Two months ago a very good friend suddenly left this plane, and though it had been some time since I last had heard his voice, I often wondered how he was doing. But now I think about him several times a day, though not in the blame filled guilt trip kinda way, just sadness, a sadness in that I never knew he was even sick. I’ve always joked (not joking) that I am the sanest person I know. With Doug though, if pressed I might have given him a slight edge on me. He had his shit together before I moved away from Greensboro, NC 13 years ago, when we ran hard and worked even harder, and then sometimes ran even faster again. Doug and I shared the work hard-play-hard life philosophy of “buy the ticket, take the ride”.
Now I feel sympathy for him and empathetic to his partner (Christina) and their son Noah, who is one year older than my 10-year old first-born son. I’m sorry that one of the finest persons I’ve been lucky enough to have called my friend found himself trapped inside one of the most vile twisted and horrible conditions in psychiatry today. And one that would eventually strike and unravel, deciding his fate. I know it must have been unbearable suffering, because the Doug I knew rarely lost at anything in life, his natural constitution was using his considerable talents to find a way to win. And a winner he was in every respect.
Ironically in 2007 we discussed some of these same issues that later haunted him, issues that from all accounts he later apparently struggled with mightily. He and I talked about it over a couple of long phone calls when my two-year old son’s mother died, ironically in the same out-of-the-blue mind-fuck way in which he later succumbed. It was only after some time that I was able to personally heal enough not to be mad at her when I looked at my son’s beautiful face, but I eventually researched it enough (with counseling) and studied the disease (manic bi-polar dis-order) enough to understand how she had been very sick, and her’s was not a selfish act… in some ways heroic. I admit to being mad at Doug too for those first couple of days as it is only a normal reaction. But, I hope that those who loved Doug will find it within themselves to forgive, and give Noah the love he will need going forward.
I’m now certain she (my son’s Mother) thought she was doing me and our son and maybe the world a favor. How could it happen only a few years later that Doug apparently didn’t recognize the symptoms he was experiencing as being eerily similar, and NOT seek immediate medical help?
“Perhaps the greatest faculty our minds possess is the ability to cope with pain. Classic thinking teaches us of the four doors of the mind, which everyone moves through according to their need.
First is the door of sleep. Sleep offers us a retreat from the world and all its pain. Sleep marks
passing time, giving us distance from the things that have hurt us. When a person is wounded they will often fall unconscious. Similarly, someone who hears traumatic news will often swoon or faint. This is the mind’s way of protecting itself from pain by stepping through the first door.
Second is the door of forgetting. Some wounds are too deep to heal, or too deep to heal quickly. In addition, many memories are simply painful, and there is no healing to be done. The saying ‘time heals all wounds’ is false. Time heals most wounds. The rest are hidden behind this door.
Third is the door of madness. There are times when the mind is dealt such a blow it hides itself in insanity. While this may not seem beneficial, it is. There are times when reality is nothing but pain, and to escape that pain the mind must leave reality behind.
Last is the door of death. The final resort. Nothing can hurt us after we are dead, or so we have been told.
Our friendship was special in many ways, and I never doubted it was one that was built to last despite wherever our individual paths would lead us. The few times we did talk in the last 3-4 years it seemed like yesterday that we were laughing, golfing, partying, or talking through long hours of a weekend night, building a unique bond of brotherhood. And, so times remain in memories too, and though we’ve duffed our last good times together on the front nine of this “good walk spoiled”… My Dougly, I’ll catch you on the backside.
Doug will always seem near, and I doubt that feeling will ever yield, serving as testimony to all that we weathered together and how at one time we were bonded as if tethered. Time passed, and distance drew us further apart only in this physical realm, his life essence today as clear to me as anyone I’ve ever encountered who has passed my way..
In my minds eye I still see those bright sparkling sea blue eyes smiling that eternal grin, a slightly toothy and twisted grin that always uttered a quick shortish chuckle like a verbal wink, not a sneering snarkle.
I can still hear him saying…
“My Tommy-boy, what’s happen.n…in’…huh-huh-hnn” his standard opening line in modified uptalk.
“You, my brotha… you’re happenin’. What might we do to make this sunny Friday good reason to call it a week? I make an air-golf-swing and give him an inquisitive look as if asking a question?
“(Laughs out loud)” You’re on, but let me take care of a few things first. Let’s meet at Stoney Creek in an hour… they’ll squeeze us on. But, not before I buy you an ice-cold beer,” he offers, pulling one out of the small cooler in his tiny back office.
