There is something that has been weighing on my mind for the past week or so, and the only thing I can do is to write about it. Putting the words down and seeing them helps me to understand and work through things in a peaceful and quiet way. It also relieves my mind of the pressure that I have been feeling. It helps me to identify the reasons for feelings that lurk somewhere just outside of conscious thought.
Almost 1 year ago, I lost a dear friend of mine in a traffic accident. In the year that has past, I have remained in touch with his wife and children and offered support whenever it was needed. Don was a true friend, one of the very best I have ever had the privilege of knowing. He defined the term for me.
We met while we were both in the Navy. Don was onboard the ship I was stationed on for several months while we were deployed overseas. That was Don’s job at the time, he was a local area expert. We started out as comrades, as all Navy friendships do. We would hang out when the ship made port visits, have some drinks and good times without getting into too much trouble. Don and I talked about our backgrounds, me being from Kentucky and him being from Philly. He told me all about his wife, Nicola, who was expecting their first child at the time. Every chance we got, Don was on the phone to talk with her. I was struck by the intense bond that he and Nicola shared and it made very happy for them both.
Far too soon, as far as the friendship went, the ship was heading back to the States, and Don left to resume his post in another country to await his next assignment. There were the obligatory promises to stay in touch, remember that this was the late 90s and email was still in it’s infancy at the time. The ship returned home, and I proceeded with my own life and career.
I knew that I was gay when I was in the Navy, but I always kept my mind on my business and never let anything interfere with why I was on the ship in the first place. Again, it was a different time, and things like that were frowned upon. Don and I never had that type of relationship anyway, friends are far more valuable in life. As time went on, the attempts to stay in touch sputtered on and off since Don was transferring from one place to another. I served out my tour and was preparing to leave the Navy.
Just before that happened, Don was posted back to the States. When fate brought him to the area, he took the chance and visited the ship to see if I was still onboard. If his visit had come a few months later, I would have been gone forever. I will never forget the thrill at seeing him again after nearly 3 years. It was as if we had never been apart. You have to remember that most military friendships consist of unfulfilled promises to stay in touch. For Don to take the effort to look me up says all that you need to know about his character.
This time, we were able to reliably stay in touch. I left the Navy and met Hal, my partner of nearly 16 years right afterwards. We started our life together and decided eventually that the DC area was a better place for us to be. Don was still in the Navy and stationed not too far away. When I contacted him and told him that 1) I was Gay and 2) that Hal and I were going to be moving to the DC area, I was somewhat apprehensive. Several other Navy friends recoiled when I came out to them. That was their choice, I respect it, although I cannot agree with it.
Don was supportive of myself and Hal. We were invited to finally meet his beautiful wife, Nicola, and their daughter, Brianna. Brianna was the child that Donald and Nicola were expecting when we first met. Nicola, who met Don when he was stationed in Scotland, welcomed Hal and myself with open arms. We made it a routine to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with them at their home.
Life was wonderful until that day almost a year ago when Nicola called me in tears and told me that Don was dead. I fell to the floor in the office where I worked and sobbed when I heard the news. I instantly regretted every missed opportunity to talk with Don and let him know what a truly valuable friend he was to us. I realized that an attitude like this would leave me wounded, and I learned to get over those regrets quickly in order to preserve the wonderful memories I have. Hal and I supported Nicola and the kids, Connor was born a few years after we had met Nicola, even though they lived approximately 45 miles away from us. The distance has never been an issue to Hal or myself when it comes to friends.
As the anniversary of the accident approaches, I am somewhat melancholy once again, but the nostalgia is the right kind this time. I miss Don, but I am more grateful for the time that we did know each other than anything else. Hal and I will be there for Nicola and the kids if we are needed.
Ironically, at about the same time last year, I also reconnected with another Navy friend from back in the day. We spoke on the phone a few times and promises to stay in touch were made, but in this case, the years have proven too much to overcome. I do not think that we will ever establish a strong connection. The joy of reconnecting was shattered by Don’s death, the other friend knew Don from years ago as well. I cannot fault him for not feeling the same way that I did when I told him the news. they had not spoken in nearly 20 years at that point. What I came to realize as I write this is that this other friend has not contacted me for almost a year. I feel no regret in telling myself that there will be no reunion with this friend. I am not bitter or angry, people change through the years and we don’t always mesh together when reintroduced.
Again, this was something that set Don apart from other friends. He was special and unique and genuine, and most importantly, he was the type of person that would work together to re-establish a friendship that he never considered broken in the first place.
And so, I have dealt with two extremes when it comes to people from my past. Comparison is useless because we are all different. At least there are no hard feelings toward the friend who I have been unable to reconnect with.
As I grow older, I learn more and more. Friends are the most valuable thing we can have in life. But there are some friends who are part of our lives for a specific period of time, and then no more. To attempt to rebuild something based on the past is wrong and doomed to failure. I learned years ago that it is the time to simply move on. There are no recriminations or blame to throw around, these things happen.
I think that the important thing is to realize your true friends and hold them close and never miss the opportunity to let them know how valuable they are to you. Those are the friends who you should invest your time with. For the friends who drift away and fail to reconnect, the worst thing you can do is try to spend time and effort reaching out only to get silence. The important thing is to know the difference between the two and act accordingly,
We all make decisions in our lives that affect ourselves and those around us. Sometimes those decisions make it impossible to keep things the way they were. Learning to accept both permanent and transitory loss and move ahead is the real lesson here.
I feel so much better after writing this down. I have gone back and edited several times, but I don’t want to lose the spontaneity of my thoughts in the process. I think that it is important to keep the impact of the story intact and not water it down. Doing so makes writing completely useless to me, but perhaps I am just weird like that.
One last thought is how I have changed in the nearly 20 years since Don and I met. I mentioned that Hal and I met after I left the Navy. We are celebrating our 16th year together this next January. I never believed I would be this happy when I left the Navy. I certainly don’t mean to imply that I was planning to be miserable, but I was just uncertain about my future at that time. I need not have worried because of Hal. We grow stronger together every day and without him I would really be an emotional wreck thinking about the next few weeks.
I suppose that it is just an example of how things will work out for the best if we let them. Perhaps I am wrong, but I don’t think so. For all of the troubles and tragedies I have faced in my life, I know that it is much easier to face them with someone by my side. On that note, I will wish everyone a great day and thank you for reading.