Opinion | Biff America: Scars unhealed
“Is this Biff America?”
This was before caller ID and the voice on the other end of the line sounded official, almost like a cop — so I lied.
“No,” I said. “This is Jeffrey.”
The voice asked, “Isn’t Jeffrey and Biff the same person?”
I asked, “Who is this?” The guy on the other end of the line ignored me. It seemed like he was used to asking questions not answering them.
“Do you know Jake Billie?”
I’ll stop right here to say that though sometimes, in writing and life, I’ll embellish (lie) to make a situation more entertaining or myself look more clever, correct or credible, but what I’m writing now is the best I can recall of an terrible event over three decades ago.
I did know Jake Billie but not that well. I originally met him and a group of his friends at a local bar. They all worked in the Miami legal community both on the side of defense and prosecution.
After a few years returning with his group of friends, Jake began returning with just his children. Though we might spend only a few hours together every year, we became friendly. He would sometimes call me from Florida with questions about lodging, snowpack and dinning suggestions.
Jake was long divorced by the time we met, but one year he visited with his new girlfriend, Gretchen. A couple of years later I heard they got married and had a baby.
A year or two after that he and Gretchen returned, having left their 2-year-old daughter in the care of a relative back in Florida.
When the voice on the other end of the phone line asked, “Do you know Jake Billie?” I was relieved. That told me I wasn’t in trouble but perhaps Jake was. “Do you know where he is right now?” “Probably skiing,” I said, and then added, “Maybe you should tell me who you are and what this is about.”
“My name is Greg Lucket, I work for the attorney general’s office. I’m a friend of Jake’s and I met you briefly at that Irish bar in Breckenridge. I need to contract Jake immediately. I called the ski resort and they weren’t helpful. It’s very important!”
I told him there would be thousands of people on the mountain and the only way to reach a skier is to put a white board at the top of the lifts with his name on it. I also told him I knew where his wife was staying and since she doesn’t ski, she might be home. Greg made it clear that he had to speak to Jake first.
Both the town and resort were smaller then. I was able to call some friends on ski patrol to post signs up urging Jake to call Greg.
I was about to leave to go skiing myself when the phone rang. I was tempted to let it go to the answering machine.
“Biff, this is Greg again. I have not heard from Jake. But I need you to go and be with his wife right now.” Greg’s voice cracked when he added, “Jake’s infant daughter has died in a household accident and I don’t want Gretchen to be alone when she hears the news.”
As soon as I walked into condo I knew Gretchen had already heard the news. When I opened the door, she screamed and fell into my arms.
I was so far over my head I needed a snorkel. I was in my 30s, untrained and selfish. I barely knew Gretchen and knew nothing about the circumstances. Greg promised that he would try to locate grief counselors and that some friends and family were already on route to Colorado. But, in the meantime, I was the best he could come up with.
I think I blocked out much of what happened after that. I remember standing on the deck with Gretchen as we watched Jake slide down the ski run toward the condo. When he saw us he yelled, “Biff America, what are you doing alone here with my new wife?” I remember thinking his life is about to be forever changed during the next few minutes.
Unlike other columnists in this and other papers, I have no particular education or expertise to offer. I mostly just write about stuff that happens to me and try to make humor or sense out of it. Obviously, the above scratchings do neither. Bad things happen to good people. Luck, good and bad, by definition is random. My hope is by simply typing the words it might exorcise a small part of a horrible memory. Time will tell.
Jeffrey Bergeron’s column “Biff America” publishes Mondays in the Summit Daily News. Bergeron has worked in TV and radio for more than 30 years, and his column can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He is the author of “Mind, Body, Soul.” Bergeron arrived in Breckenridge when there was plenty of parking and no stoplights. Contact him at email@example.com.
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