An Open Letter of Private Thoughts
Only you could get me to open a Facebook account!
(that said, it took the enormously sad fact of your demise – after ~13 years of lapsed contact – to do so.)
Damn it Bub, thought you would be there when I got around to touching base again.
While it is said that an inescapable fact of life is that everyone we know or have known will say (or have said to them) goodbye, I would have liked for our last parting to have been after a more recent conversation, i.e., one revealing the person you’d become near your life’s terminus – and to have heard/shared wisdom which might have accrued . . . in spite of ourselves.
Unlike you, loner dog type that I am, my life is not characterized by an abundance of friendships – which means the few I have are special that much more.
Such was yours – even as was what I perceived as your generous, sassy, intelligent, unique, kind, quirky, free-spirited, opinionated, talented, arrogant, witty, multi-dimensional, insecure, and sometimes terrified, self.
So a day or two after hearing the bad news, while adjusting to the idea of never seeing you again, I dug into my deep storage box of old letters to see what I could find . . . and there they were – ten letters from 1977* to 1997. Re-reading them makes me acutely realize, in head and heart, my loss. Had I perused them less recently there is no doubt in my mind I would have been in contact.
Instead, too late, I can only reflect upon the two of us and the recent yesterday of long ago . . .
From the earliest days, you were always Doug.
I should have known we would become friends when in the 2nd grade we were both marched to the principal’s office for a little old-school corporal correction (while I forgive you for throwing that stone at me as we were playing on the teeter-totter, and while I hope you forgive me for reciprocating and actually hitting my mark, going to the recess teacher and telling on me, well, I’m still working on excusing THAT!)
Is it only my imagination or did you always have your “Doug walk?” I mentally see the small statured and slightly pudgy seven year old you making your way across the classroom with a certain swagger and hint of self aware cockiness. You were you after all, and if for some reason others didn’t consistently see your specialness, well, at least YOU did.
And you were special.
How said specialness shown itself to others I can but conjecture, as it related to me I can reflect upon multiple manifestations thereof:
– How else would I have been exposed to the world of Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, Superman, Captain America, et al.? Periodically giving me mini-stacks of your old comic books was a kindness hard to match, above and beyond the call of friendship, and a remnant of the child-like gratitude I felt then remains in me even now (as not to embarrass you – this being an open letter and all – I won’t mention the Casper, Spooky, Wendy, Hot Stuff, Donald Duck, Little Audrey and Baby Huey rags in the pile!)
– Although the times I visited you at your home were few, what I remember most (forget Red Ryder BB gun lust of A Christmas Story) is your big, full-powered Benjamin .20 caliber air rifle.
– You stopping by my house . . .
o on your dirt bike and showing me how to operate its brakes, throttle, clutch and gear shift. Taking turns, we would race around the back yard trying to dodge the rotten apples being thrown by the other and braking hard at our properties’ edge to avoid running into the horse fence boundary,
o on your red 1975 Honda CB360T and letting me improve my riding skills on local asphalt while occasionally stopping by Dairy Queen for something cold and creamy,
o on your black 1978 Honda CB750F Super Sport, hot bike that it was for its time, and trusting me to twist its throttle and bring it back to you unscathed,
o on your blue 1980 Kawasaki KZ650 (the last of the motorcycles I remember you having) and once again proffering your mechanical steed to Squat, i.e., me, just because I was your friend.
(Although unrealized for a time, the love of riding engendered when we were young remains to this day. In fact Doug, excepting this most recent awareness of your passing, the times when you’ve otherwise crossed my mind . . . well, I imagined getting together and letting you take my Sportster XL1200R and Kawasaki ZX11 for a ride and trusting you to bring them back to me . . . unscathed!)
– Throwing M-80 firecrackers into Deep River (and elsewhere).
– Using your dad’s tow truck to haul my first car home (remember that bargain-buy 1971 Toyota Corolla with a blown engine?)
– Sending me a five page double-sided hand written letter telling me how to change the brake pads on my car.
