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10 Extraordinary Bonds Born Of Egregious Circumstances
When the going gets tough, armchair optimists spout platitudes about finding the sweetness in sour moments. But making lemonade from lemons sounds preposterous when it means squeezing joy from the bitter agonies of battle, addiction, or the loss of loved ones—unless you’re one of the people on this list. For them, unimaginable ugliness became a conduit for some special relationships.
10 Philippe Pozzo Di Borgo And Abdel Sellou
According to French aristocrat Philippe Pozzo di Borgo, he wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth. It was a golden one. The second son of a French duke, he grew up to become a champagne magnate. But the upward arc of Philippe’s life descended into sorrow in 1993 when he lost the full use of his limbs in a paragliding accident.
While Philippe struggled to cope with quadriplegia, his wife and caretaker, Beatrice, was succumbing to cancer. Wracked by grief and the guilt of depending on his ailing spouse, he even once wrapped an oxygen tube around his neck to end it all. But he lived to witness yet more agony as his wife perished three years after he was paralyzed.
Widowed and physically disabled, Philippe set about interviewing potential caretakers. It took about 90 people before he met his match, a crass ex-con named Abdel Sellou. On paper, Sellou seemed like a counterintuitive choice. An Algerian immigrant fresh out of prison, Abdel was more used to robbing people like Philippe than helping them.
He was a self-described “lone wolf” with a wealth of ego and a deficit of scruples. But Abdel also possessed crucial qualities that the other prospects didn’t. In Philippe’s words, “He didn’t feel sorry for me. He was cheeky and had an outrageous sense of humor.” He was just the type of person that Philippe needed.
Philippe and Abdel fed off each other as partners in uproarious mischief. One of their favorite antics involved barreling down Paris streets in Philippe’s Rolls-Royce until police intervened. At that point, the pair would pretend that Philippe was having a seizure. Officers duped by the story would take them to the hospital.
When they weren’t pranking law enforcement, they were modifying Philippe’s motorized wheelchair so that he and Abdel could race together on it. Abdel became what Philippe later described as his “guardian devil.”
The pair raised hell together for 10 years before going in different directions. Philippe remarried, and Abdel went to breed chickens in Algeria. Philippe would go on to write a book about the one-of-a-kind relationship he formed with his caretaker, which inspired the wildly popular French film Intouchables.
9 James Bowen And Bob The Cat
There was a time when James Bowen’s best friend was self-destruction. A steady diet of heroin had rendered him homeless. To scrape by, Bowen played guitar for money on the streets of London. But man cannot live on narcotics and busking alone, and eventually, James began methadone treatments. He also moved into sheltered accommodations. But the biggest change in his life came at the paws of a cat.
James encountered the feline in the hallway of his building. The shabby stray had a nagging leg infection. Overtaken by sympathy, Bowen brought the sickly animal to the veterinarian. After his impromptu rescue, the cat stayed virtually glued to the man who had saved him. Whether he was busking on a street corner or riding the subway, James could always count on his furry new friend to be there.
Bowen named the cat Bob after the murderous villain from the TV show Twin Peaks. Despite the ominous origins of his on-screen namesake, Bob proved to be an indispensable companion.
Nurturing a pet gave James something besides himself to care about and renewed his motivation to kick his drug habit. Moreover, Bob was a financial boon during Bowen’s busking sessions. But the cat wasn’t just an adorably furry accessory to performances. He had learned to “high-five” his human pal in front of crowds.
Busking enthusiasts weren’t the only people who delighted in the cat-man duo. A literary agent saw book fodder in James’s story and entreated him to put pen to paper. James hammered out a best-selling account of his transformative relationship with Bob. The success of his work, A Street Cat Named Bob, has even led to a movie deal.
8 Lynn-Marie Carty And Nick Nicholaou
Lynn-Marie Carty’s investigative prowess has made her a go-to resource for families with missing loved ones. So when Michelle Ashley evaporated into thin air with her two children in 1988, Michelle’s mother turned to Carty for help.
Michelle and her children, Joy and Nick, had been residing with the kids’ father, Michael Nicholaou. Once Carty managed to reach him, he claimed that Michelle had skipped out on her family to be with a drug peddler. The kids were in his care and would not be seeing their granny.
Lynn-Marie had nothing more to do with the family until 2005. Michael had gone on to marry another woman. But after the two separated, he gunned down his wife and her daughter before taking his own life.
