The Book Groupie, aka Doug’s mistress, is coming back to my town this weekend.
Her travel is paid for as part of a grant she won, when he was still alive.
The first stage of the grant brought her here from 2700 miles away and I certainly could have lived without that stress!
The facility I now direct houses a historical archive of the publishing event person that was Doug’s friend. The mistress was a huge fan of publishing event subject, which is how she met Doug.
She and Doug planned to use our mutual friend’s home as a place to be together under the nose of his unsuspecting wife, but his condition worsened and he was lifeflighted to another larger city while she was forced to remain in classes at a nearby university to fulfill the requirements of the grant.
Our mutual friend lives near my office and the mistress stayed with Mutual Friend for a few days.
I prayed and fasted over that situation and begged God, “Lord, please, I absolutely can’t deal with this. Please protect me and make it so that I never have to see the mistress.”
At the time, I didn’t think that was even possible. I thought I was foolish for even asking God for that favor.
But I know what he means. He means he’s glad now that I said no.
He means he’s glad we can talk to each other without shame.
He means he’s glad to have me back in his life as the rock-solid friend I always was.
He ties up a few loose ends about the publishing event we were involved with and asks my advice about a final interview with a national reporter.
“I’m not sure if I should do it. I’m afraid of leaving too much on the table.”
I know that he wants me to interview him. I’ll be much softer on him than the national guy would.
I volunteer (again) and he says he’ll think about it.
“Not for publication, but would you write the questions and come interview me for a DVD for my family? I know I could use my IPad and tape myself, but I don’t know what to say.”
“Of course I will buddy. Let’s plan on Saturday.”
“Ok Angel, I’ll call you.”
But I know he won’t call, not about that.
I can tell he’s getting tired so I make up an excuse to log off.
“Wait, don’t go Angel.”
“What is it Doug?”
“You know a few months ago, and a few weeks ago, and all the other times you offered to bring food?”
“Yes, and the offer still stands.”
“Would you make me some fresh banana bread, from the recipe my mom gave you in October?”
“Yes buddy, I will. I’ll bring it tomorrow.”
“I was sipping on a Whiskeywhen I got the call
Yeah my friend Lex was lying in the hospital
She’d been pretty sick for about half a year
But it seems liked this time the end was drawing near
So dropped my plans andjumped the next London train
I found her laid up and in a lot of pain
Her eyes met mine and then I understood
That her weather forecast wasn’t looking too good
So I sat and spun her stories for a little while
Tried to raise her mood and tried to raise a smile
But she silenced all my rambling with a shake of her head Drew me close and listen this is what she said
“You’ll live to dance another day,
It’s just now you’ll have to dance,
For the two of us, so stop looking so damn depressed
And sing with all your heart that the Queen is dead”
He’s still little, Aidan is. Six years old and only started kindergarten in September.
We bonded over the summer when I introduced butcher paper and bright markers into his world.
He drew towns and cities and worlds for hours on end. Cars, ships and houses.
“Draw your house here Midth Angel.”
He didn’t talk much then, and still has a hard time with words. But he can draw, and tells complex stories with his drawings.
“Dith is me and MidulAngelo. He prodects me at home. We met on de Ditantic and daved people.
[Met on the Titanic.]
Aidan loves me. I know that he does and I don’t know why. I love him right back.
When his family of five arrives at my facility he he’s always the first in the door. I see him before he sees me and I don’t deserve the look on his face as he scans the room to find me.
He runs to me like a whirling dervish, yelling “Hey, Hey!”
Heads turn at the noise of him, but I don’t shush him. Not this golden child.
Hands out for a happy high-five, I say, “hey buddy, how are you?”
As is with most kids, the niceties are lost on him and he launches right into what he wants to talk about.
“Somethingsomething, we saw it! Indiscernible and dis is Baby Groot.”
Brushing dark hair out of his big brown eyes, he looks up at me with complete trust. Plastic Baby Groot is offered with outstretched hands.
Oh sweet little one. Did you know that I can’t always understand what you say? Is that why you started bringing the Target ads, to show me your favorite super heroes?
“Dis is de Iwon Man Wego but Twny Start is not weally in dere-a-uh.”
(In Aidan’s vocabulary, some words at the end of a sentence have two and often three sing-song syllables.)
You funny little fella. You roll your eyes at me when I tell you I’ve never seen the movies you bring and place in my lap.
The Avengers. Guardians of the Galaxy. Captain America. Thor.
“My sons have seen them though,” I say.
