I met Bill at the Avenue Grill in Mill Valley. At the time I was 25 (he was 23) and shared an apartment with my sister, Julie. Several times a week we would go to the Grill for meals – it was a necessity for that feeling of family when so far from home. Bill tended bar while my sister and I talked with him for hours. I thought he was an absolute hunk, with his curly blond hair and dazzling blue eyes. I was mesmerized by our conversations and his quick iconoclastic mannerisms. Every time we went there I thought he had eyes for my sister. So I was surprised and delighted when he softly took my hands one evening as we were leaving the Grill, and with that penetrating gaze said, “Mary Jo can’t leave here until she agrees to go out with me.”
Our first date was spent at the top of Mt. Tam sipping a bottle of champagne while we watched the sunset. It was the beginning of our five year relationship. In the evenings after work he would stop by my house, always whistling a distinctive little tune to let me know he was approaching our house. That tune is so ingrained in me that I whistle it frequently today to signal my own approach (I didn’t realize it was his until after his death). That tune drove my sister crazy, but I loved it. Bill became a regular at 19 Laurelwood – we hung with an old gang of Michigan friends and began a tradition of dinner parties. Our famous was the big yearly Thanksgiving feast. Although Julie and I left California, Bill still hung with those same friends from Michigan after we departed. He was family.
Eventually Bill moved to the city and got a little apartment over the Stockton Street Tunnel. I was amazed that it was always neat as a pin – nothing out of place. He always kept a “clean, well- lighted place” while internally his mind was a churning machine that never rested. The image of Bill sitting at his Danish style desk, thoughtfully writing or reading is imprinted on my mind – as are his dragging us around to some seedy bar, new play, or restaurant bumping into his network of countless folks. Life was so simple, yet filled with endless possibilities. I remember those carefree days with immeasurable fondness and gratitude.
For the next three years we lived together in a sweet utilitarian flat in North Beach with a stellar view. At times it felt like we were an old married couple with our crotchety workaday routines. We would slipper around the apartment with our ratty old newspapers and candy bars, reading or watching television, laughing at ourselves all the way. We created our own melodious language that no one else appreciated. Some teased us for it, but in fact it was the essence of our connection. I was always hopeful we would marry – and in fact Bill asked me. For a time we were engaged, but some have said that Bill probably thought he couldn’t give me what I needed and like a gentleman stepped aside. It is one of my most painful memories, going our separate ways. Bill was my best friend.
Looking back now I see that Bill and I became grown-ups together. We learned how to fight fair, play hard, and be responsible and accountable. As the years slipped away we continued our relationship through writing, at first with letters and then by email. I continued to feel connected to Bill. I will always think of him as family. He became part of my heart and never left my life. I confess I didn’t believe in heaven until his death. Now I am hopeful that someday I will see him again – if only for one more fascinating conversation, heady laugh and a hug.
I miss you Bill.
Mary Jo Hrisca Bochner