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Local Artist Spotlight: "Dear Douglas" by David Friskhorn

Dear Douglas,

I love you!  How could you do this to me?  After years of fruitless searching, I finally found you…in an obituary.  Not yours, but that of your brother, the firefighter.   As I read through the significant events and accomplishments of his life, I am suddenly, utterly paralyzed in mid-thought…”he was predeceased by his brother, Douglas.”  What???  My Douglas?  When?  Where?  How?  The paralysis of my brain is instantaneous; and then blindingly flooded with the unanswered questions of this newfound information and further overwhelmed with the tsunami of unanswered questions from years of searching and wondering.  As the brain swims and swirls and grasps for some semblance of reason, the heart takes over.  Cardio Central pushes the hurt, confused, grief and agony buttons simultaneously.  The only reaction the brain can muster is to flood the orbital sockets with salt water and twist the abdominal region into a convulsing spasm of ache and nausea.

I fancy myself to be quite adept at surfing the Internet.  I am known to be able to pinpoint supposedly-factual information in less time and with less effort than most in my social circle.  For the past decade, my fingers have roamed the keyboard many times and my eyes have scoured the thousands of ‘hits,’ but to no avail.  Your trail seemed to have gone cold and dry…no readily-accessible footprint, no identifiable presence in the great electronic world where we all showcase our daily existence.  Now I return to the Internet.  Even with the added knowledge of your fate, I find no useful hits.  More questions, new questions, flood my brain and soon I feel obsession taking hold.  I must, absolutely must, have answers so I reach for the credit card which will open my search up to the world of secret-but-available-for-a-price information.

For just $20, I am soon reading about the six different residences you called home since we were last in touch.  What is most revealing is the insight into your court records.  I am dumbstruck at the unfortunate turns your life must have taken.  What lead to the non-satiated financial liens and judgments?  What prompted the arrest for criminal trespass and resultant imprisonment?  Why did your arrest record indicate that you were homeless?  And, most puzzling, why does my $20 personal record search indicate there is no available death record information?  Were you so reclusive and stubborn at the end of your life that there was no one close enough to you to claim your remains or create a proper death notice?

What I cannot ask, and what haunts me the most, is the mystery and bafflement of what circumstances prompted the end of your life to be so sad, so lonely, so desperate.  The evidence indicates you were destitute, homeless, friendless and full of despair.  I feel myself drowning in your despair as I struggle to cope with this visual and heartfelt impression of your final days without any ability to understand how you got there.

Soon, however, perhaps as a psychological coping mechanism, I begin to feel anger and hurt.  You were my best friend for the decade of your 20’s and my 30’s.  You were an important part of my wedding to the man I still call husband a quarter of a century later.  I was the one whose shoulder you sought as you struggled through one relationship and on to the next.  We shared our feelings, dreams, concerns and hopes on a daily basis.  And then, you were just gone.

How could you do this to me?  The end of your life shows that you needed me more than ever, yet you did not reach out.  You did not let me know what you were going through, what your problems were, or even where you were.  After all we meant to one another and all we shared, there is no way you didn’t know that I would have helped you with all the resources I could muster and in any way I could, if you would have just let me know.

With surreal vividness and clarity I recall the richness of your laughter and I can see all your teeth, front and rear, in my mind’s eye, as your mouth opens wide with an initial guffaw and then you cover it quickly with your left hand in an attempt to appear more cool than you feel at the moment.  And I don’t know why my mind keeps dwelling on your lower molars, but it does, over and over again. 

I can clearly feel a drop of sweat off your brow and smell the masculinity of your perspiration as we play racquetball, until you notice me noticing and you wipe your face dry with a towel.  And as with the repetitive flash of your molars, my mind pummels me with that single sweat drop, over and over again.  I sense the soft, pleasant feel of your thick chest hairs against my face as we wrestle in the sand at the beach until we both laugh, and again I see your molars briefly before the left hand arrives and restores decorum.  I taste the slightly-salty and slightly-dry texture of your lips as we kiss good-bye—no tongues, no sex, just unrestrained friendship, joy and comfort with one another—until you break the embrace and turn away.  As with the teeth and the sweat drop, my mind replays the brief kiss and uncoupling, over and over again.

And now, at this moment, I can see the commonality of your actions over the years.  There was always an underlying discomfort at fully letting your guard down and an intense sense of pride and propriety that perhaps contributed to your inability to ask for help when you truly, truly needed it and you knew I would respond.  That has resulted in an immeasurable loss for both of us.  I missed the opportunity to be the friend you knew I would be and you endured the end of your life in solitude and loneliness.

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