News of the murder-suicide compelled Carty to contact Nicholaou’s children. Eighteen-year-old Nick couldn’t hide his tremendous woe and openly sobbed over the phone. Carty tried to cheer him up but would eventually plunge the young man deeper into despair.
The savvy investigator couldn’t help wondering whether Michael Nicholaou had killed before. Obsessive research revealed that six nurses had been murdered not far from where Michael and his missing wife, Michelle, had stayed during the 1980s.
Disconcerted, Carty approached police with her suspicion that Michael was secretly a serial killer. That incendiary theory made it onto the pages of a supermarket tabloid which Nick Nicholaou unfortunately came across.
Nick was devastated by the accusations against his father and despised the investigator for the additional grief she had brought him. He self-medicated with drugs while dealing with chronic unemployment and the eventual death of his best friend. So when given the opportunity, Nick didn’t shy away from informing Carty how she’d helped to wreck his life.
Carty was crushed when she learned how badly Nick was doing. Looking for a solution, she arranged to meet him on the Dr. Phil show. The show’s producers rented an apartment for Nick and helped him to fight his demons.
Along the way, Nick put his life back together and developed a mother-son relationship with Carty. They somehow grew to love each other despite Carty’s insistence that Nick’s father was a serial killer.
7 Debra Tate And Barbara Hoyt
Debra Tate was just 17 when her sister, actress Sharon Tate, was viciously stabbed to death by a group of Charles Manson’s disciples. In 1971, a California court sentenced cult leader Charles Manson and four of his underlings to death for the murders of Tate and others.
But the following year, California banned capital punishment. As a result, the fate of these five killers changed. They could now look forward to life in prison. Since life sentences without parole didn’t exist in California, Manson and company could periodically seek parole.
Debra’s mother, Doris Tate, would later advocate for victims’ rights and pave the way for the families of murder victims to influence the outcomes of parole proceedings. She campaigned tirelessly to keep hard-nosed killers in prison. When Doris died, Debra and her sister, Patti, took up the mantle of thwarting the parole requests of murderers. When Patti died, Debra persisted alone.
Barbara Hoyt, by contrast, was a Manson convert who later spurned the group. Her courtroom testimony helped to convict the creepy cult leader and his followers. Afterward, Barbara feared reprisal from the Manson five and committed herself to keeping them caged.
But as time passed, her motives shifted. Although Barbara hadn’t committed any crimes herself, she came to see her attendance at parole hearings as a way to atone for the Manson Family’s sins.
As Barbara and Debra campaigned to keep killers locked up, they continually crossed paths. As it turned out, they had a fair bit in common. Both had been raised by divorced single mothers. Both came from middle-class households. Both were even the same age.
It was only a matter of time before they began to bond. Appropriately enough, their jumping-off point was a parole hearing for a former Manson cohort. Barbara and Debra developed a dynamic of regular phone calls and scheduled meetups. Theirs was a relationship of shared suffering and mutual appreciation.
6 Susan Retik And Patti Quigley
On September 11, 2001, Boston resident Susan Retik was married and seven months pregnant with her third child. Fellow Bostonian Patti Quigley was in a similar boat, married and eight months pregnant with her second child.
That morning, Patti’s husband, Patrick, boarded United Airlines Flight 175. Susan’s husband, David, got on American Airlines Flight 11 after calling his wife and uttering the last “I love you” that Susan would ever hear from him.
That morning, terrorist hijackers sent Flight 11 careening into the World Trade Center’s North Tower and Flight 175 into the South Tower. Loving wives were now grieving widows.
But Susan and Patti didn’t have to suffer in solitude. They received financial relief from their husbands’ former employers, who continued paying the men’s salaries. Friends and family became invaluable sources of solace while good-hearted strangers helped to ensure that Patti and Susan stayed fed and financially supported through donated goods.
Months after losing their husbands, Patti and Susan met for the first time and developed a special connection. Over the course of shared dinners, they also shared feelings that few others could fathom. Then they began to discuss their common sympathy for Afghan widows.
While Susan and Patti had the benefit of amazing support networks, the widows of Afghan men killed during America’s war on terror had only ostracism, destitution, and sexual assault in their futures.
Pained by the plight of these women, Susan and Patti founded Beyond the 11th, a nonprofit organization that teaches Afghan widows marketable skills and affords them opportunities to earn a living. To fund their endeavor, the duo began embarking on charity bike rides.
