This is Chris.
As you can tell from his impish smile, he was full of beans. And as you can tell from his bacon-wrapped Christmas turkey, he was no vegetarian. Still, Simon loved him, and so did I.
Even though he once told me my vegetarian pizzas looked like dog vomit.
Chris said exactly what he thought, exactly when he thought it.
And he seemed to own (at least) one of everything. When we were preparing the paddock for our Kune Kune pigs, he had a fence-wire-stretching-thingy. And a trailer to pick up the pig shelter kit from the shipping depot.
You see, Chris didn’t believe in delivery charges. So, every so often, Simon and Chris would head out of a Saturday to pick up some impossibly heavy and unwieldy thing or another and man-handle it up, or down, the stairs.
Chris believed in living life to the fullest. He rode a motorcycle to work in all kinds of Wellington weather. He drove his Porsche through New Zealand’s narrow, twisty turning roads, in clear defiance of the nation-wide 100 kph speed limit. When he found a Scotch Whiskey he liked, he bought a case. An excellent bubbly at an excellent price? Two cases! He owned more bottles of Limoncello than any other person I’ve ever known.
Were it not for Chris, I wouldn’t be here — as in, I wouldn’t be here in New Zealand. You see, it was Chris who made it possible for Simon to emigrate to New Zealand from the United Kingdom in 1998 to escape the ravages of a broken heart. They worked together, ate cheese toasties, did crossword puzzles, and played darts. And Simon’s heart healed.
Were it not for Chris, Simon wouldn’t have been on the Indian Pacific Railway from Sydney on July 5th, 2008.
Were Simon not on that train, we wouldn’t have met. Had we not met, I would have continued to go on ever more bizarre internet dates until I went totally mad and started collecting cats. Which would have made my dogs most unhappy.
I first met Chris a few days before Simon and I got married in Hawaii in 2009. He was Simon’s best man. They turned up together after a nine hour Air New Zealand flight during which, I’ve no doubt, they were the life of the party. By the time Simon made his way through immigration as a new migrant on a fiancé visa, Chris had charmed everyone in Customs.
Over the coming three days, we three went to Wal-Mart, where Simon bought his wedding clothes (which I am certain made my Dad smile, wherever he was) and Chris bought discount electronics. We went to the outlet mall, where Chris bought running shoes for his step son, Logan. The cardboard cutout of Logan’s left foot was a prominent feature throughout the festivities. And we went to the Saturday flea market at the University of Hawaii football stadium parking lot, where Simon sunburnt his feet to a crisp.
Oh, and we got a marriage license, which, for the record, looks just like President Obama’s birth certificate.
Chris hit it off immediately with my Goddaughter and bridesmaid, Alex, who sneezed all over him (and pretty much everyone else) during the ceremony. He was a dapper Best Man in his linen suit, Panama Hat, Hawaiian shirt, and dress shoes. The celebrant wore a turtle print sarong and a t-shirt with krishna on it. The groom wore shorts and bare feet — it was a beach wedding, after all.
When I came to New Zealand as a potential job candidate, in 2012, he picked me up at the airport and drove me to the top of Mt. Victoria, and showed me the beach where Ma’a Nonu sometimes worked out, which pretty much sealed the deal. And he woke up at 4 am to get me to the airport for my 6 am flight back to Sydney, and home. Service above and beyond the call.
It was Chris who introduced me to the Lower Hutt Saturday morning Riverbank Market, in all its vegetable glory. Chris was at the airport when Simon and I arrived in Wellington from the United States, stinky and travel weary, with our duffle bags full of what we thought we would need to survive until the shipping container with our worldly goods arrived. The next morning, he shepherded us, jet-lagged and bleary eyed, to the market. I thought I was hallucinating. It was the first week of August, the deepest Southern Hemisphere winter, yet the market was replete with freshness — leeks, silver beet, lots of lovely brassicas, and those New Zealand standbys, kumara and pumpkin. And these weren’t just leeks — they were leeks the size of baseball bats. And daikons the size of cricket bats. And handmade noodles, and food trucks. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. I was right about the heaven part.
Were it not for Chris, there would be no Kale Whisperer.
Over the coming months, Chris would pick me up every Saturday morning and we would go to the Market together, leaving himself to sleep in and get the kettle ready for our return. Chris introduced me to the Tofu and Chinese Noodle Man, and the Thai Herb Lady, and the best free range eggs in the market, and the French Bread and Stinky Cheese Man. Some weeks, we would visit the Mad Butcher or Pack ‘n Save — places I rarely have occasion to enter. Then back to chez nous for a cuppa.
Then, one Saturday, Chris seemed not his chipper, sassy self. He didn’t rise to the bait when I ribbed him about the half-dressed Barbie doll in his Land Rover. He’d been sleeping badly. He thought he had gastroenteritis. Then he thought he had become diabetic.
Then he had a scan.
There was a mass.
Then surgery and chemotherapy.
That was two years ago.
He faced the end of his life with his usual charm, humour, dignity, and generosity of spirit. Even when we knew he was in pain, he could laugh. And make others laugh. He faced cancer head-on and fought it with everything he had. In short, he succeeded in doing what we all hope to do: he remained Chris, in full, right to the end.
He adored his girls.
He wore a beaded bracelet that read: Fuck Cancer.
Tomorrow, we will farewell Chris.
Today, I am unspeakably grateful to have known him.