Wednesday, July 1, 2009

My Friend John - RIP

The happiest day in the life of a very, very good man.

“I cried when I wrote this song,
sue me if I play too long”

Wow. I am having a hard time coming to grips with John’s death. You don’t just let a friend of 29 years slip out of your life without a lot of memories coming back. Over the course of a lifetime we make many friends. We have childhood friends who sometimes don’t stay in your life very long. Children grow up and families move away. We get into adolescence and we make new friends who share our expanding interests. Then many of us go to some type of higher education and again our personal circle of friends changes and grows. Finally, we go out on our own. A fourth group of friends begin to assemble in our lives. For the most part, this fourth group will differ significantly from the first three.

Each of the first three groups will be limited by the amount time we spend together, our common geography, and our common interests. All of these will change in our journey to adulthood, and we will lose association with many of the friends we make along the way. Lots of us are fortunate enough to have friends that go all the way back to childhood and it is a great thing. But the friends we have that go all the way back to those first three groups are a lot fewer in number than those we have from the fourth group. And for me, the experiences that I’ve shared with my friends of the “fourth order” (if I may call them that) are of a much greater significance than those of the first three. Really, which is more significant, winning a high school championship football game, or the birth of a child? See what I mean? Between me and my fourth order, we shared things as men. We shared, and do share the hard and great things of life. And in my life I have only two friends from my fourth order that have been present at, or shared with me, every one of the hard and great things of my life. With some of these things, only one was there, sometimes both. But combined, all. I am blessed with other friends of the fourth order and I very much love them all. But if all my friends of this fourth order, were drowning, and I could save them all, I would reach with for these two first, each getting one arm. But today, only one remains.

I’m not going to write about all that John was and what he meant to others. And I’m not going to tell much about the things he thought and felt. I leave that to others who spent more time with him, and who knew him at an even deeper level. I’m going to tell the story of what I know to be the happiest day of John’s life. August 10, 1982. I’m only going to tell what I know and saw, only John could fill in what happened during the hours we weren’t in contact.

This actually begins on the afternoon of August 9, 1982. We were working together in Memphis, TN for an engineering firm whose client was Federal Express. John owned a mid 1960’s gray Pontiac convertible (a Bonneville I think) that he called “The Gray Ghost”. The Ghost was having some front end problems, and as skilled as John was when it came to auto repair, this job was beyond his tool arsenal and he arranged to get it fixed at a local repair shop. Before we left for the day, he asked me if, in the morning, I could follow him to drop off the Ghost and give him a lift to our office, and drive him back to the shop after work to pick the car up. I said sure.

On the morning of August 10,1982 it was typical August weather in Memphis. Temperature at 7:30 a.m. already past 85, the humidity likewise, and sure to get worse. Real uncomfortable. Things went as John had planned. We dropped of the Ghost and made it to our office on time, about 8:45 a.m. No more than 15 minutes into the workday, John takes a call, hangs up, and is visibly shaken. He looks at me.

“Can I take your truck and split?”

“Sure, was that the shop?”

“No, it was Mare. She says it’s time.”

Did I mention that John’s wife Maryanne was 9+ months pregnant? So John hustles out the door and we are (there were 8 of us “consultants” in our field office) all hopeful and happy at what the day may now bring. We were also having a good chuckle at John’s panicked demeanor as he hurried to get to Maryanne.

About 11:00 a.m., two hours had gone by, and John comes strolling through the office door, drops my keys on my desk and sits down at his.


“By the time I got home, Mare had called the doctor and he said her contractions were coming too far apart for her to go to the hospital. He said to wait and call him back when they start coming closer together.”

I swear John had barely gotten the words out of his mouth, when our secretary called back for him to take a phone call. After hanging up he looks at me again with this why-is-this-happening-to-me look all over his face.

“I gotta go. It was Mare, she said the contractions are coming about two minutes apart all of a sudden. Man, I have to split.”

‘Take the truck and go. I’ll take care of the Ghost and come to the hospital after work. Don’t come back here no matter what anyone says. If this isn’t it, stay home anyway, just in case.”

It was maybe between 2 and 3 p.m. when our secretary told me to pick up the phone, it was John calling. His voice was cool and relaxed as was almost always the case.

“She had the baby. Anya Marie.”