As their efforts gained momentum, Susan and Patti amassed enough money to visit Afghanistan and meet the women they help. Susan’s dedication to the cause even earned her a Presidential Citizens Medal.
5 Gary Wright And David Kaczynski
The name Ted Kaczynski carries the weight of almost two decades of domestic terrorism. Between 1978 and 1996, Kaczynski (aka the Unabomber) ended the lives of three people and wounded more than 20 with an intermittent onslaught of homemade explosives.
Kaczynski was driven by a toxic technophobia. He shared it with the world by coercing media outlets to publish a massive manifesto that he had written.
When the Unabomber’s younger brother, David, read the text, he recognized the distinct communication style of his sibling. David went to the police, which led to the Unabomber’s capture. Lamenting his brother’s mayhem, David felt compelled to reach out to the Unabomber’s victims.
Most ignored his entreaties, and the few survivors who did reply usually seemed uninterested in amity. However, there was one friendly exception: a man named Gary Wright.
Gary had felt the concussive fury of the Unabomber in 1987. On February 20, the then-owner of a Utah computer company attempted to remove what looked like a package of nails in his office building’s parking lot.
But Gary had actually discovered an explosive trap. The blast hurled him 6 meters (20 ft) and lodged 200 pieces of shrapnel into his body. As he would later recall, his doctor at the hospital had said that he “looked like a porcupine.”
But Gary’s injuries didn’t deter him from interacting with his assailant’s brother. In 1998, they had their first meeting, which Gary spent calming an uneasy David. Over time, the pair built a pleasant rapport, uncovering similar beliefs and interests.
Years passed. Gary and David became two halves of a whole. They traveled the nation together to give talks about hardship and reconciliation. They went on canoeing trips together and visited the Baseball Hall of Fame. While seeking indirect absolution for the sins of one brother, David inadvertently gained another.
4 James Costello And Krista D’Agostino
Those unfamiliar with James Costello by name may remember the image of him that was captured in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings. It was the portrait of a man straining to walk, his fried clothing in tatters.
He and a cadre of buddies had been approaching the finish line to encourage contestants when the bombs detonated. Three of James’s friends lost legs. James’s wounds required a series of operations and skin grafts. But despite all this, James was “actually glad [he] got blown up.”
It’s not every day that a person cherishes the moment that they suffered at the hands of murderous madmen. But the nightmare in Boston ultimately introduced James to the woman of his dreams. While convalescing at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, he first laid eyes on Krista D’Agostino.
A traveling nurse, Krista had been assigned to work at Spaulding for six weeks. As fate would have it, her temporary term overlapped with James’s hospital stay. Krista and James officially met when Krista dropped by to dress his wounds. They chatted and soon discerned that they had friends in common.
From this jumping-off point, James asked Krista to be his date at a function for Boston bombing victims. A devoted romance ensued, and eight months later, the lovebirds got engaged during a 10-day vacation in France.
In 2014, James’s marathon trauma turned into a full-on fairy tale when he and Krista exchanged vows. Everything from the venue to the catering was provided free of charge by local businesses. They spent their honeymoon in Hawaii.
3 Elinor Powell And Frederick Albert
It was 1944. Elinor Powell was an African-American nurse employed by the US Army at a time when the military still viewed African Americans as inferior assets. Confined to the least coveted tasks, Powell found herself tending to German POWs in Florence, Arizona, once her training ended.
There, Elinor met Frederick Albert, a German paratrooper who had been captured in Italy and shipped to the US to help bolster its dwindling workforce. Albert had not joined the German military to achieve Aryan world domination. Instead, he had been trying to please his emotionally distant father, who had fought in the Great War.
So when Albert glimpsed Elinor for the first time, it wasn’t through the eyes of an incorrigible racist but a man receptive to Cupid’s arrow. He introduced himself while working at the officers’ mess hall. As their eventual son, Chris Albert, described, “He kind of boldly made his way straight for my mother and said, ‘You should know my name. I’m the man who’s going to marry you.’ ”
Frederick’s words proved to be prophetic. Eventually, he and Elinor got married and started a family. But the lovers faced constant pushback from a society that refused to accept them. American officers who knew of Elinor and Frederick’s burgeoning romance brutalized Frederick in protest.
