Yesterday afternoon I learned I’ve lost a friend.
We met Doug in the summer of 1999.
Zebu had just turned three and Wildebeest was about five-and-a-half.
We were new volunteers at the spaghetti dinner and several old-timers
weren’t happy having young kids underfoot.
But Doug wasn’t one of the cranky ones.
He always made us feel welcome.
Doug had a smile that came from deep inside; you felt his warmth.
Doug sometimes cooked the spaghetti and sometimes served it out in the dining room.
Many called him Noodles.
Others called him Montana.
Something to do with a t-shirt he wore the first day he walked into our director’s
Doug loved books.
Maybe more than anyone I know.
Signed-first-editions kind of love.
When Doug learned I’d written a novel, he gushed all sorts of compliments.
Told me I was amazing and that he was in awe.
He begged to read it.
I gave him the three-ring binder holding the single-spaced manuscript.
My first novel.
He didn’t finish it.
I got mad and demanded he return the manuscript.
He gave it back without a whole lot of apologies.
But then when he turned me onto so many great writers like
Larry Brown and Larry Watson
and I shared these new-to-me writers with my parents and brother
who loved them, too,
I understood why Doug couldn’t read my book.
Doug knew his literary shit.
When I mentioned I was submitting a short-story to the Boston Review
Doug was already familiar with the work of the fiction editor, Junot Diaz.
Junot Diaz who five years later won the Pulitzer for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
Doug knew his shit.
I think I was responsible for Doug reading White Teeth by Zadie Smith.
He’d already heard of it, of course,
but I’d like credit for one literary assist.
But Doug wasn’t just about the books.
He struggled with addiction.
He was clean when we met and I later learned
his brother had taken Doug into the woods
and belted him to a tree while he went through withdrawal.
A few years back something changed for Doug
And he started using again.
I’m trying to remember what, if anything, I did to reach out.
I think I sent some emails and left a few unreturned voice mails
But mostly I kept out of the way.
I knew it was something Doug had to do himself
And I waited for him to get back in touch after he’d beaten those demons.
On March 5, the demons won.
Doug died of an overdose.
In an alley.
54 years old.
I can’t believe he’s really gone.
Last night I broke the news to the boys.
Zebu said he had no memory of Doug.
Wildebeest told us about conversations he and Doug had at the spaghetti dinner.
Jokes they shared.
Wildebeest told Zebu, “You would’ve liked him.”
I told Zebu, “You did like him, you just don’t remember.”
My heart hurts with missing Doug.
He was an extraordinary person
And now he’s gone.
But I’m grateful he’s no longer in pain.
I hope there’s some enormous bookstore in the sky
where Doug is kicked back
discovering the next great voice.
May he rest in peace.