Monday, February 28, 2011

R.I.P. Ryan

This seems to be a winter for losing beloved friends.

I was seventeen and dating my first husband when I met his best friend, Ryan. Like my ex, Ryan was a good deal older than me. He died this week after a long bout with cancer. He was 63.

We called him "TFR" which stood for "The F'ing Ryan." The man was a force of nature. Tall, Irish, bearded and handsome, Ryan was sarcastic, funny, intelligent, talented and crazy as all hell.

He'd gradutated from Visual Arts in Manhattan but instead of pursuing his art career, he freaked out, took a clothes iron to his credit cards and moved to upstate NY. When I met him, he lived in a little cabin in the woods, and the place was always filled with warmth from the woodstove, homemade pies and the sound of him playing guitar.

One year we moved in with him, living on his 24x7 back porch for an entire winter. The place had an outhouse, chickens and no running water. We had to crank water out of the well and carry it into the house by hand. At one point Ryan got a clawfoot bathtub and set it up in the kitchen. Rather than buying a stopper for the drain, he took a huge tree limb and carved one end to fit the drain, so you had to bathe while avoiding the giant spear in the tub.

It's probably Ryan's fault that I'm living in the middle of nowhere in Colorado now. If it wasn't for roughing it with him, I don't know that I'd have ever considered this choice.

Before I met him, Ryan and his 2nd wife bought some land in Arkansas "because it was the poorest state in the union." That's just how crazy he was.

When I met Ryan he was trading his paintings of Indians on barnsiding for dental work and anything else he needed. He absolutely refused to get out there and sell his work - a damn shame, he was one of the finest artists I've ever met.

His third (and final) wife, Lizzie and I were about the same age and she taught me to drive by getting us both wasted drunk and then having me take the wheel. Thank gods there wasn't much traffic where we lived. The crazy shit you do when you're a kid!

He hated garlic (or at least pretended to, to annoy me). He loved cheap beer, the crappier the better. He helped me to learn to ride a motorcycle by setting me loose in his cornfield. I flew across the field with my legs straight out behind me and ended up having to ditch the bike or hit his neighbor's barn.

When we moved down to FL, we lost regular contact with Ryan. (Part of that was because my ex was a bit of a dick, and had had a falling out with him before we left.) I'd contacted Ryan about a year before I moved and he was thrilled to hear from me. Gods I missed him, but I'm terrible about staying in contact, and in the end I truly regret that, because it's the last time I spoke to him.

One of Ryan's many artistic mediums was stained glass. Years ago he made my ex a window for one of the doors in our auto shop. Then he gave me a gorgeous stained glass box. Very sadly it got broken in one of my moves - though it wouldn't have survived the fire anyway. I've been thinking of a mirror he made Lizzie, with a goat playing the flute. I'm considering taking up stained glass, and maybe that's why I've had him on my mind.

Some Ryanisms:

"Fix it with a F-it."
"It just takes the right combination of curses."

I'm going to miss him.

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