Sometimes life isn’t fair.
About a month ago, I woke from a wonderful sleep at my boyfriend’s cottage. He had gotten up to stoke the fire, put on the kettle and start breakfast for his parents and us. In an early morning, half-awake daze, I reached over to my phone on the bedside table, and as I do most mornings, clicked on the Facebook app to catch up on any gossip.
Squinting through one eye, I started to notice a bunch of “get well soon” messages directed to my friend Simo appearing on my newsfeed. I clicked on a couple of the messages, trying to figure out what had happened, as I knew he had been in Thailand and had just received his Dive Instructor certification – surely it couldn’t be THAT bad. I soon discovered I was wrong –Simo had suffered a stroke and massive brain haemorrhage, was in a coma in a private hospital, and about to undergo massive brain surgery.
I put the phone down and laid there in complete shock.
Rewind to five years earlier – nearly to the day I found out this horrible news- I was sitting in the café/bar attached to the Perth YHA hostel that I had stayed in the night before. I was finishing up my breakfast and sipping on a flat white, reading something cliché like Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love. In walks this skinny, funny-looking, boisterous man – wearing cargo pants, a khaki button-up shirt and a beanie. He called out to the person behind the counter, who seemed to know him, and they started to engage in loud, friendly conversation. I didn’t pay much more attention to him and went back to my book. Soon thereafter, I put my book away, hoisted my much-too-large 80L backpack onto my back… and my overstuffed “daypack” housing my camera gear & laptop – onto my chest, and made my way outside to the meeting point for my Nullarbor Traveller tour – which would take me from Perth to Adelaide over the next 9 days.
I stood in the shade and watched as a small tourbus pulling a bright yellow trailer turned the corner and pulled to a stop in front of where I had made myself comfortable. Off came the funny looking man from the café.
“Are you here for the Nullarbor Traveller tour?” he asked me.
“Uh… yep.” I responded
He then responded with what I’d soon learn was a classic Simo one-liner… commenting on my incredible ability to travel light.
I joined 4 other girls and one very out of place middle-aged man on the tour bus. I made myself comfortable in the seat behind Simo – until he invited any of us to join him in the shotgun seat so he didn’t feel so much like a bus driver. Of course, being the social butterfly I am – I hopped up to the front. He turned the ignition to the bus and we were off… for about 10m. He put the bus in reverse and we backed up right over top of his sunglasses, that had fallen off his head while he was helping us silly tourists put our stuff in the trailer. We were off to a great start.
Over the next nine days, Simo and I became fast friends. We talked about everything under the sun. We found out we had the same twisted and immature sense of humour. We shared stories of happy times, of sad times, of life’s big wins and the heartbreaks that shaped who we were. He spoke softly and fondly of his dear friend “Sister Bitch” who had sadly passed away much too young from cancer. He regaled me with tales from his military days. He spoke proudly of his son – whom he, unfortunately, was estranged from, through no fault of his own or lack of trying. He nicknamed me Little Miss Clusterfuck – after I managed to always wind up coming back to the bus bleeding or mildly injured. We made fun of the “ponce” or “wanker” –the middle-aged Sydneysider man who had a penchant for hitting on the barely legal backpacker girls who made up our little Nullarbor Traveller family. I showed him how to use my Nikon DSLR and let him play around with it when I was doing touristy crap that didn’t allow me to take it with me – like when I went swimming with the sea lions.
We stayed in touch long after the tour ended. We always spoke of meeting again, somewhere in the world. He proudly messaged me when he bought his DSLR camera – and would send me photos asking for feedback. He was a natural talent behind the lens and captured great images. He confided in me when he decided to leave Nullarbor Traveller to explore Thailand. He shared with me his love for Thailand and excitedly told me he was going to get his Open Water scuba diving certification – which then turned into his Advanced Open Water and then Divemaster – and then most recently his Dive Instructor certification.
We shared a love of the underwater world and I would live vicariously through him as he described the wrecks he saw on his dives and the beautiful underwater wildlife he encountered. He told me he was inspired by my blog – so much so that he started his own – The Rusty Bucket. I encouraged him to share his long list of outrageous stories from being a tour guide around Australia.
After I moved back to Canada at the end of 2012, our correspondence with each other dropped off a bit. We would go many months between messages, but then one of us would leave a smart-ass comment on a photo or status update, and we would catch up. He reached out to me last year when he got into a bit of trouble – he confided in me. Told me he was scared. That was the first time I heard (or read) those words coming from him. I reassured him that everything was going to turn out fine. I sent as much “good juju” and hoped he would come out on top- which he thankfully did.
I admire so many things about Simo. His ability to just go for whatever he wanted. The way he could see so much beauty in the world, and his desire to make his dreams a reality. Simo lived an unconventional life – and I’m sure he’d been told many times to “get back to reality” and “live a normal life”, much like the messages I received from family and friends who didn’t understand my choice to travel long-term.
Since that horrible day- about a month ago- people from around the world have banded together for our fallen comrade. A Go Fund Me campaign was set up after it was clear his medical bills would be crippling to his family- it is now in excess of $120 000, and the insurance company is –of course- trying to weasel their way out of it, only committing to pay roughly a quarter of it. A couple weeks ago, Simo’s sister left a comment saying that the Simo that is laying in a coma, is no longer the Simo we once knew. It is clear that, most likely, he will never come out of his coma.
And this is why I say sometimes life isn’t fair. I’m sad. I’m angry. I feel helpless. I see so much of who I am in Simo and the way he chose to live his life. It scares me to think of a world without this wonderful, kind-hearted, free-spirited man. He’s touched so many lives and it makes me so sad to think that we will never get to meet up one day, in some exotic location around the world. We’ll never share a laugh, crack an inappropriate joke or make fun of a dirty old wanker from Sydney. And I know that Simo would spew off one of his one-liners to me – I know he’d tell me to “toughen up, princess” or something to that extent. I know he wouldn’t want anyone crying over him, that he’d rather we share memories of the smart-ass, crack up that he was.
To be honest, I’m not too sure how to finish this post… but I do have a few words to say to the man of the hour.
My dear Simo,
You’re a dick for making us worry about you so much. If this is your idea of a sick joke – you, my friend, have won! I know you’re not physically gone from us, but on the off chance there is a miracle and you pull through, disregard this post, ya shithead, cause I’m sure you’ll tell me to harden the fuck up.
In all seriousness, you’ve been such an inspiration to so many people. I will forever cherish those nine days we laughed across the Nullarbor – as we drove through unusual rains, as you yelled at me each morning for not rolling my swag up tight enough, and as you always had the perfect bandage or ointment to fix up my latest wound. When I think of Australia – a country I cherish dearly and think of often- I will remember you – your lust for life, your good nature and everything you stood for. Thank you for being an incredible human being.
All my love and see you on the other side,
Little Miss Clusterfuck
[UPDATE April 20, 2016]:
I woke up this morning, much like I did that morning at my boyfriend’s cottage nearly a month ago – it is with much sadness in my heart that I found out my dear Simo has left this world. As I stated above, I will forever cherish the memories we made together and those nine days we laughed across the Nullarbor. Rest in peace, dear friend – I know you’ll be causing a ruckus wherever you end up. Be sure to save a drink for me!