“Schweet, See ya’ at 12:45ish”, popping the top for a cool swig of cerveza.
The golf the excuse, the time spent laughing and chatting it up (and a few cold-uns) the real reasons we were playing. Of course, he almost always won, and I almost always got the tab later. Usually, he paid half anyway.
And so it was, that we sometimes were out late-ish. Closing time.
We sometimes but very rarely meet a person who shares a common natural vibe, manifesting itself as a subtle synchronous one-man-ship. Perhaps it is luck when two minds and hearts of like kind can instantly formulate and understand the other’s deepest thoughts and bind effortlessly in such a short time? True friendship, lastingly rare as it is, transcends the world we think we see and enters into a more sublime reality; where life and death are no different than time and distance, just a weird cohesive illusion. Maybe mind stays fresh for a time in the Consciousness of the Great Immensity? People who have died that I knew well never do seem as far from me as those whom I am merely acquainted with. Then again, maybe its just a function of the brain’s electrical neurotransmitters and neural networks, and there’s no big truth to discover after death? For now, I’ll take what I can get.
Neither of us a nihilist, and both always too real, we never disagreed about what is here and now, though we differed on the eternal spinning of the wheel. Doug, a religious believer, and me a skeptic… one never cared to convert the other, because we agreed that hey, “it is what it is”. Apparently Doug had one year earlier sold his restaurant, a business that started as a tiny cramped sandwich shop that he nurtured into a large, thriving, one-of-a-kind place to eat by the time Doug had hit 35. It was the epitome of the term “cash cow”. I often wonder if his having sold his life’s work recently and somewhat stumbling around free and without a solid plan for his next big move contributed to his fall from grace. “Idle hands are the Devils work”, they say, but then one must first also believe in the Devil. Doug did, not me. May be I’m just lucky? Lucky?
Well… curiously enough, I too “retired” from a successful career with the intent to take some “idle time” first before embarking on another big challenge at around the same age as Doug did (47). That was 12 years ago, and I’ve not worked at a job since then. But, don’t sleep on the fact that the years surrounding age 47 can be a difficult period for many men, as it is around the time we experience one of our greatest “changes of the seasons”. It is a time where questions outnumber answers, reason gives in to fantasy, and suppressed Jungian archetypes arrive unannounced to ring a gentle alarm, seemingly without an off button but a relentless snooze reminder.
For me, an avid reader from way back and a suction for knowledge of all things anything, I trust that this malady of Doug’s will stay at bay throughout my less-than-ideal projected number of remaining days. Smart and stubborn, when told in January ’06 I had “less than five years” to make my indelible mark on humanity, I simply refused to accept it, or believe it was a possibility.
After all, after 50 years of child-free living and loving it… I had become a father. I was a single father, and this wonderful life-giving “reason for reasons” became my duty bound refusal to leave as scheduled. I mean, to me it was as simple as, “No, I have a little boy to raise.”
Maybe in the twisted end we’ll all find that in sublime irony, “living is dying, and dying is living, or something a thousand times more weird. But, NOW is the only sure bet we have. It pays to have hope, reason, and expectation of a future… but we should never take our eye off the ball of NOW.
“The human being cannot live in a condition of emptiness for very long: if he is not growing toward something, he does not merely stagnate; the pent-up potentialities turn into morbidity and despair, and eventually into destructive activities.”
— Rollo May, Man’s Search for Himself
I admired a man named Douglas Fricks, an honest and loyal friend killed by one of (god’s) nastiest tricks. Smart and funny, happy and caring, humble, sharing, compassionate and never once was he over-bearing. Confident and cool, his actions were the example his employees didn’t learn in school. He didn’t worship money, he worshiped Noah and (sometimes) even his honey.
He spoke the truth and he knew its limits, but he never seem to pass on one more ice-cold beer… and I was right there, but we always usually sometimes held it together. He was “My-Fugly-My-Dougly”, and my “Friggy-my Diggy”. And me, to him… just “Tommy-boy” (my habit of nicknaming and his return sally).
I hope you found your peace my brother, I’ll always be your biggest fan. You in the fairway and me the woods, your smooth swing had you dancing, and me hacking, whacking, hatchet thicket smacking… but you never let me know how far down I stood. I loved YOU for the you that was you… and you, My Dougly… I always will.