About the time I returned home in northern Wisconsin recovering from my successful bout with tongue cancer, I received an email from a reader named Bil Buralli in Chicago, telling me how much he enjoyed my books. As always, I wrote him back to thank him, and we developed a regular correspondence.
When I moved to Chicago and was staying with my long-time friend and once-partner Norm, I invited Bil and a couple of my other Chicago readers over to Norm's for coffee. Bil was the first to arrive; bigger than I'd pictured him, balding with short grey hair and a short grey beard. Bill had himself gone through cancer, so that was one more thing we had in common. He was a long-time teacher at Chicago's prestigious Latin School and lived on Sheridan Road near Diversey. When I got my own apartment at Diversey and Sheffield, Bil and I would meet frequently for coffee. Often we'd meet at the Caribou Coffee on Broadway, where I met and got to be friends with several of the other regulars. Several times he would invite me to attend a student production at Latin where, even though he no longer taught there, he was always surrounded by kids he had taught and faculty with whom he worked.
When my friend Gary moved up from Texas, I introduced him to Bil and they, too, became fast friends, sharing a love of opera I was never able to fully appreciate.
When Norm died, Bil was there to offer his support. And then one day he casually mentioned that his cancer had returned, and he began a long series of chemotherapy sessions. Unlike me, he never complained. Never.
He began to use a cane. We would often meet for lunch at St. Joseph hospital, a few blocks from his apartment and where he was receiving treatment.
Walking became more tiring for him, and he showed up less and less frequently at Caribou, and it reached the point where he went out less and less.
Last February Gary and I were invited to a belated birthday party given by his four grown children, of whom he was rightfully extremely proud, and I had a chance to meet them and his ex wife, with whom he had remained close. It was obvious they returned his affection.
When he was no longer able to leave his apartment his family arranged for someone to be with him 24 hours a day. But he still kept up his routine of reading the paper, listening to the Metropolitan Opera on radio, and reading a constant stream of books, including mine. He was always asking about my current work in progress and asking how much longer it would be before he could buy one (he refused, until the last book, to let me give them to him, though I was happy to do so).
We tried to go over to see him at least twice a week, watching him grow weaker. When he was put on morphine, it became difficult for him to concentrate. But he seemed to enjoy having us be there. One time when we went to see him, having called in advance to let him know we were coming, we were met at the door by his son Brian, who'd come up to see him from his home in Peoria. Brian told us he was asleep, so we left.
Gary took to calling in advance to calling just before we took the bus over, to see if he was up to having visitors.
We were planning to go over this afternoon, and Gary called.
Bil had died two hours before.
I've often compared life to a gigantic teeter-totter; without life's lows we cannot fully enjoy the highs. But sometimes, when we hit the bottom hard, it hurts.
Bil and those who knew and loved him rode the teeter-totter with him, he on one end, we on the other. It was a fun ride. But we have hit the bottom exceptionally hard, and it hurts.
Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back.