Location: San Francisco, California
I first met Hampton the summer before I started college. He was ten years my senior, but we became fast friends. I had just finished my year as an exchange student in France, and I was spending the summer visiting my parents in Kinshasa, Zaire (now the Congo) before heading to Brown. Hampton had lived in Zaire years earlier as a Peace Corps volunteer, and he returned when he was stationed to the U.S. Embassy there as an economic officer. My job as the assistant to the Director of the U.S. Pavilion at the International Trade Fair in Kinshasa (a plum job for a high school student!) made us colleagues of sorts, and we had some amazing adventures together.
Each winter and summer break, I would return to Kinshasa and Hampton and I would pick up where we’d left off. We traveled together in Africa and in the States and he visited me at Brown a few times. Our most memorable trip was when we were invited to check out the cotton production in a remote part of Zaire, where the plane dropped us off on Tuesday and then picked us back up on Friday. Let’s just say the grand welcome and lodging we were expecting had been egregiously aggrandized, and Hampton and I suffered through one calamity after another. We would inevitably reminisce about that ill-fated trip every time we saw each other and end up crying from laughing so hard at all of our comical (in retrospect) missteps. (One example, Hampton got up in the middle of the night to stop the annoying dripping sound coming from the wall-mounted toilet. One tremendous crash later, with the sound of broken porcelain and gushing water now replacing the drip, and the problem was resolved by Hampton inadvertently ripping the entire toilet off the wall!)
Hampton ended up leaving the Foreign Service because he had to be closeted back then and that was no way to live. He moved to DC and was there while I was in law school, and he was my fellow foodie, my frequent movie date, and the guy who cheered me on when my relationship with David looked like it was a keeper. When he moved to San Francisco, it was clear he was where he needed to be. It was there that he fell in love and married Vinny, and we enjoyed seeing both of them whenever we made it out to the West Coast. I am so glad my kids got to experience his dry wit, his keen intellect, and his unique blend of antisocial tendencies (he once took a consulting job because it promised minimal contact with other people) but fierce love of his friends and family.
Hampton called me a few months ago to tell me he was joining me in the dreaded Big C club. He assured me that his cancer was the best kind to get and that it was more of an annoyance than anything like what I went through. He had been feeling fatigued and losing weight and after many misdiagnoses and rabbit holes (his recent hiking trip in Chile had everyone thinking it was something he’d eaten or picked up there) he was finally diagnosed with multiple myeloma. I got to see him twice while he was sick, and the amount of weight he’d lost was shocking. (He texted me before I went up to his oh so messy apartment – Hampton was a notorious slob, which is why he and Vinny never cohabitated post-marriage – to warm me that he was “scary skinny.”) Hampton was big, strong and fit, a gym devotee, so seeing him so weak and emaciated was jarring. I tried to visit him again a month ago when I was back in town, but he canceled because he was not feeling up to it. He was having a terrible time tolerating the chemo regimen he was on and experienced one complication after another.
A few weeks ago, the complications got so bad he had to be hospitalized. Two days ago he was transferred to the ICU. His liver and kidneys were shutting down. This morning, Hampton died.
I am devastated and heartbroken. Hampton is one of my oldest and dearest friends and he knew me in a way few do. We have seen each other through so many things and we have always picked up exactly where we left off, even if months elapsed between calls or emails. He got to see my kids grow up and he loved hearing about their antics and developments. It has been so comforting knowing he was always there, someone who loved me and had a history with me no one else could really understand. I will miss him so much, and his unexpected death caps off a year of tremendous loss. But I also know that he packed a bunch of living into his 64 years. I remember his joy in telling me about the house he and Vinny bought in Argentina, where they planned to retire, and the trips he planned to visit friends across the globe. He would not have wanted to live a compromised life and I am glad he is no longer suffering. I am also glad he knew how much I loved him.
My favorite picture is the one above, when Hampton was visiting us in Charlotte when the kids were little. I left Hampton alone with Hannah and Eliza while Noah and I went down the street for an hour or so. When I came back, Hampton was all bejeweled and in the throes of a game of Pretty, Pretty Princess. He looked at me, the girls squealing with delight by his side, and said, in his trademark deadpan way, “Dear Lord, help me.”
I did not need this reminder to appreciate how quickly the years fly by and how much I treasure my friends. But I will honor Hampton by feeling even more humbled to still be here, and I will make sure all of my loved ones know just how loved they are.