“Ou can’t have doose boys. I’m woure boy,” he proclaims, pointing at his chest.
“Wake the deal-uh,” Aidan insists, holding out his hand to shake on it.
“Ok buddy, you can be my boy while you’re here today.”
Then for the briefest of moments I allow myself to remember another boy who was mine for a day. The newborn son who lies in a cold grave near his grandparents, his birth and death dates the same.
It seems forever ago, but it wasn’t. It’s just that the girl I used to be was also buried that day.
“Would my son have been like Aidan? Overjoyed with the smallest of attentions? Elated with a big empty piece of paper onto which he could draw his own universe?”
“Is he mad at me that he died? Does he think it was my fault? Does he love me?”
“Does he know that I was so young and afraid? That I thought the doctors knew best when they sent me home that night?”
“Who would he be now?”
I still ask those things, the questions without answers. This side of Heaven, I’ll never know.
I do know this though, grief paralyzed me after he died. Then shame strangled me.
“Her baby died. I’m not sure what happened. But she’s not even taking care of her two-year old. Her younger sister comes every day and stays there most nights.”
The gossip was right. I didn’t take care of anyone then, not even myself.
All I did was lay in bed and relive over and over not fighting back when the doctor said, “Oh you aren’t in labor. It’s too early. Go home and rest.”
I relived giving birth with just my husband in the room, him screaming for help when I told him what was happening.
Relived how peaceful it felt when the baby moved against my legs and I thought for a few seconds that he might not die.
The flashbacks of holding him never stopped. He struggled to breathe, before they took him to “see if there was anything that could be done for him.”
“He’s little though. Don’t expect a miracle.”
But the worst thing was constantly reliving my sister entering the room 45 minutes later, holding the baby.
“I found him next to the sink, on the counter. They said he died and nothing could be done. They were waiting for the doctor to finish stitching you up before they brought him back. But he’s moving. He’s not dead.”
I relived reaching out for the baby. His chest slowly rising and falling. Then faster frantic breaths, his tiny fingers jerkily grasping, his head moving from side to side as he fought for air.
My husband screaming again at the call button speaker.
Then, the baby just didn’t take another breath. I relived the deathly silence. Over and over again.
For months afterward I stayed in my dark bedroom clutching the blanket he was wrapped in, my wet tears mingling with tiny drops of dried blood. (My blood, not his. He was perfect.)
One day my two-year old son came in and patted me on the cheek. Silently, he touched my face. Sweet little fingers tried to gently pry open my eyes.
“Mommy get up. Mommy come back. Mommy come play.”
So I did.
The empty shell of me tried to live a semblance of a life. I mostly failed. But I was up walking around and to everyone in my life, that seemed to be a huge improvement.
I prayed for months after my son died, that God would give me a dream of the baby.
I so desperately needed to see him somewhere besides that tiny casket. Somewhere besides being lowered into the hard red dirt.
Over a year later God answered that prayer.
I dreamed I was in church when a laughing toddler with wavy dark hair and big brown eyes peaked over the pew in front of me. His chubby little arms stretched towards me, smiles wreathing his face.
I reached for him but before I could hold him, the dream ended. I awoke with full knowledge and memory of my baby as I saw him, his soul alive.
I started the long journey of healing at that moment in time. Bitterness of soul lingered, but my wavering faith was completely replaced with sure knowledge that I will hold my son again one day.
I know he thinks of me at times, my ex-friend Doug. Or he has in the past few weeks anyway.
He started messaging me the day his Book Groupie went back to Vermont.
(God Himself must have intervened in that situation for not only did the Book Groupie never show up at my facility, her ability to get to Doug was severely limited by his emergency hospitalizations. I’m sorry he’s not feeling better, but I am so glad she stayed away from me. That is an answered prayer and one I am so very grateful for.)
When I saw the first new message from Doug, there was this narrow sense of surprise and a feeling of, “that’s nice of him.”
But as quick as it bubbles up, it swirls away. And I fight with myself after every single message from him, over what I really want to say.
Not sure which part of me wins, but I have yet to say what I’m thinking.
I wonder, at this point, what purpose would my speaking up serve though? All I originally wanted to do is defend myself. I wanted him to stop acting crazy and go back to Good Doug.
I’m definitely not trying to make him feel better about anything he did to hurt me. But now, it’s all so far in the rear-view mirror. Besides his messages and calls, there isn’t even any evidence in my life that I ever even knew Doug, except for my friendship with Asa. And that friendship has evolved so very far from it’s beginning that I bear no resemblance to the person I was.
