“Fuck you, Greg!”
With two miles to go in the 1990 Mercer Island Half Marathon, I was done. I’d trained for several months and knew for a fact that I was better prepared than my roommate, who had put in much less mileage and had recently taken up the practice of cigarette-sneaking. But I had underestimated Greg. After telling him off as he passed by (his reply was simply a smile), I continued on without trying to regain my lead. I was moving as fast as I could. One thought crossed my mind during those final miles: I’d never hear the end of it. Turns out–I was right. He loved to share this story of his come-from-behind victory over me.
On Friday, December 9, 1988, I met Greg. We were 24 years old. My roommate Nadine, who was dating his friend Attila, introduced us. That night, we talked for hours, forming the foundation of a decades-long friendship. Nadine and I lived in a right-of-way house in Renton slated for demolition to make way for the straightening of the S-Curves. With two storeys plus a basement, the place was near-perfect and even had a security system. But because we were so lackadaisical about punching in the four-digit code for the alarm, and allowed it to sound so often for so long, when someone actually attempted to break in through the front door, neighbors delayed calling law enforcement. Greg and Attila showed up to provide moral support. The four of us all worked for the Washington State Department of Transportation in different capacities. And the DOT didn’t want to put money into a tear-down, so they simply cut back the shrubs near the entrance to discourage prospective robbers. Not long after the incident, Greg moved in with us. He and I were both bookworms, so we talked a lot about books and life and relationships. He dated a gal named Virginia at that time.
When the brown rats appeared, we knew that WSDOT wasn’t going to spring for an exterminator to take care of our rodent problem, so we lived in a state of semi-constant concern at the thought of potential encounters with them. Once, Greg showed up at the house only to find me standing on a chair, freaking out because I’d noticed one scurry by. Instead of scaring it away, he joined me in stepping up off of the floor and we freaked out together. Another time though, he prepared for a rat battle–by tracking down a golf club from the basement, just in case.
In 1991, I conned him into paddling a canoe eight miles along the Wenatchee River with my then-boyfriend Scott on a Ridge to River team. When they approached an obstacle and were forced to choose between the rough water side or the calm, Greg suggested that they choose the choppier, scarier side. The canoe tipped over, sending the pair into the 45-degree water. Our team did not finish in last place…but not by much.
In 1992, I moved to San Diego and married Scott a few months later at Fort Lewis, Washington. Greg and his girlfriend Carlene attended. He caught the garter, which meant he was next in line for marriage. He proposed to Carlene during the Christmas of 1994 and they married the following October. In 1997, we Permanent-Change-of-Station-ed to Japan, and stayed for 3.5 years. For the next five years, I corresponded with Greg’s mom, Ruby Mae, after meeting the Lippincotts at their home in Enumclaw. Scott and I had our two children while in Japan, and Ruby Mae made me a blanket for each of them. In her letters, she (like most prospective grandmothers) wrote repeatedly how much she wanted her youngest son and his wife to have children, “He’d be a great dad.”
In 2001, my family moved to Southern Maryland, then returned to the Pacific Northwest four years later. Finally, I had the chance to visit Greg to reconnect, and did. We kept in touch sporadically at that time and I saw him only a couple of times. When I visited him at his place in Shelton, it felt like the old times. After that, we would talk about once a year or so. He’d start with “JuLee, JuLee, JuLee!…” and we’d spend an hour catching up, usually around my birthday in February or his in August.
Although we were Facebook friends, we didn’t Instant Message or text much, preferring to talk on the phone or meet in person. When we did, we were able to start back up where we’d left off. Maybe that’s why I didn’t worry much about not hearing from him. In 2015, I messaged to suggest a get-together, but we didn’t make a plan. During one of the last times we spoke, in early 2017, he said, “How about if you die first, I’ll stand up for you at your funeral. And if I die first, you’ll stand up for me at mine?” I agreed. I texted him in February of 2018 suggesting a get-together. No reply. Months passed. A bunch of sad, distracting family stuff occupied my mind in the fall of 2018. On October 15, 2018, I Googled “Greg Lippincott” in hopes of tracking down his phone number so that I could call him.
His obituary appeared…
A man I’d known for nearly thirty years had died. Five months prior. And I’d had no idea. Shocked and saddened, I tried to grieve. But I didn’t want to accept the truth. Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, famous for formulating The Five Stages of Grief, said, “Denial helps us to pace our feelings of grief. There is a grace in denial. It is nature’s way of only letting in as much as we can handle.” Denial is the first stage of grief. And I can’t seem to move past it.
In Swimming in a Sea of Death: A Son’s Memoir, author David Reiff recounts his mother’s battle with cancer. Several lines have stuck with me, especially, “One mourns those one has loved who have died until one joins them,” and “She [his mother] was entitled to her own death.” Greg was entitled to his own death. I don’t know what I would have done with death staring me in the face. I don’t know if I could have, would have contacted my longtime friends to say that I was dying. And ask if they wanted to stop by and say goodbye. I wouldn’t have wanted him to do anything different than what he wanted to do, although I wish that I’d have known. Greg was my friend for 29 years, 4 months and 6 days. On January 10, 2015, he sent me this text, “I have always loved you.” I had always loved him too. If I could say anything to him now, it would be: I’ll never forget you. I’m grateful to have known you. You left too soon. And I miss you.