They already knew it was a girl, and weeks earlier I had tricked Mayanne into telling the secret, but kept their confidence. He told me the time, weight, length, room number etc., so we all could go and play the lucky numbers with our friend Kenny back home, who moonlighted as a bookie. We were a colorful little bunch of miscreants.

“So what happened?’

“When I got home Mare was havin’ the contractions and we went right to the hospital. Her water broke when we were standing at the registration counter. What a mess. They took her right into surgery and did the C-section, and she’s fine too. Mommy, baby, 10 fingers, 10 toes, everybody’s fine.”

“How are you?”

“I’m kinda fucked up right now. Everything’s going so fast.”

“Have you called your folks? Reg, Mund, Walter?”

“I spoke with my folks, but everyone else is still at work and I don’t remember those numbers.”

“Okay, congratulations. What do you want me to do about the Ghost? You want to keep the truck and I’ll pick up the Ghost and we can switch tomorrow?”

“What do you want to do?”

“Well I wanna come to the hospital and see Mare and the baby, sorry, Anya.”

“Okay, but I don’t know if you’ll see Mare, she’s still in recovery. But the baby, oh, Anya, gotta get used to that, is in the nursery.”

“That’s good enough for me. I’ll see you when I get there.”

When 5:00 p.m. rolled around, I got one of our other co-workers to drive me to the shop, and along the way we enjoyed a bit of the good smoke. A colorful bunch as I said. At the shop I took the information on what was done, paid the bill, got the receipt and drove off to the hospital. The day had gotten hotter and more humid. Even with the Ghost’s top down it was oppressive. Coming up on a traffic light, the car in front of me stops kinda short, and my mind being elsewhere, I bumped, not smashed, into that car’s rear end. We both pulled into a parking lot beyond the intersection to inspect the damage. Thankfully, there was none to either car. The woman driving the car suggested we call the police just to get a report. But I managed to convince her that because there was no damage or injury, no report was necessary and our insurances would go up, blah, blah, blah. I apologized, waved her good bye and got to the hospital.

I saw John in a lounge close to the maternity ward. He had this joyful, thankful, exhausted expression on his face. He just stood up and with as big a smile as I ever saw just said, “C’mon, she’s over here.” And we walked through a set of doors to the nursery. And like every scene in every movie or TV show, we stood in front of the picture window and he pointed out the bassinette that held Anya. “GIRL – Dorowski” on a pink card. She was sleeping, and only her tiny face was visible under the hat and swaddling blanket.

“She’s really beautiful.”

“Yeah, it’s amazing.”

“Yeah, the whole new life into the world thing sure is that.”

‘That ain’t what I’m talking about. I’m talking about how much I love her. In an instant. Right from the second I saw her, before I even touched her, I love her more than anything in this world. And it’s a different love than how I love Mare, or my folks. It’s just so….arrrragh…I can’t explain it.”

“I get it.” I was lying. I couldn’t get it. It wasn’t until February 10, 2000 that I actually got it. And on that day, some of my first words to John (who was the first non-family member I spoke to) were, “now I know what you meant.” He remembered instantly what I was referring to.

We spent a couple more years together working in Memphis. For John and his young family it was vey good. Me? Not so much. But among the 8 guys working in our office, John and I were a terrific team. An engineer for FedEx once said that some people can work faster, and some people can work better, but nobody works faster and better than John and Dom. And the management of FedEx expressed this literally when the time came to close out the contract and wrap up our firm’s participation in the project.

Except for two of the eight guys working in the field office, everyone was to pack up and return to our home office in Greenwich, CT. I was told by our VP, that John and I were specifically requested by FedEx to be the two who remained. In the final months in Memphis, I decided for personal reasons to leave our company and stay permanently in Memphis. Permanently lasted 6 months. But John and I always stayed in touch even when he got relocated to Indianapolis, IN. We always knew what was going on in each other’s lives. But on the day he and his family left Memphis, I heard these words on the radio:

Johnny's takin' care of things for a while
And his style is so right for troubadours
They got him sitting with his back to the door
Now he won't be my fast gun anymore
Say goodbye to Hollywood
Say goodbye, my baby

So many faces in and out of my life
Some will last
Some will just be now and then
Life is a series of hellos and goodbyes
I'm afraid it's time for goodbye again
Say goodbye to Hollywood
Say goodbye, my baby

John was never now and then. John was one that lasted. I say goodbye to the sound of his voice, I say goodbye to his slap on the back, I say goodbye to the glint in his eyes. But I will never,…never, say goodbye to John.

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