Back in September 2010, I wrote a blog post entitled “I Can’t”. For those of you who have read this particular piece, then you know it was one widely commented on and one of the most viewed stories so far in “Ramblings.” Of course, the main message was what we are capable of as human beings when faced with tragedy or life-altering experiences. One of the stories I mentioned in that post was one that goes back nearly 35 years, a story of three young men whose lives were changed forever by an auto accident in Kansas in 1976. One where I was driving and two friends from California who happened to stop that summer night in Tribune, Kansas, my hometown, and who were injured as a result of this accident. One friend, in particular, was severely injured. He was a fellow classmate at Torrey Pines high school who was also on the football team along with my-self. Because of this accident, he never played football again. His good friend, Paul Salgado, who graduated a year ahead of us in 1976, was also injured, though not as severely. This is a story about that man, a man I lost contact with shortly after the accident until, suddenly, I met him again this past May. Brace yourself, this is a story that will give you goosebumps!
When I moved back to Southern California in March, 2010, I had been invited by a good friend to attend a funeral memorial in late May held in honor of Willie Ramirez, with whom I went to school with at Torrey Pines H.S. in Del Mar, CA. My friend told me there would be people there with whom I’d gone to school with, many that I hadn’t seen for over 30 years. As it turns out, the memorial was held over a year after Willie’s death, who contracted cancer in late 2008 and passed away shortly thereafter in April 2009. When I arrived, I was absolutely stunned at the number of people there and it was evident this was a man who had led a remarkable life. His wife Natalie, her family, and his own, had planned this memorial for months, and what transpired that day will be forever embedded in my memory.
When I walked into the banquet room where the memorial was held, the FIRST person I met that day was none other than the same man who was jettisoned from the front seat of my father’s Ford Bronco the night we were in that accident nearly 35 years prior, the LAST time we had spoken with each other. We locked eyes on each other and I knew it was him. I called out “Paul!”, we shook hands, and I’ll never forget the look in his eyes. He smiled broadly, and simply said, “Gus!” But wait, it gets better, much better!
Turns out Paul just so happened to be Willie’s BEST friend who was being honored that day with the memorial! He was also one of the featured speakers that day, along with several other classmates and people I once knew. And THAT’S where I first laid my eyes on the woman who would eventually become the love of my life, Natalie Ryan-Ramirez. Natalie and Paul have been very good friends for over 30 years, and the one I last saw flying headfirst out of my Dad’s Ford Bronco nearly 35 years ago. But, that’s just part of this story and here’s where I get tears.
After the memorial in late May 2010, I never heard from Paul again. At least up until 2 weeks ago today and only because of something Natalie did. One of the things I began encouraging her to do not long after we starting dating in June, was to start her own Facebook page. After all, she had one created in Willie’s name as a way of attracting people to not only his memorial, but more importantly, as part of her cause in keeping his memory alive with the website created in his honor; Keeping Kindness Alive. Furthermore, she is an accomplished speaker and writer herself and has such incredible gifts in inspiring others that I felt she could use Facebook as a platform to share of herself. But that’s only a small part of this story. When she finally “came out”, so to speak, and created her own Facebook page as a birthday gift to me in late December, it was just one small step in her bigger plan on making our relationship known to her family and friends. So, shortly after this first step, she took it upon herself to send a personal email on January 1, 2011 to many of her friends and family, describing her life since her husband’s passing and the budding relationship she had begun with me. One of those friends, of course, was Willie’s best friend Paul, the first one I met at the memorial, and the one I remember oh so well from that tragic accident years ago.
