Friendship in the age of social media

I first met you in the courtyard of our Apartment complex.

You were walking your Boxer. Your buzzcut, upright posture and tattoos immediately revealed that you were military. I welcomed you to the complex and happily found out that you lived above me. I told you we should hang out.

I learned your story. You were active duty Army, 3 tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as an MP. You were stateside and reassigned as a Recruiter. Your wife and 2 beautiful daughters were so happy to have you home. I immediately respected you.

You were half my age. You sought my friendship and advice over frequent drinks. As we became close you alternated between treating me as a friend and a father figure. I was happy to be both.

We worked out together. You hated the fact that I was twice your age but could outrun you. Eventually you asked me to help you get in better shape to pass your PT test. I threw pebbles at your balcony window to wake you at 6 am to go for a run. Most times you didn’t feel up to it. You were hung over.

You desired fitness, but you were a slave to Alcohol. You didn’t deny it. You couldn’t just have a drink, you could only get hammered. Jack Daniels was your best friend and your wife was getting jealous of your relationship.

I tried to get you to slow it down. I warned you of the damage you were doing to your family. I treaded lightly because I knew you had seen some shit overseas and needed your coping mechanisms. But I saw the writing on the wall.

Eventually, your wife, tired of you passing out on the sofa and your belligerent behavior when drinking grew tired of your antics and sought solace in the arms of another. A mutual friend had betrayed you, broke a cardinal law and coveted your wife. When you found out, you went on a binge.

I got your call at 11 PM on a Sunday night. You were very drunk and driving around. Your life, your marriage and your military service were on the line. I pleaded for you to park your car and let me come get you. You succumbed. I drove an hour to pick you up. I offered to take you home but you didn’t want to go. I took you to my home. We talked into the early hours of the morning. You were heartbroken. Angry. You wanted to lash out. The one person you refused to blame was your own self. I listened to you, talked when appropriate and tried to set you on the right course. You passed out on my bed. I slept on the floor that night. You were worth it, we were friends after all.

The next morning, while I was at work you called me and thanked me for my friendship. You promised that you were going to make it right with your wife.

You went home to find your bags packed. It was over. You moved back into your mother’s house the next day.

We promised to stay in touch. Due to the distance we were reduced to the phone and Facebook. I monitored your progress through Facebook until the day I noticed that I wasn’t seeing your feeds. You had “unfriended” me.

I called you and asked you why. Was it a mistake? It had to be, after all, we were such good friends weren’t we?

You told me that because I was FB friends with the guy that banged your wife you couldn’t be friends with me. I was flabbergasted. Could you really be that childish? As it turned out, you could indeed.

I pride myself in doing for the sake of doing, not for recognition but I lowered myself to asking you if my friendship and the associated deeds mattered to you. You said they did but you couldn’t be friends with me in real life if I was FB friends with the other guy.

I asked you if you had fully thought this through. You told me to “unfriend” him and it will all go away. I refused. While I wasn’t thrilled with what he did, it wasn’t my place to judge him and there was a principle involved. I told you so. You stood firm.

I made it easy for you and I told you that we were no longer friends.

I hope you do well in life, my friend. I regret the manner in which I lost touch with you. I enjoyed your friendship and I also valued it. More than the “Friends” list on a stupid Social Media outlet. But that’s the difference between you and I. That, and accountability. And honesty. And the appreciation of true friendship.

I hope you do well in your journeys. Should you ever grow up, you know where to find me.

Rest well, my Brother

“The roll of the workmen has been called, and one worker has failed to report”.

I dutifully hung my head as the familiar dialogue of a Masonic Funeral was read. I’d been in many Masonic funerals in my years as a Freemason. It is a beautiful ceremony, the same one performed for George Washington, and a show of respect for the fallen brother and a glimpse for the family into the ways of the fraternity the brother’s family never saw. They always make me sad, but this one really hurt.

This brother was also a very close friend whose loss I know I will feel for a very long time.

I first saw Adam from across the room at a meeting. The first thing I noticed about him was the absurdly round face. I observed that he was heavy, but his face was bloated beyond that. When he stood up I could see that he was in pain. This man had a story to tell.

