Thursday, June 30, 2022

June Is The Cruelest Month

Yes, I did read this month, but I'm not ready to talk about that yet. On June 6, I found out that Val died. She was one of my best friends. I met her while I was living in Korea. She died earlier this year on March 21 in England and news was slow to leak out. She was only 58. 

I don't always remember the first time I meet someone, but I know exactly where I was when I first met Val. I went to a book swap at The Wolfhound, an English pub in Seoul. I was excited about finding a book swap, and was intent on making the most of it. Gradually, I noticed a blonde woman with a pixie-ish haircut at the bar smiling at me. Really smiling, like my delight was her delight. I remember thinking: I want to be friends with her! and I went over and struck up a conversation. When I got home, I sent her a Facebook friend request, and then and there became part of Val's vibrant circle. A couple of years later, we ended up teaching at the same university and living in the same apartment building.

Val was fun. She could make anything into an adventure. One of our last outings before I left Korea in 2015 was a trip to an abandoned mental hospital near Seoul. A few years earlier, we toured an abandoned amusement park. How did she find these places? Strangely, I never thought to ask.

Even something as mundane as a trip to Costco could make you feel as if you were in a 1930s screwball movie. Val decided that she didn't want to travel the toll road, so she drove the long way around, and during this lengthy drive across the city in heavy traffic, she decided that she wasn't going to listen to Siri's instructions, and just started making turns whenever the feeling struck her. Somehow, we finally got to Costco. Katie, the other friend who went with us and I agreed that it was a miracle. On the way back, we accidentally ended up on the toll road, to Val's displeasure. At the toll booth, she sped through, and we were chased by the police. When questioned, Val put on her best innocent face. We paid the toll and were let off with a stern lecture.

Another time we went to Costco, we took the train, and Val decided to set us with a challenge: We would leave the train station, race the few blocks to Costco, do our shopping, check out and race back to the train station in time to catch the next train. This gave us about 40 minutes. Did I mention that there was also a rainstorm brewing? I'd been feeling draggy that day, but how could I say no to such exhilaration? We aced the challenge, breathless, laughing and wringing out our wet hair and clothing while balancing our purchases as the train made its way back.

A few years ago, Val decided to help patch some of the holes in my childhood book reading and introduced me to Enid Blyton. Her conversation with Paul, our friend from Liverpool, about how Blyton influenced their childhoods, they kindly let me reproduce here.
I find it comforting to have this glimpse of Early Val.

When she wasn't on some madcap errand, or organizing convenience store crawls, or teaching, or working on another Masters degree, Val was gathering anecdotes for the two books she wrote. Picky, Sticky or Just Plain Icky? is part one of a series she hoped to write about blind dating in other countries. What's Living in My Knickers? contains stories of medical mishaps and misunderstandings while living abroad. Both can be found on Amazon.

The last time I saw Val was on a Facebook video call, sometime last year. She had been seriously ill during the pandemic and was in the hospital and rehab for many months, but she was finally home again. She held out the computer so I could see all around her flat. I was so sure that I would see it and her in person one day. I was also so purely positive that she would come to the US, and I had some adventures lined up for her.

Val's Twitter handle was/is @FarawayHammer, which came from a complete misunderstanding of her full name. Now she really is far away. From what I understand, her final illness was brief and painful, and I gather that she was somewhat aware that time was running out. What I like to believe is that on March 21, she embarked on one last adventure and jumped into spring, and the solstice probably still has no idea what hit it.


Jeane said...

I am so very sorry. Your words about her are so vivid. It's terrible to loose such a good friend.

Sam said...

I'm sorry for your loss of such a good friend, but your words gave me a vivid picture of what a beautiful soul she must have been - and how lucky you two were to find each other. Thank you for sharing Val with us...I do remember you mentioning her over the years I've followed your blogging and life-adventures.

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