– Informing me of the EJ&E Railroad’s having hired you into their 13 month Engineer Training program – and inviting me to apply for the next round. Although we knew we were making good dough for the day, being the young guys without responsibility that we were, we didn’t exactly make the most of what we had and, when the 1979 economic bottom fell out, we had to adjust to the reality of RR unemployment and less spectacular wages, RR engineers that we had become notwithstanding.
o From your September 22, 1978 letter:
“I netted over $350 for two weeks last pay but have it spent” (adjusted for inflation, the $7.50/hr. you were paid then equals $28/hr. now).
– Allowing me to take your red, white, and black 1976 Rally Sport Camaro for a drive and giving me a taste of raw power on 4 wheels! You were so happy with its low 15,000 miles.
But just as much as all of the above STUFF we did together is important to me, also significant and fondly remembered were the multiplicity of times when you popped over to my house unannounced and we would converse – oftentimes into the evening dark – about:
– School topics,
– God, faith, church, and Bible passages,
– Politics here and Communists there,
– Comparative US/USSR military might, and of course,
– The fairer sex.
(Did I ever tell you about that time you decided to quit smoking and left the remainder of your Marlboros with me? Thinking you might want them back sometime, I hid said pack under the garage stairs to the attic. There they remained forgotten until years later when I was away attending college, Dad found them and confronted my brother Tim with indisputable evidence of the deleterious road upon which he tread! Ha!)
When you joined the Navy and became QMSA (SU) Waddelow I got your September, 1982 US Sub School, Groton, CT letter signed off with “IVAN BEWARE!”
You later wrote (August, 1984), “Rode the USS George Washington SSBN-598 on her last voyage to decommissioning from here to Bremerton, WA (West Coast) last April. Was interesting and didn’t get lost on my watch. (What would you expect? PS, I work in Navigation).”
Of course I’m not surprised Doug.
Received my final letter from you when I lived in Alaska ‘97/’98. Reading it today I am reminded that you were in low spirits, having some hard times, making your way, finding yourself even . . . and I hope whatever I wrote back was supportively encouraging.
The last time we saw each other was in the early 2000s. I contacted you and we ate at a joint you frequented in Portage. Caught up on each other’s news . . . and I know one part of mine was my latest “enlightened insights” regarding God, church, etc. (no longer espoused). You were not shopping in that particular market however and when we parted I remember thinking to myself that, regarding much other than spiritual/religious stuff, we had gone our separate ways. The commonality of our early years had become obscured by time and our individually distinct journeys, mutual interests were few and neglected regular communication had taken its toll.
Hence the long interim of non-contact since then . . . which has turned out to be: long without end. (Notwithstanding the subsequent busyness and sometimes dysfunctional aspects of life which also hindered me, we both know: where there is a will, there is a way.)
Now as I look back on your life, I realize there are serious holes in what I know. Why am I so ignorant regarding what you achieved in college and your motivations, responsibilities, and traveling exploits in the Navy? Of your post RR employment? Of your latest thoughts on God, current events, and of course, those curious, incomprehensible and wonderful creatures called women? Did you say and I just forgot, or did I show precious little interest in you, your life, dreams, disappointments, and depths – too wrapped up in my own self-centered stories that I didn’t listen and/or inquire about yours enough?
Fast forward a blink or two later: when I wasn’t looking and before I got around to filling in that cognitive void, you up and left. Beat me to it. Without even a goodbye you moved ahead to experience . . . the mystery. For you, the fears, expectations, and debates we had regarding what death would be like are now moot. (While at one time I thought I knew something about the subject, no longer am I so presumptuous. Instead, as is the mysteriousness of sex before having experienced it – whereas I remain here amongst the living to ignorantly wonder – you’ve moved beyond the abstract to your great climax of enlightened being.)
You have finished your course.
You have apprehended.