As the room cleared at the end of the meeting I saw the small crowd gathered around him. Handshakes, hugs and greetings abounded, it was obvious that he was a beloved member of the lodge. I made a goal of getting to know him.

During cocktail hour I walked across the room and introduced myself. Never one afraid to approach a stranger, I stuck out my hand.

“Greetings, Brother. My name is Bill”. He stuck his hand out, “Adam.”
And thus began a beautiful friendship.

Adam had joined Freemasonry at the suggestion of his father. It was suggested that he would make friends, enjoy the fraternal bond, if nothing else to have something to do to get his mind off of his problems. He had many, chief among them being a Cancer survivor.

Adam was diagnosed at the age of 30 with Mantle Cell Lymphoma, a highly aggressive cancer with a very low survival rate. Newly married, with a flourishing career and a young son, his life came crashing down. He survived, thanks to the wonderful gift of a bone-marrow transplant from his brother. It was an agonizing, extremely painful surgery for both, but his family continued to make every sacrifice they could for him.

A year later, Adam was living with his parents, sleeping in his childhood bedroom, a mountain of prescription bottles at his bedside. Divorced and friendless because his wife couldn’t handle his illness and his friends stopped calling him. Seeing his son every other weekend was the only glimmer of hope for him, he would tell me one day, keeping him from taking his own life.

I learned part of his story from mutual friends before he and I actually spoke of his travails. As our friendship blossomed he gladly told me the rest. Over lunches, cocktail hours at the lodge (his lodge, that I joined to spend more time with him) and hanging at his house he would tell me the stories about the events that led him to this point.

He was grateful for his new friends and humbled by the support of his new brethren. His father had been correct. His father was a 50 year Mason when Adam entered the fraternity and his father was enormously proud. His mother proudly beamed at the results his new circle had created for him. I vowed to be one of the best friends he would have.

Adam didn’t just take friendship, he gave it back. When he learned of my health issues he became one of my biggest advocates. He spent time at home on his computer researching possible treatments being developed, texting me his findings and always checking in to see if I was eating right, taking my meds, or just to see how I was doing. It isn’t lost on me to this day how someone who felt like garbage almost every day could manage to check up on me, and all of his friends for that matter, to see how we are. He was a special friend.

In the course of our friendship Adam had a rollercoaster of health challenges. On a flight to St. Louis he contracted a virus that caused him to spend 7 weeks in the hospital. He almost died, but he pulled out of it. He had two knee replacements, a hip replacement, a pacemaker and was hit by two more staph infections, one that required removal of both knee replacments. At the end of all of it, there he sat with his absurdly swollen face, a result of a massive amount of steroids and other medications. He was a fighter like no other I have never met. As his Facebook announced another setback, myself and all of his friends had faith that the tough sonofabitch would bounce back and smile that huge smile again.

This past December, Adam met a foe he couldn’t overcome. Another staph infection that the Doctors, despite their Herculean efforts, could not pull him out of. He was forced into a medically induced Coma at the end of January.

I found out too late, for some reason his father’s FB wasn’t showing on my newsfeed and by the time I knew it was too late to visit him. Had I been sitting next to him he wouldn’t know I was there. All of my prayers from afar wouldn’t change it. His parents thanked me for my friendship and support, I knew in their voices they had given up this time.

He died a few days ago.

I miss my friend. I regret not being able to thank him for his unwavering friendship and his eternal optimism. His selflessness in the face of adversity that would cause so many to wallow in a pool of self-pity. He was an amazing human being.

As I stood silently in a moment of prayer, I was flanked by dozens of brothers who knew Adam as I did. We all knew his family. We all knew the efforts he made for our lodge as he took different assignments to keep himself productive, a concept that meant the world to him. We all knew what a loss we had experienced.

I waited patiently as the procession slowly entered the funeral parlor, each waiting our turn to place a sprig of evergreen, a masonic symbol of the eternity of life, on his simple coffin. A rare tear fell onto my cheek, one of many that would fall that evening.

He is resting now, his pain is gone. The irony of it is that the cure for his disease killed him. If he were here right now he would laugh at that line, we shared a morbid sense of humor. Sharing the burden of Chronic Illness, we knew that laughter is the best medicine. I want to laugh at the funny exchanges we had over the years. I can still see his big, round face that initially caught my attention. The smile that shone through some tremendous sadness, the face of a truly great person.