In the postwar period, finding acceptance was an uphill battle for the interracial couple. Unable to stay employed, the Alberts tried their luck with Frederick’s folks in Deutschland. But white Germans regarded Elinor with cold unease, which took a heavy emotional toll on her.
Discontented, Elinor and Frederick returned to the US and settled in Pennsylvania. But hurdles continued to abound. By this time, they were the proud parents of two boys, and their attempts to enroll their older son in public school were roundly refused.
Livid, they appealed to the NAACP for help before relocating once more in 1959. This time, they went to an interracial community in Connecticut. There, they would finally flourish and raise their children.
Elinor and Frederick stayed together until death finally parted them. Somehow, an African-American woman living in a racially oppressive society and the former pawn of a genocidal madman managed to build something beautiful, even when most of the world around them refused to see it.
2 Roni Keidar And Maha Mehanna
Septuagenarian Roni Keidar can remember a time when the border between Palestine’s Gaza Strip and her adjacent farming community seemed nonexistent. Despite being Israeli, she learned to drive in Gaza. As an adult, she and her husband hired Palestinians to work on their farmstead.
But unceasing hostilities between Israel and Palestine eventually rendered such arrangements unfeasible. Rocket attacks by Palestinians and devastating retaliations by the Israeli military caused travel restrictions that essentially closed Gaza’s border.
Barred from entering Palestine, Roni joined a pro-peace organization and started escorting Palestinians who had special permission to enter Israel. In the process, she met Maha Mehanna, a 43-year-old translator living in Gaza. Maha’s nephews struggled with an uncommon immunological condition, necessitating special travel clearance for medical care.
Though separated by age and geopolitical turmoil, Maha and Roni struck up a lasting friendship. They are largely confined to communicating through texts and phone calls.
Nevertheless, Maha and Roni remain close in one of the world’s more perilous long-distance relationships. They contact each other daily, and when Israel and Palestine exchange deadly missiles, the women rush to check on and console each other.
Maha and Roni’s relationship caused a substantial stir. Individuals like Roni’s daughter, whose best friend died from a Palestinian rocket, find the prospect of befriending a Palestinian admirable but unmanageable.
Others view the pair warily or even disdainfully. Maha, who was interviewed by The Washington Post about her controversial friendship with Roni, kept her face hidden for fear of violence from fellow Palestinians.
For some, the friendship has become a teachable moment. Maha has been interviewed by Israeli broadcasters, creating a unique opportunity to share a Palestinian perspective and humanize people who are often regarded as monolithic foes. Together with Roni, she serves as a needed reminder that “the enemy” is sometimes one of your dearest friends.
1 Joanne Jaffe And Christina Rivera
The first meeting between Joanne Jaffe and Christina Rivera occurred in the aftermath of a massacre. It was Palm Sunday 1984. A delirious dope fiend had slaughtered 10 people at a New York residence in a jealousy-fueled frenzy.
Christina had been just 13 months old at the time, too young to comprehend that she was the sole survivor of an attack that had killed her mother, two siblings, and several cousins. When authorities found her, she was soaked in blood and crying as she crawled among the corpses.
Officer Joanne Jaffe was among the first cops on the crime scene and the person temporarily placed in charge of Christina’s care. Joanne brought Christina to the hospital and then watched her at the police precinct.
Joanne grew attached to the toddler and sought permission to bring her home that night. Welfare services, however, opted to place Christina in foster care until her relatives stepped in.
Christina would first end up in her father’s arms before being sent to live with her grandmother in a rough section of New York. Joanne would go on to become the city’s highest-ranking female chief, but she always made time for Christina.
Joanne visited the girl, brought her gifts, and even provided financial support to Christina’s grandmother. As the girl grew, she began dropping by the police precinct to visit her friend and even joined Joanne and her fiance on vacations.
As a troubled teenager, Christina was a handful. Seeing Joanne’s devotion, Christina’s grandmother and father turned to the officer for help. Joanne and her fiance became Christina’s de facto parents. The couple tried to mold her into a confident, self-reliant adult.
Christina went on to work for the state and become an auxiliary police officer. But even in reaching independent adulthood, she still felt deep down like a girl who needed a mother.
Joanne, who had long ago promised to adopt Christina, pulled through for her little girl again. Some 30 years after the barbarism of that Palm Sunday, Joanne formally adopted Christina. They were officially parent and child at last.