The Goddess Speaks
Friendship transcends time and space
THE YEAR WAS 1966. The place was Rio de Janeiro. The occasion was the reunion of a group of Peace Corps volunteers who had trained together at the University of Wisconsin two years earlier and had been working all over Brazil.
Bill Gray, a fellow volunteer, was one of those people everyone likes. He introduced me to his fiancee, Miriam, who had arrived in Rio from California with a wedding dress and champagne. She and Bill were to marry and honeymoon in Brazil. Miriam, with her blazing red hair, quick wit, outspokenness and sense of humor, became my instant friend.
After a medical exam, Bill was to be sent back to Washington for further tests. He asked me to look after Miriam. I had booked third-class passage on a Dutch ship from Rio to Cape Town, South Africa, but it wasn't leaving for three weeks, so I was going by bus to Uruguay and Argentina. Would she like to go? Sure.
After Bill left, we took off on a memorable journey on rickety buses over treacherous terrain. Her feet were swollen, and she was less than thrilled at the rustic accommodations, including outhouses. She threatened to kill me.
We returned to Rio two weeks later, drank her wedding champagne and did the silly things young people do when they have their whole lives ahead of them.
On the eve of my departure, we partied with friends in Copacabana. Rio never sleeps so we had no idea that daylight had arrived, and had to hustle to catch my ship. It was preparing to pull away as we ran frantically down the pier, yelling for it to stop.
I hung over the side to shout goodbyes. Miriam kept saying, "Jump, jump."
At every embassy in every country I visited throughout Africa, and later in Egypt, where I managed to get a job, I got letters from Miriam. We stayed in touch for years. She and Bill got married, and I visited them after my return to the United States. But life has a way of piling up on you, and years have a way of speeding past, and with various moves, we lost contact.
FAST-FORWARD to 2006. While preparing to move to Hilo last year after selling my Kaneohe home, I came across some letters from Miriam. Knowing she had spent part of her childhood in Davis, Calif., I put an ad in the Davis paper to try to find her. The response was instant. Soon we were sending long e-mails every day. Plus cards, letters, newspaper clippings and gifts.
Bill had died, and Miriam was married to Ed Duffy. They said they were coming to visit, and they did. It was as if the years had melted away. There we were, talking at the same time, expounding on our adamant political views, which fortunately are identical. And discussing the animal shelters, wildlife groups and environmental organizations we support. Again, identical. And watching the NBA playoffs and cheering for our favorite players and teams. Yes. Identical.
So much happened to both of us over the years, but our soul connection was never lost.
Charlotte Phillips is a former Star-Bulletin copy editor.
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