Rest well my friend, I hope to see you again someday in the Celestial Lodge above that we, as mere mortals hope to achieve at the end of our journey.

Making amends

When I worked at the finance company I was presented with some difficult but wonderful challenges. The company was going through some growing pains and I was immediately tasked with some big issues. Their need was in the “back end” of the business. That is a nice way of saying “repo”.

When I joined the company they were being inundated with cars coming back due to bad loans. My background in appraisals and remarketing proved to be a valuable asset. I had connections with auctions all over the country, offered alternative outlets such as salvage auctions and private sales, and I created a valuable network of tow companies.

One particular tow operator was a local guy named Mike. I essentially inherited him when I joined the company but his role was minimal and I expanded it. I always try to do business with a local guy, it’s just good business.

Mike is a really likable guy, the kind of person I enjoy doing business with. He was a independent with one truck but willing to work all day to earn a living. I gave him a lot of tows. He did a pretty good job for me for a few months and then I began noticing a side of him that didn’t work for me…he “Yes’d” me to death and wasn’t honest about his availability. He was growing his business through AAA tows and had begun to fall behind. He failed to tell me that he hadn’t gotten to previous assignments while gladly accepting new ones, which chaffed my ass greatly. I had to cut him back.

It wasn’t long before Mike came to see me in my office to apologize for his underwhelming performance. We talked at length. I told him how the demands of my job required a more reliable transporter and that I would keep him on but on a more limited basis. He reached across my desk with his big, greasy hand and shook mine, thanking me. He was hard not to like.

Mike continued to work for me for many years and was of great service on the AAA end of things helping me and my family with our five cars.

One Saturday I was getting ready to go out and my car wouldn’t start. I tried jumping it, it was dead. I called Mike and asked him if he could help. He was there in 15 minutes.

He pulled in with his rusty old Ford pickup, his dog and wife in the cab with him. I said hi to his wife, a very unpleasant and morbidly obese woman who I had never seen smile. She grunted in my direction.

Mike somehow got my car started. I asked him if he took credit cards. He didn’t. I was at a loss. I had no cash on me. He said don’t worry about it, remarking that I give him so much work that it more than worked out. I sheepishly thanked him.

His wife scowled at me.

I always felt bad about that day. Yes, I did give him a lot of work but I should have been able to pay him. I lost my job soon after. Mike and I lost touch.

Last week I saw on FB that he had a birthday. It caused me to reflect on my past dealings with him and how much I liked him. I decided that it was time to right a wrong. I took out my checkbook and made out a check for $100.00. I grabbed my stationary and wrote a short note.

Mike, I always felt bad about never paying you for the AAA service years ago. You’re a good man and you deserve better. Please accept this check as good will for a good deed.
Take care,
Bill

I mailed it that day. He FB inboxed me 3 days later thanking me. He said I shouldn’t have. I disagree.

My mother likes to tell me that I am determined to spend every penny I have. What she doesn’t get is that I am charitable within my means and I am not afraid to make amends.

Besides, the check to Mike isn’t about money.

It’s about respect.

Perception vs. Reality — MSich Chronicles

Have you met Steve? If not, you should. I challenge you to read this post and not “follow” him. This is the attitude that we all need to have, one that those with chronic illness can teach all of us if we open ourselves to it. It will definitely influence the way you look at others when you pass them on the street.

 

“I wonder what people think when they see me.” That was a common refrain of mine once the symptoms became entrenched and my mobility became compromised. I was never one who liked to stand out in a crowd, preferring instead to blend into the background. MS made that impossible. My inability to walk in a straight […]

via Perception vs. Reality — MSich Chronicles

Why me? Why NOT me?

“Listen carefully, Billy”, my Grandfather said. He looked me straight in the eye.
I cried because I had no shoes. Then I met a man who had no feet.”
“What does that mean Grandpa?”
“It means, Billy, that you should never complain because there is always someone who has it worse than you. Be happy with what you have.”

I was a young boy when he said that to me. I don’t remember what I was complaining about but after that exchange I learned that men, men like my Grandfather, don’t complain.

