It has been three years since Doug, my good friend, died. To describe him as a good friend is quite different than how we both would have described our relationship before we reconnected three and a half years ago.
I had joined Facebook in an attempt to connect with some old High School classmates. My graduating class was preparing for their 40th reunion back in my home state of West Virginia. My class of around 170 had scattered across the globe and this medium was helping them reconnect. As we were beginning to “friend” each other, I saw that Doug was already on Facebook. It was only natural I asked him to “friend me”.
Now Doug and I were not really that close through High School. In fact, Doug wasn’t close to anyone of whom I was aware. He and I were on the same sprint relay team and competed at the state level. He and I shared running back responsibilities on the football team. But that was as far as it went. Honestly, Doug was the guy of whom everyone kept clear. He always seemed angry. I remember him outside the War Memorial building during a dance just as drunk and belligerent as one could get. He always seemed to be in trouble at school, walking in the front door and out the back. He and the principal, Mr. Mullet, were often seen having serious discussions together. I always kept Doug at an arm’s length but we were never hateful toward each other.
Doug’s response to my friend request really surprised me. He snapped back a confusing comment about why I wanted to be his friend. I innocently asked for a clarification and he again lashed back at me. I felt like I wanted to unpack this issue between him and me and so I gave him my phone number to call.
I was glad when he called me back. He almost immediately went back to our school’s fifth year reunion, at which I don’t even remember being present. He remembered me snubbing him and acting like I didn’t even know him. He had held that inside of him for almost 40 years and was still seething over it. He was positive we had shared in this interaction and the resentment was still alive.
The next two hours was me trying to get closer to him while he kept pushing me away with his words. He let me explain that if I had done what he said, it probably spoke more about my issues than his. I apologized for my actions and let him know that I realized how deeply my actions hurt him. Then he began to share what his life had been like. As he shared the distance between our two locations seemed insignificant, he in Pennsylvania and I in Texas.
When he was growing up, Doug struggled with an undiagnosed learning disability which made certain subjects very difficult to learn in a traditional setting. His grades were poor which were in stark comparison to his honor society older siblings. He was far from dumb. He learned calculus over the course of a few weekends through his mother who was one of our advanced math teachers. I also seem to remember him telling me of some very unhealthy family relationships that caused him even more emotional pain.
While listening to his story, I remember him vividly saying, “Wib, I have been an angry drunk for over 40 years.” My heart sank as I heard his pain. He had tried to hold together jobs and relationships. During the time of this conversation, he was helping his wife raise some horses and trying to keeping his family together.
Doug and I talked almost every weekend for the next four months. We shared stories from our past and insights into the present world. We talked religion, politics while he also shared his talent in creating jewelry. Over those four months, we became very good friends. The resentment was gone. I encouraged him to start Alcoholics Anonymous and he had made several of the meetings. I told him he could beat this addiction and he began to understand how his resentment and anger over the years were the reasons for his drinking.
They say that resentment is like drinking poison and expecting it to kill the other person. During one of our calls, he told me that his liver and kidneys were shutting down because of his alcohol abuse. I knew that it wasn’t the alcohol that was going to take his life. He had let go of the resentment too late.
I said goodbye for good to my friend over the phone while he laid in his bed at home, barely able to carry on the conversation. Two days later he slipped quietly away in his sleep. This was probably the first glimpse of peace he had enjoyed since playing as a child. I missed seeing Doug in person when I went to the reunion that summer. While I did enjoy seeing many of my old friends and sharing some stories, it was Doug I wanted to see most.
Our lives are too short and friendships too precious to allow resentment to destroy us. They do destroy us; the bearer of those resentments. They do not hurt anyone else. So, to all those family members, business associates, and friends who wronged you at one time or another, let the resentment go. It will kill you. And it might even be keeping you from experiencing a joy you were unaware was available. Thank you, Doug, for snapping back at me on Facebook. Thank you for the friendship we enjoyed for 4 months.