages on each other's car antennae. We put flour, salt and pepperoni in each other's coffee. We loved each other as only family can.  And I will forever remember Bryon, laughing out loud, standing in the door way of the walk-in drenched in red sauce.

At the end of one of these amazing Athena’s Pizza summers, Mike and Ginny took the whole crew to Canada to go camping and to Parc Safari in Quebec. Jason, Ben and Bryon and I had to stay to close up the restaurant so we were the last to arrive at the campground. (I won’t get into the story about almost dying in a horrific car crash because Ben didn’t know that ‘arrĂȘte’ is French for ‘stop’.)  Making up for lost time some of us drank a lot of alcohol in a short amount of time and that contributed to what happened next. To appreciate the humor about what happened  you need to know that Bryon was into wearing his cowboy boots, hat and long duster-we teased him about looking someone from the song Desperado or as Mike reminded me, the Marlboro Man. Anyway, we had set up a circle of lawn chairs around the campfire but it was pretty dark out and the campfire wasn’t that big. As Bryon came walking back over to where we were all sitting, he looked around for a chair. Seeing what he thought was an empty place he proceeded to put one hand on each arm and lower himself into the seat. Only it wasn’t a seat. He had tried to sit down in between two separate chairs thinking that the arms he was reaching for belonged to the same chair. With no more than a slight ‘oof’ he momentarily disappeared from view while he went back ass over tea kettle. None of us could help him up as we were laughing so hard. And all you could see were his cowboy boots kicking in the air, trying to slow his roll.
Bryon’s dad had a great big canoe and on the days we didn’t go fishing off the set-backs in Norwich, we sometimes went canoeing on the Connecticut River. One afternoon we had pulled over to a small little island to have lunch and sit in the sun.  I had been home from New Mexico for a few weeks, but hadn’t left my wanna-be hippy ways behind me yet (for further explanation see HERE ). Mostly this meant I wore Tao of Pooh t-shirts or anything else somewhat counter culture, put patches on all of my jeans, and didn’t shave. As Bryon and I sat there having lunch and being silent I turned to him and leaned over to give him a kiss. I laughed and said “I don’t think I’ve ever dated someone with this much chest hair”. And this is how I know how much he loved me: He laughed right back at me and said “That’s okay, I’ve never dated a girl with that much leg hair.”

I started shaving again very shortly thereafter.

A few other snippets about the early years:
I loved playing cribbage. Loved it. Bryon liked it too, but I wanted to play all the time. The thing of it was though, Bryon was a much better cribbage player. So I would beg him to play, he would win, and I would curse him out for beating me. Every time. It drove him nuts. But right up to the last week we spent together, I was still making him play cribbage with me.

Bryon was an incredible gift giver. I’ve never had someone give me more thoughtful gifts than he did. He listened so closely to me –and let’s face it, given the air time, I talk A LOT- and he always remembered the things that would make me happy. Hiking books, homemade butter cookies, the soundtrack to Les Miserables, tickets to a concert. The last birthday gift he got me was a beautiful set of wind chimes. It was significant not because he knew how much I liked them, but because he really didn’t like them and at the same time he gave them to me he asked me to move to North Carolina with him. And he knew those wind chimes would be coming with me.  

Bryon and I broke up somewhere in the middle of my third year of college. Though not solely because of our break-up but certainly fueled by it, he joined the Marine Corps. He had always admired his father and grandfather’s service and he LOVED to work with his hands. He was a very intelligent man and probably would have made an amazing history professor, but his heart was in the military. I saw the error in our breakup shortly after he left for boot camp and we spent the next year and half dating via the distance of Parris Island, SC, Millington, TN and finally San Diego, CA. This was before cell phones and the internet. I have a box of more than 100 letters we wrote to one another during that time. After he died, his parents were kind enough to return my letters to him that he had saved over the years.  He was a prolific letter writer and captured in those pages are much of our history as friends and lovers. I am so grateful that he gave me such a tangible way of revisiting those moments in our lives –the Marine Corps stationary, his handwriting, the stamps, it all makes it so much more real to me.