Have I complained since then? Of course, it happens. But my brain immediately flashes back to that quote. And shuts me down. It has served me well, in fact it was one of my greatest life lessons and shaped who I am today.

People often told me during the height of my Illness that my positive attitude, and crippling denial, inspired them. I wasn’t waking up with the intention of inspiring others, I was just listening to my Grandpa. I was keeping my kids from worrying about me. I didn’t want to burden anyone.

People tell me now that my jokes and overall positive attitude about my current situation helps them. How else am I supposed to be? Should I complain? It’s not my style. It’s not becoming of a man. And nobody wants to hear it.

Why?

Because someone always has it worse. I know it. I’ve seen it.
I have friends who have lost children at the toddler stage to cancer.
I’ve been to Children’s hospital in Boston and read books to children who would never leave that hospital.
There are families everywhere dealing with dead children, wounded Veterans, mental illness, MIA’s and POW’s, gun violence, terminal illness, no Health Insurance, pending bankruptcies, the list just goes on and on.
They all have it worse than I do.
Most of them wish they, or those that they lost, were only on dialysis.

I’m strapped to a dialysis machine 3 days a week. So what? I’m alive. It may kill me, and then again, I may get a donor. It could be always be worse. One thing I have learned in my 53 years of walking this green earth is that I’m not special, I’m just a cog in a great big wheel. I never say Why me?
Why not me?

I have always said that where I am is where I am suppose to be. That applied wherever I was. Why isn’t it feasible that I am right where I am supposed to be doing what I am supposed to do at this moment?

I was given a brutal reminder of this tonight when I got a call from my friend Steve. I met Steve when I lived in an apartment complex as my family tried to bounce back from the foreclosure. We were instant friends. We hung out often and had a lot in common, in particular crumbling marriages and the love of our children. When he got divorced and moved, we stayed in touch.

Steve became very ill after he moved. His diabetes, once under control, had destroyed his liver. He needed a transplant. When I had mine, he was the first friend to visit. He had questions of course, but he was there as a friend.

Flash forward a few years. Steve was deteriorating. It was affecting his job as a Teacher. He was missing work and couldn’t find a balance in his meds, the side effects were destroying him. Soon after, a group of Teachers that praised him to his face went on to stab him in the back. He was forced to defend his ability to enlighten young minds to a committee of people who wanted him gone. After suing the Teacher’s Union he claimed a meager, insulting settlement and he walked away with his dignity in his pocket. No accolades or thanks for his 20 years of service or retirement party.

Steve lost most of his friends. Or they lost him. He is now pending disability. He just sold his car because he can’t make payments. His ex-wife is taking him to court over child-support he can’t pay. She knows he’s trying without income but wants to punish him. He can barely talk, an hour after he takes his meds he loses control of his voice. He is on a list for a cadaver transplant, it’s his only hope. Unlike a kidney, a Liver cannot be given by the living.

Tonight, I asked if he would drive up and spend a couple of days with me. He can’t because he has to be nearby in case there is a fatal car accident that will produce a proper tissue match. Plus, he has court tomorrow because his ex-wife is not done ripping his testicles from his scrotum.

Steve would love to be me. Right now, I love being me. I have friends and family who support me. My wife acted with dignity and compassion in our divorce. My children love me and will never be a pawn in a big game. I won’t die if I don’t get an organ donation in the next few months.

I worry about Steve right now, he has been a good and loyal friend. I am not worried about me right now at all.
Why?
As sick as he is, he was the one to call me to see how I was doing. How about that?

Were you to ever utter the words “what else can go wrong?” the universe very well may take it as a challenge.

The mystery text

 

Hey, I am a bachelor this weekend. I’m staying with my girlfriend in Dover but she has art class from 8-4 Sat and Sun. I want to meet you for lunch and catch up.

I stare at my phone, No name and I don’t recognize the number. This person clearly knows me. After pondering the myriad of negative consequences of responding “who the hell is this” I went ahead and did it anyway. Who is this? It’s ten O’clock at night and I now have to wait and see if I’ve just offended an old friend. In need of immediate gratification, I hoped that I would get an answer soon.