What that means, and whether the life essence of Doug concluded along with your mortal frame’s or not, is something about which I can only speculate. If it did end accordingly, then you’ve probably reverted to a peaceful nonexistence similar to that enjoyed before you were conceived (and first poked your infantile head out into the world, inhaled your first breath of air, and looked around in a confused state of sensory overload – probably thinking something like “Whoa! People! Like . . . focus and pay attention! Over here, it’s me, DOUG!”)
I’d like to think however that you now enjoy a peace which is not simply one of nonexistence, rather: unencumbered by the limitations inherent in having a physical body, you realize I’m writing this, maybe chuckle at something expressed here, even have your heart warmed knowing that notwithstanding imperfections, you were loved, made a difference, and are remembered kindly. As the Biblical king of old said,
“As for man, his days are like grass: he flourishes like a flower of the field: the wind blows over it
and it gone, and its place remembers it no more.”
Whether you flourished or not I cannot say, but know that as long I and others who knew you yet live, you are remembered.
That is, I prefer to think that your peace is conscious. Maybe even relished.
Whatever the case may be, the plots of my own life’s little story will unfortunately no longer contain that full-of-zing and bloke-of-a-character Douglas C. Waddelow . . . and however many more episodes I have remaining, they will be much less interesting with you gone.
In contrast, the episodes of your life story have been completed, printed, and bound into its finished form: no new chapters, no changes of course or steady-as-she-goes, no surprising twists of fate, love lost, or passion found. You’ve crossed that mysterious ford of which we often spoke in the summer evening’s darkness, when youth buoyed and stars shone, when life’s largeness stretched fore rather than aft, and when possibilities were surely probabilities.
I hope you like the way your story turned out Doug. You were its central character you know – saucy, complicated, and conflicted. I’ve only had the privilege of being in and reading parts of it, but my guess is that as a whole The Book of Doug contains tragedy and triumph, lumps and laughter, melancholy and music, failure, foolishness and fun . . . just the common stuff of humanity and of which each of us is made. All said and done, all taken into account, looking into the house called Doug through the little window facing my direction, for whatever it’s worth, I’d like you to know friend-brother:
I mourn your loss.
Thanks for everything, Farewell, and Rest in Peace.
You were a Good Man.
Your Fellow-Traveler and Life-long Friend,
(ST. PETER BEWARE!)
*Monday, October 24, 1977 letter, written Doug’s freshman year at John Brown University
Sorry I didn’t write you for a while. Hope your rice burner is still cookin’. HA. And no I don’t have any lovelies trailing me yet. A few prospects, but nothing to put any bets on. As usual, I am more lazy than I am busy. I write to girls more than to “sky pilots” like you. HA, HA. I’ll laugh long over that one even though I am one too. I know pretty soon that I will be getting invited to your wedding. I still bet I beat you though. You can’t keep a born Romeo under cover forever you know. Sooner or later they are going to see the light. Just what you needed was a bunch of sick jokes right? I’ve seen Star Wars three times now and am planning a fourth. Still crazy after all these years. Gotta keep trucking on these classes though. Going to shoot for Associate of Arts (2 year) degree in General Studies. You know, courses like Psych. Hist. speech and the like. A total of 60HRS minimum. Tell your dad I am going to beat a path to the sequel of Star Wars. It’s got to be as good by the time that joker who made Star Wars gets it worked out.
I know you are going to kill me, but you’ve lost your chance. I was home last weekend for a day and a half (a week ago this Sunday). How do you like that! But I was busy with a lovely (to say it lightly) from the Point. She is a Christian and a good friend. We went and saw Star Wars with another of her Christian girlfriends. It was hard to pick which one I liked better, but I knew it was the one I dated. Don’t ask her name, you don’t know her anyway. I will probably join the Landmark Missionary Baptist Church here. Have been going since I got here.
Well, see ya later and stay away from trouble. Oops! That’s me! Gotta go watch Star Trek in my buddy’s room. There are four rooms in the suite.
Stay out of the ditches HA, HA, HA, and don’t push that apple cooker too hard.
PS. Does that thing get hot enough to burn you?
Your crazy today ace friend, HA