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  • Writer's pictureFrances

Our Bellingham Origin Story Starts Here

Updated: Jan 18, 2023

I met them at the Community of Writers in California. Summer of 1998, a strangely cool August. Leonid meteor shower just over Squaw Peak, a party in Voll House. It was a week of workshops and Annie Lamott. Richard Ford and Amy Tan. And Paul and Cai.

Paul and I just were naturally drawn to each other, fated to be friends, with matched humor and a zeal for both hilarity and disaster. To this day, his laugh is one of my favorite laughs. We were hanging about and he introduced me to a writer named Cai, a beautiful woman who seemed to live there among the peaks, who seemed to have just been an inevitable force, sprung from the earth in a little resort outside Truckee. Cai was one of those people you meet and immediately want to know, or feel you already do. There were so many friends that week...Patty and Julia and sweet Molly...the place was magic. But of all the magic it conjured, Paul and Cai may have been the most magic.

A man smiling wearing sunglasses and a sun hat holds hands with a woman who is smiling
Paul and Cai Forever

Paul and I attended workshops together, one in Key West, one in Belize. We were lit besties, sharing work and encouraging each other. He writes so beautifully, and is now a successful playwright in Eugene. I'm so proud of the writer he's become, the stage force he is.

A few years after our whirlwind tour of workshops, Paul and I had been talking about changes, moves, inspiration. Kevin and I decided to move out west. We talked about it restlessly, like a kind of urge to go do something completely new. Paul was in the process of buying a house near his family in Coos Bay, Oregon. The timing was perfect. We traversed the country, camping and exploring, and Paul met us on the other side. We house-sat for Paul for several months, a gift he gave us, for he is as generous as he is hilarious. And he's hilarious. We nicknamed him The Reverend or "Rev" because he took such immaculate care of our wee selves out here all new and scared.

During that time, he and Cai were in touch, but she was still married. Paul was built for pairing, a guy who loves to cook, entertain, read books, share music, and MAN can he clean. He was like a magnetic receptor, ready for the right person. Toward the end of our stay, he told me about Cai, confirming my suspicion that they were more than just literary buddies.

And then he talked us into visiting Bellingham. We were looking for a place to settle. We visited Portland, which we loved. Seattle, also loved. And Paul said, "You should check out Bellingham."

Paul had been a nanny to two young boys on Lummi Island many years before. And, as it happens, he had taken Cai to Bellingham for a weekend. He loved Bellingham. Cai also loved Bellingham. These were two people I trusted about these serious matters. We visited, and we, obviously, also loved Bellingham. So much so, we moved here almost immediately and we still haven't left.

We wouldn't really be home, wouldn't actually have the lives we have, without Paul and Cai.

And so when Cai left us, a piece of my landscape also left. Bravely choosing to end her life through Death With Dignity after a devastating time with ALS, Cai departed on January 2 leaving her son Ben and our beloved Reverend, and all of us, behind.

Paul and Cai were that rare spark, that twin flame gone so right, that pair who lit each other up with respect and love. They were beautiful together. Paul will carry all that combined beauty by himself now, and I know it will hurt worse than anything. But he's pretty good at filling up with beauty and shining it out into the world and we'll all be here to see it. And luckily, Cai left her voice tucked into all of her books she's written.

We love you, Rev. Cai is eternal.

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