Doug sent me several photos, but I’ve not seen him since December. I don’t suppose I will see him again, except in his casket.
I suspect that it doesn’t really matter now. I think I’ve slowly come to terms with the fact that nothing will ever be resolved. And maybe “not resolved” is how it is resolved. At one point I desperately wanted to say goodbye, but now?
I knew this about him, how mean he could be, how he never ever apologizes for anything.
But it’s still extremely weird to have walked through being one of the people he was mean to. I was like his child, his pet, his project. I saw him erupt at others but we just had this very solid friendship for so long. So that all still feels so strange.
Almost like it was in a parallel universe.
So, the first message from him, in quite a while:
He asked me if I was in the loop with our Mutual Friend about his health.
I told him, “Doug, first of all, I’m never going to ask Mutual Friend about you out of respect for your privacy and second, I’m never going to put either one of us in the bizarre position of explaining why in the world I would need a health update on you, from her.” Because that is the absolute truth.
I’m never in a million years going to ask her anything about him. She might mention something in passing, very rarely, but as long as all three of us still live, he’ll never hear her say, “I saw Angel yesterday, she asked about you.”
So he proceeds with a horrible horrible health update. Things are about in the end of the second stage of “worst,” if “worst” was divided into three categories.
The update made me cry, but I didn’t tell him. I just said, “I’m going to need a moment to absorb all this.”
He instantly and snarkishly replied, “I wish I had the leisure of time that you have, for absorbing this, that must be nice.”
YOU HAD PLENTY OF TIME TO ABSORB THIS. You choose the experimental treatment instead of having the tumor removed so you could get away from your wife and go spend three months with the Book Groupie.
And he did have three months to absorb all of this. He gave me about 30 seconds! At the time he informed me, I was driving down the interstate and sorry, but I just couldn’t reply how he obviously wanted me to.
I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.
I also wondered if he’d now say keeping that tumor and watching it grow for three months was the wisest course of action. ( I tried to get him to have it removed within a few days of finding it. I could barely feel it through his shirt, it was so small. Like a hard pea.) But he kept the tumor in, so he could get into a three month drug trial near the Book Groupie. Within just a month or two of the decision to let it grow until the trial opened, it had gotten about 10 times bigger.
That ran through my mind, but I didn’t say it.
When I arrived at my destination I wrote, “Sorry I couldn’t drive down the interstate doing 80 and properly respond to your message.” And I proceeded to write this really long and what I thought was sweet and sympathetic message. When really, I had no idea at all what to say to him.
Part of me is thinking, “Doug, you hurt me, you hated me, you manipulated me. WHY are you reaching out to me, of all people?”
He treated my unfairly, cruelly and beyond harsh. He manipulated me into providing him with $3000 worth of professional services. He tried to frighten me by coming by my house dropping location pings. That’s the short list.
I mean, I could go on and on about the hateful things he did, including saying I was insane, (when I asked him why he was mad at me,) and his backhanded slams at me when I asked his advice on going for the new job.
Why is he looking to me now? Why does he want to talk to me? Why is he messaging me so often? Now, after everything? I’m not equal to the task, even if we didn’t have the history we have.
Yes, we were friends. I do actually miss him as a friend. I just do not know how to walk back down the path of him.
I do, in some respects, I do want to be his friend, and be there for him, if he needs me. I pray for him. I know he’s suffering. I wish I could do something to help.
But why does he think treating me like hell for more than a few months means he can drop bad news on me at any time and expect something meaningful in return, in 30 seconds? He is mad that I can’t instantly comfort him?
I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.
Since that first longer conversation, he’ll tell me updates every few days. He’s called a few times, but I’ve missed his calls.
I don’t know why I don’t call him back.
So he messages me: His hair is finally falling out. He’s out of the hospital. He might have 6 months if the chemo works. He’s sick from it most of the time. His right arm is twice as big as the left due to lymph nodes being damaged.
I reply that I’m praying for him, because I am.
Then he’s sent an ongoing series of notices of events or articles he thinks I might be interested in.
Just like anything you’d drop a note to a friend about. Not even anything that requires an answer or follow up from me.
So I plant one of those big thumbs-up thingies on it and go about my life. I don’t know what else to do.
When I look back I’ll be able to say
You didn’t mean to be cruel
Somebody hurt you too”
Post Script: He came to my workplace in September 2018 and apologized, and asked me to forgive him.