Bryon and I broke up again when the distance got to be too much. We both fell in love with and dated other people during this time so these two stories may be more legend than truth as I didn’t get to witness them first hand. But either way, to me, they are classic Bryon.
The first involves his early days in San Diego, CA at Tustin Air Station and then Camp Pendleton. He was still considered a newbie in the Corps and while he wasn’t living in Basic Training type barracks, it wasn’t far from it either. All Marines had a foot locker that they were expected to keep padlocked at all times. Once during an inspection, the Staff Sergeant (or maybe it was a Gunnery Sergeant?) found Bryon’s padlock opened, therefore his locker unsecured. Bryon got called in to the Staff Sgt.’s office and was read the riot act and told he need to turn in an essay on why leaving the footlocker open was such a breach of protocol.

Bryon, being too smart for his own good and a bit of a wise ass, wrote an essay on the fact that as Marines they had been taught to rely on one another (God, Corps, Country!) and that if everyone took that brotherhood to heart-and he was sure they had-then he had no need to worry that one of his brothers-in-arms would try to take anything from his footlocker. Therefore, the protocol to keep the footlocker padlocked must be because the USMC was concerned that some ‘unseen’ force was going to enter the barracks and take government property. He went on and on about the ‘unseen’ force and what the USMC needed to do to address it and how padlocks might not be enough to stop it from getting into their footlockers, etc., etc., etc. When he turned his essay in, he sat quietly while his superior read it. He was read the riot act again and dismissed from the office with no further consequence. Bryon swears he heard the guy laughing all the way down the hall.

On a dare, while on base, while in his uniform, he mooned an oncoming car. Turns out it was the Commandant’s wife. He didn’t get promoted for awhile after that.

About three years later, though we had stayed in touch the whole time, we ended up falling in love again. We traveled back and forth from Massachusetts and Virginia to visit one another. He proposed to me twice before he died. Once was in my kitchen in Northampton, MA and in my shock I replied “You want to marry me?!?!”  He laughed at me and said that yes he did, but maybe we’d wait until after he’d settled in North Carolina. He was transferring back to the “real” Marines. No more carting Presidents, Vice Presidents, Senators and dignitaries around-he was finally going to be on an aircraft carrier doing troop transport.

Once he settled in his new house, I went down to visit and to start thinking about moving down with him. He fretted over leaving me alone for six months, we talked about his sister coming down to stay too. He took me all over the southeastern end of North Carolina. We went to the Fort Macon, an old Civil War fort on the Bogue Sound. I made him go to the beach right across from the Fort. He lasted about 30 seconds and then asked if we could go home. Not a beach bum, my guy. 

One night I woke him up to see the amazing thunder and lightning storm. He told me our back yard abutted the artillery range and that there wasn’t a storm, Marines were just blowing things up. 

Driving back from Wilmington, NC one night he reached over and put his hand on my leg. Bryon wasn’t one for overt displays of affection, but in that moment I felt so loved and I think he just wanted to be sure I was really there, that I would really stay.

And then he proposed again. Or maybe I proposed to him. We were talking about his upcoming time at sea and he said they would be going to Albania and Macedonia. Those didn’t sound like the resort stops to me so I asked if it would be dangerous. He smirked a bit, in this way that he had, and said “Nah.” He said we could try to meet in Italy for New Year’s but he wasn’t sure was their port schedule would be so we would have to play it by ear. And then one of us said “Let’s get married.”  There wasn’t a ring (I didn’t want one), no announcement to our families (my younger sister was getting married so we agreed to wait until after her big day), there wasn’t any hurry. We just knew we wanted to stay together forever.

When he dropped me off at the airport, 16 days before he died, he sat with me until my flight was called. (This was pre 9/11 and loved ones were still allowed at the gates.) I gathered my things and we kissed good bye. He told me that he loved me and then he left. I watched him walk the whole way down the hallway until he was out of sight. He never looked back. Because that is who he was. Everything in his life was exactly in the place he wanted it to be and the only direction was forward.

To be honest, that is a big part of why I run. To keep moving forward.

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