While I impatiently waited for my answer, it occurred to me that I recently lost my phone and all of my contacts. I’m terrible with phone numbers and spoiled by the option of going into “contacts” and just pushing the button next to the name. Obsessing, I sent another text. Lost my phone recently and most of my contacts, sorry if I don’t recognize the number. Who is this?

It’s Eric.

Eric, former co-worker and good friend. A relic from my past life. We chatted by text for a few and set up a lunch for the following Saturday. After we concluded I found myself experiencing a rare emotion, anticipation. I haven’t had much to look forward to lately. It will be good to see him.

I arrived at the restaurant on time. I had suggested the restaurant, a local watering hole with good burgers and cheap beer. At 26 miles door to door, it was still the closest place for me to go to drink beer and people-watch. As I walked in, Eric waved to me from the far corner of the room. He looked the same as always; moon-faced, greying hair, big belly and a genuine smile. I walked over, said hi and he stood to greet me. Fuck the handshake, I gave him a man-hug.

As we sat, he immediately commented on my appearance. He had never seen me with a beard. The last time he saw me, I was clean-shaven, in pressed pants, a 75 dollar shirt and shiny shoes. It makes sense that the pallid, scraggly bearded guy in jeans and a sweatshirt, shivering despite it being 65 degrees out may have unsettled him a bit.

We made small talk for a while. He asked a bunch of questions about my “transition to NH life” but they were really all thinly veiled attempts to find out what the hell had happened to me. After some small talk I finally asked him “so, what prompted this invite?”

“Well, I think of you often regardless of how often we actually speak. And I do follow you on Facebook” his voice fading towards the end as if to convey a hint. I got it immediately, he had seen the link to an article I had posted recently. It was an infuriating article about CKD (Chronic Kidney Disease) patients and dialysis patients being “entitled” and not as sick as people think. Written by a dialysis nurse, it was a senseless and incredibly insensitive affront to all who suffer from an invisible illness. It pissed me off enough to share with the caption “really? because it’s kicking my ass right now.” Because I have been basically nonexistent on Facebook lately, this post stood out to Eric and grabbed his attention. I felt bad, I’m not one of those people that post their laundry on FB to elicit sympathy or pity. I posted it out of frustration.

I was at that point sitting in front of the last person on earth that I would ever complain to. Eric has been through so much in his life, not the least of which being his daughter is dying of Anorexia. For as long as I  have known him, his daughter has been sick and it has torn him apart. He has resigned himself to the fact that she will never recover. She has failed to thrive outside of a hospital environment in 6 years and her current situation is considered permanent. As a fellow father and friend, I have always felt compelled to ask him about her. He knows that I have a “is it better to ask or not mention it?” mentality and I lean towards asking because I want him to know that I care. He always responds with something along the lines of “I’m losing her.” It breaks my heart to this day. Yet, here he is sitting across the table worried about me.

He wanted details, so I gave them to him. Straight to the point, no holds barred, I spared no detail about the events of the last 10 months. He listened patiently, asked the occasional question, sipped his coffee and picked at his Reuben. He was clearly taken back by my accounting of recent events. I shifted the conversation to him. I asked about his daughter. He updated me, there was no change. She was in a psychiatric ward with little likelihood of leaving. I could see the heartache on his face. After a brief pause, he changed the subject to the good old days at the office.

We talked for at least an hour about work. We talked of memories of our time there and the characters we worked with. We rehashed funny stories and updated each other on the whereabouts and antics of some shared contacts. It was a fun trip down memory lane. But in the back of my mind, I was flashing back to some of the incredibly powerful moments he and I had shared, some good and many not so good. As we spoke, I was transported to another time. A time that seemed so long ago but was less than a year. The days when I was working, contributing and feeling good.

We had worked together for nine years. It was a tumultuous time for both of us. He had been there years before me and was “king of the hill” in the sales department. By the time I joined the company, he was struggling and his relationship with our mutual superior was strained. Over the years, we formed a bond over our disdain for the megalomaniacal, Machiavellian despot with a Napoleon complex we called “boss”. Despite not being in sales, I helped Eric with his accounts when possible. I saved a few for him and it helped forge a solid bond. That was a fortunate turn because I would be promoted to be his manager after 3 years and it can be an awkward situation transitioning from co-worker to subordinate. He took it in stride and in turn, I treated him with the respect that he deserved. We became close friends. That friendship would soon face a mighty test.

to be continued…

How to make an old lady cry

But first a joke:

Q: How do you get an 80-year-old lady to say the F-word?

