…And Flights of Angels…

Last night I went to a memorial for a friend. I hadn’t seen him in years, though we’d talked a fair amount recently on the phone. I met him back in 1980-something, when I was a college kid going to science-fiction conventions, with a thing for Arthurian fantasy and Celtic jewelry. He was the big giant guy in the Darth Vader suit. Six-nine, easy, Curt Morley was; he wore that costume like he was born to it, had the deep scary-sounding voice to match and a gift for mimicry so perfect that you’d swear you were listening to James Earl Jones from the Star Wars movies.  My friend Laura and I couldn’t resist; we had to see if we could make him break character, and eventually we did, and a friendship was born.

Curt told ghost stories and terrible puns with equal elan. He led ghost tours, did hypnosis-themed stage shows, and was working on a book when he died unexpectedly on a Friday afternoon. He’d also been through trouble in his life; I and many others lost track of him in the 1990s, and in those pre-Facebook and Twitter days, it was pretty damned hard to find folks who’d dropped off your personal radar. He resurfaced a couple of years ago–I found him on Facebook, or he found me–and we began reconnecting. We commented on each other’s posts, traded quips, kept track of each other’s doings, had rambling phone conversations about life and ghost stories and books and politics, and getting together for coffee if either of us could ever manage the time.

I remember vividly one story he told about himself. My father was ill at the time with the leukemia we all knew would kill him, and Curt and I talked about the special hell of losing a parent. His mother had died years ago, and he still missed her. And then he told me about the lowest point in his life, sometime in the early 2000s, when he’d come close to killing himself. It was Christmas Eve; he had no job, little money, no home, and no friends (he felt) in the world. So he went to a motel, with a gun–he’d worked security at some point and had a license to carry–booked a room, and sat on the bed awhile contemplating the gun. Trying to decide whether to use it.

As he was deciding, a knock came at his door. He wasn’t going to answer it at first, he said, but some last idle flash of curiosity made him go see who it was. The motel owner was standing there, a tray in her hands. On it were plates of food. Roast beef, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans on one plate; on the other, a slice of chocolate cake. “I brought you dinner,” she told him.  “I thought you might like some.”

He took the tray and thanked her. She wished him a Merry Christmas; he did the same, and she left. With the door closed and the food set on the bedside table, he sat back down and once again considered the question that had brought him to this room, on this night, with a loaded gun. But those few minutes with the motel owner had changed the answer. He decided he couldn’t kill himself then and there, in that room; he couldn’t leave the owner with that mess to clean up, that hassle to deal with. Most of all, couldn’t leave her with the memory of a lonely stranger blowing his brains out in her motel on Christmas Eve. He worried, he told me, that the memory might trouble her on other Christmases. She’d been kind to him; he couldn’t repay that by taking his own life on her premises.

So he ate the food, and he lived through the night, and somehow after that he got through another day, and then some more days, and then after awhile he crossed paths with some old friends who’d wondered Whatever happened to Curt Morley?, and they took him in and helped him, and he helped them back as best he could while he slowly pulled his life back together.  All because of a random act of kindness, he said, from a stranger when he most needed it.

I think of that story now, as I bid Curt goodbye for what I hope won’t truly be the final time. I think of the value he placed on kindness–showing it to others, having it shown to him. And I think of the big scary guy in the Darth Vader suit, who in reality was one of the kindest men I ever knew. May all who knew him remember him well… and when the next lifetime rolls around, I hope he’ll once again be part of mine.

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