Three days later, on January 4th, 2011 Paul’s response to Natalie and I arrived via email. Here, in part, are some of his own words, with my own editing of names and details for privacy reasons:
“I lost my best friend a year and a half ago and my emotions got the best of me. I would be driving down the road and then all of a sudden I would start to cry. I wouldn't even be thinking about him or anything in general. I guess my subconscious would tell me that there was something deeper inside me that needed to be expressed. I also believe that it is time to share with you something deep inside of me that has come out since you, Natalie, wrote to me about you and Gus a couple of nights ago. I got the letter and I felt so many things. I was sad that this was the realization that my friend is truly gone. And I was happy that you had found someone that could truly be your soul-mate (I wasn't sure that you would allow this into your life). This brings me to share a story with you both.
I also lost a good friend about 35 yrs ago. I was traveling cross country with a friend right after high school my senior year. We drove to Las Vegas then to Utah, then one morning we drove from Grand Junction, Colorado to Tribune, Kansas. It was a good 750 miles in one day. We were determined to see a good friend of ours from high school. Many people have heard this story and I would like to shorten it a bit so I won't go into too much detail. We met up with this friend in a little town in Kansas and we were all excited. We were pushing and punching each other, just doing what boys do. We were just so happy to see our friend. We didn't know what to expect in this little town. Our friend said that we could go out to a party out of town for the evening. We decided that the party was a good idea. So we jumped in our friend’s blazer and drove off to a party around sunset. We were on a gravel road going around 60 miles an hour. We were still punching and pushing each other and then it happened. There was a curve up ahead and it was too late. Our truck rolled and flipped a couple of times. I flew through the roof, the truck landed on my friend from California and my other friend was still in the truck holding on to the steering wheel. We all survived! I couldn't have imagined the grief that was to come to my friend who was driving the car since he lost his mom to a car accident when he was 13 years old. Yes, that friend of mine in Kansas was Gus Rowe. That night was probably the longest night of my life. All of our lives changed in the blink of an eye. The ambulances, the doctor’s office, the rush to a hospital 80 miles away. And the worries of your friends and their good health all came to mine. What was going to happen to us. It was time to grow up. That accident turned us from boys to men. And all the responsibilities that came with it. A few days later we all parted and came back to San Diego on different terms.
I came home to my warm and loving family and friends. My California friend went to the hospital and recovered. Gus came out west a couple of months later. My friend and I would get together here and sometimes we would run into Gus, but every time we saw him it felt different. I believe that he felt responsible for what had happened in Kansas and he wanted to say that he was sorry. Sometimes I saw him and I felt that it was best if I stayed distant, so he wouldn't feel that way. That's when I knew that I lost a good friend, a friend for life, 35 yrs ago. What I really wanted to say is, Gus it was an accident! I could have just as well have been driving that night and the same thing would have happened. It wasn't just your fault, we are all to blame for that accident. We were riding high on adrenaline. If something didn't happen then, it probably would have happened later. Some things we cannot control in life because we are not in charge. Things happen for a reason. Our friendship fizzled and I guess things just couldn't be the same. But I knew that Gus was a great guy and life for me would be best if I went in a different direction. Of course that was both of our losses. Now 35 yrs later I lose a friend only to gain another friend in his place. Funny how things happen.
Gus (my soul brother), that day 35 yrs ago was a nightmare and I feel your pain. I would like to reach out my hand and renew the good friendship that we could have had, had it not been for that accident. You know that they say that the eyes are the windows to the soul. And you can always see Gus' soul in his eyes. It’s a beautiful thing. And Gus on another note, Natalie and I have known each other for 30 yrs, so I will always be looking out for her, if you know what I mean. Enough said. I know that you two will make each other happy. There is only one other person whom I think could make her this happy after life with my best friend, but he is already taken (Me). I know that it is the right thing that the two of you to have found each other. I really think this is a miracle, I really do. So to my soul brother and sister, I must go now. I am glad I got that off of my chest.”
Two men, separated by tragic circumstances for over three decades. Two men, who then saw each other face-to-face once again 35 years later at the memorial for one man’s best friend and the other who “just happened” to show up at this man’s memorial, eventually to fall deeply in love with the woman with whom they were all connected with in spirit.
Do I believe in “Divine Intervention?” Do YOU? I think we know the answer.