You Got a Friend
Newcastle — Ron is a someone I’ve known for about fifty years and with whom I have been as close as with any man. We met in the army; studied the same language at the Army Language School; served in Bavaria at the same post; and traveled together in Europe. We shared an apartment in Ann Arbor when we returned to further studies. He was best man at my wedding and I at his. (He ruined the left-over wedding cake when he forgot to put it in the freezer while I honeymooned-but I forgive him for that.) We took skiing vacations together while I finished my education, and he was a builder in Saginaw; a good chance to get away from the new wives. Then I moved to Maryland and we drifted apart. It has been a lifelong failing of mine; keeping in touch with people I care about. In his case I did better than with most. At least we exchanged email a few times a year.
During this past year I wrote Ron several emails to which he did not respond. This bothered me enough, finally, to invoke the Great Big Brother, Google. What I found was his obituary. He died a little more than a year ago.
I looked back in my cloud to find the last correspondence from Ron. It was dated about a month before his death. He was responding to an email I had recently sent titled: “Are You Still Breathing?” It had been a while since I had heard from him. In his reply he said: “Thanks for not giving up on me. I’m still breathing. Some of my health problems and questions about it remain. Fortunately I’m beginning to handle them better. Now my biggest challenge is dealing with more than (a) small bit of depression….. Ah…the nightly breaks at the P-Bell from study. Those were more than just good days. Among the very best memories for me are of our rush through Northern Europe… Thanks for being such a good friend all these years. I’ll continue to breathe for a bit longer.”
I am quite familiar with depression, sometimes rather severe. Since I was a small child the option of breathing or not breathing has seemed pretty much a tossup. After her death I saved enough of my wife’s morphine to do the deed, but after about two years I opened my bureau drawer, saw the pills and flushed them. (Tut, tut, not supposed to do that! Some happy fish maybe.) Suicide is so final.
What happened Ron? Did you give up? I know his life was not an especially happy one in his later years, particularly after his eldest son decided he’d had enough. I could have helped, financially, if I had so chosen, but I didn’t. I once gave Ron a “loan” that I didn’t expect to be repaid. But it was always a loan to him, and a few years later he returned my money after receiving a small inheritance from his father. The loan nearly cost our friendship, because it weighed on him. “Neither a borrower nor a lender be. For loan oft loses both itself and friend.” This is advice I take to heart.
T.S. Eliot wrote in East Coker: “For us there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.” With Ron I probably didn’t try hard enough, and I’m unhappy about that. However, it is said that one is not truly gone as long as someone remembers. I won't forget you, Ron; you got a friend. Fare forward.