a few years ago, jenn and i were looking for a camper van. dylan said a good friend of his mom’s had converted his van to a camper and was looking to sell it. he said the guy was a real old hippie, free spirit type. i thought, “great, it’s going to be a piece of shit with a crappy mystery machine paint job.”
but i looked at it anyway. i met the owners, fig and serena, and they showed me the van. it was awesome. they were creative, careful, older people (think long grey hair) and had done beautiful work installing a propane stove, a bed, a sink, a tiny fireplace, solar power, a yellow cedar ceiling, custom-made wooden cupboards, and all kinds of other shit i can’t remember now. i was really impressed.
what struck me even more than the van though were fig and serena themselves. they were both really fucking cool. fig was almost 80 but active as all hell, opinionated, honest, sort of a hermit. serena was about 60 and as strong as fig but warmer, more open, easier to talk to right off the bat. they were a great yin and yang couple, different but very complementary to each other.
they were nomads. depending on the time of year, they lived in hawaii, spain (i think), brazil, or vancouver island. they liked wilderness and solitude so in each of these places, they had some kind of home deep in the woods. on the island, the van was their mobile home. with fig getting older, they had decided to unload all their other stuff and places and set up permanently in brazil.
i fell in love with them almost instantly. both were such unique, interesting characters. i told jenn about them and the van, and a week or two later we all met up at the duncan folk fest (against fig’s will — he hated crowds). we all hung out for the day, chatting and shit. we were peas in a pod, it was really nice. at the end of it, we agreed to pay them $3500 for the van. i met up with them a few days later and gave them the money but left the van in their names for the next few weeks so they still had a home and vehicle while they sorted out their paperwork for brazil. fig wrote us receipts for the payment and that was that. it was really cool and exciting.
about a week later, jenn and i were out with friends when dylan called me and said fig and serena had been in a serious accident, the van was destroyed, and they were both in critical condition. i thought he must be making a tasteless joke at first but when i realized he wasn’t kidding, i was incredulous. my mind swirled with questions. i wondered just how bad they were hurt, if jenn and i were somehow going to be found liable for the accident, if fig and serena’s families might end up suing us to pay for their medical bills. i was really worried for both them and us.
fig died in hospital within a week. serena had a multiple serious injuries but most serious was her brain injury. it was incredible, about as awful as things could have possibly been. i visited serena several times over the next month before she improved enough to be transferred to a US hospital. i wasn’t sure if she would ever fully recover. i haven’t spoken to her since but i’m told she has made almost a full recovery.
we were in touch with fig and serena’s families and lawyers. everyone knew that we had paid for the van and said we would get the money back once fig’s estate was sorted out but we still felt like vultures about it. like any death, the families went to war over who deserved what and that slowed the process down. i heard the story from each side and it was horrible. inheritance brings out the worst in people. about 6 months passed and eventually, jenn and i received a cheque from serena’s lawyer for the van, and that was the last interaction we had with them.
it’s weird because even though our time with fig and serena was so short, i had felt a real connection with them, and fig in particular. it’s why he still persistently pops up in my mind now. i felt comfortable with him, admired him on numerous levels, and sensed a mutual respect from him — he obviously liked me a lot too. it’s part of why he not only agreed to sell us the van in the first place, but agreed to sell it to us for so much less than he had originally wanted for it. that van had been his baby so he had a hard time parting with it but thought we were the right people to pass it on to. we found that really flattering.
in the end, i think it was sort of poetic: within the next year, jenn and i realized that a camper van didn’t suit our camping needs so i’m glad we didn’t end up in a position where we had to sell fig’s van to someone else. i don’t know that i would have been able to find the right owners in order to honour fig’s wishes. and since the van was fig’s baby, it was kind of cool that he took it with him when he died — if he couldn’t keep it, no one could. i feel like it was the universe’s way of saying, “fuck it, fig. you’ve earned it.”
i think there was a reason fig and i met. i have no idea what it was but that’s what it feels like to me, and i’m grateful as all hell i had the opportunity. he was something else.