A: Have another 80-year-old lady yell Bingo

All kidding aside, I did it today. I’m a bad man.

When I first moved up here in August I made it a point to get to know as many people in town as I could. It’s a nice community and I didn’t want to be the “new guy” that people stared at for long (in a town this small it could take years). In addition, I needed money so I put it out there to the few that I met that I was available for small jobs. In an aging community such as this, I was sure that I would be utilized. One woman, in particular, was excited at the prospect of some help and invited me over to show me some projects she wanted to be done. She was a sweet lady in her early 80’s, very fit for her age with an 1800’s era farmhouse that was clearly in need of major repairs. She offered me some work in her enormous yard, all manageable stuff, and left it with me that she would call when she was ready for me. She never called.

I saw her at the Community Club meeting in December and I asked her, nicely, why she never called me. She had seemed so eager after all. She dodged the question and I let it go. I would find out later that she is very poor and probably is unable to pay me. We never actually discussed money, but I know that I would be reasonable with her. Anything helps after all. I decided that I would say something to her.

As the meeting wound down and everyone was putting on their coats, I approached her and said “We never actually talked about money, but I assure you it’s not a big deal to me. If you need something just call me I’ll be happy to help.” She looked as though someone had removed 200 pounds from her shoulders, the elephant in the room had left. She thanked me and went home.

She called me Saturday morning. She asked me if I would help her remove some snow from her roof. It was an understandable request, she certainly has at least a foot of it on her house and her roof is old. I told her I would be over to take a look at it Sunday at 11. I went over and when she showed me I wanted to say no. I’m in the middle of a disability claim and falling off a roof would certainly be inadvisable. It looked brutally difficult and time-consuming and I wasn’t sure if I was up to it. We talked for a while and in the course of the conversation, and she wasn’t trying to do this, she painted a picture of how alone she was, how overwhelmed with the maintenance of the old house, and how she was struggling with this brutal winter. I immediately knew that I would help her. As the conversation wound down on its own momentum, I said “I’ll be here Tuesday at 10. It won’t rain between now and then you’ll be fine.” She was so very happy.

I wasn’t. I was dreading it. It would be hard, treacherous work. But the weather would at least be warm.

I showed up this morning dressed in my best waterproof gear. Boots, snow pants, gloves, shovel and snow rake and I was ready to go. I trudged around the back of the house through unbroken snow (harder than it looks), climbed the ladder and immediately knew I had made an enormous mistake. There was more snow than on Keith Richards’ coffee table. But I went to it.

It was brutal work, it was warm enough that my feet went right down to the slippery surface. I almost fell off the roof twice. I had to move all of the snow to the front of the house because the back side was weak and I may fall through. 3 hours later I had managed, after frequent breaks to suck wind, to shovel all of it to the front side of the house. I was exhausted. I slid, no joke, to the ladder on my back and headed down. Once I trudged to the front of the house I realized I had completely filled in her shoveled walkway with the snow from the roof. 45 minutes later that was done. And so was I.

Exhausted, I went into her open barn and sat down on a lawn chair. A few minutes later she pulled in to the driveway and came in the barn. She was pleased with the work and could see that I was wiped out.

“Thank you so much, how much do I owe you?”

I looked up and said, “You owe me nothing.”

She was flustered, insistent that I simply couldn’t do that. I told her I wouldn’t take her money. She started to cry.

I explained to her that I was going for a different reaction. I wanted her to be happy. To have one less thing to worry about. She was so truly grateful I almost got emotional. I knew that I wasn’t going to accept any money from her that previous Sunday. I surmised that she would have to pay a snow removal service hundreds of dollars she didn’t have if I said no. Now that I was done, alive, vertebrae intact and out of cardiac arrest danger, it felt right.

“I have to do something for you, at some point,” she said, more composed. I told her I lost my hat. If it blows off the roof in the spring let me know.

You don’t give to get. You give for the sake of giving. Today I was able to make an old lady cry. And dammit, I’ll do it again. ‘Cause I’m a jerk like that.

Peace

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