I have to say good bye to one of my dearest friends. I don’t want to, it’s awful, and I wish I could somehow change what is now life without him in it because it’s going to be far too quiet.
Don. Donnie. Donald B. We graduated from a small high school in Central Massachusetts in 1981. Everyone knew everyone else, and as it turns out, thanks to social media, we were close despite most of us going off in various directions.
I am pretty sure I can count the times I’ve seen Donnie since our graduation, but it might be safe to add one or two drunken parties to that list. I know every time I saw him it was a blast–I mean a BLAST. He was the life of the party. Loud, funny, the center of the room, the person you wanted to stand next to because you knew that was where the fun was happening. He was that guy.
Fortunately for me, it wasn’t just parties that I saw Donnie. After my first marriage ended, I moved back home with my parents. It was a hard move because I was starting over as a single mom. I was angry and bitter. It was humiliating to see people I knew because I felt like a loser. Donnie called me to see how I was doing and I launched into my tale of woe, bashing my soon-to-be-ex, fully expecting a rally of support from my old friend. Instead he shut me up by telling me straight out that he knew my husband to be a good guy and asked, “What did you expect? To be treated like a princess every friggin’ day?”
That was Donnie: blunt, honest, no filters. He then gave me some financial advice because I had a kid and a picture framing job because I worked as a picture framer. That was Donnie: he would give you help when you needed it. He made me laugh and cry during that phone call but most of all, I felt better after talking to him. He helped give me a perspective and some strength and guts to start moving on.
Our paths crossed over the years, alway fun, always feeling like we had just seen each other just a few days ago. We could launch into baseball (usually good), politics (always bad–polar opposite political views), families (great), and funny memories that left us laughing until we couldn’t talk.
The thing about Donnie is, somehow he got a pass for being loud and annoying and oppositonal and saying the very thing VERY LOUDLY that I know I could never get away with saying. I’ve thought a lot about how and why he got away with it, and all I can come up with is that he was genuine and stood by his opinion until he knew he was wrong. Or when he admitted he was an asshole. But somehow he always made you laugh until you were gasping for air.
The loss I’m feeling right now is absolutely nothing compared to what his beautiful family must be going through. His wife, his children, his parents and sisters and brother. His nieces and nephews and in-laws, his cousins, close friends, his children’s friends, his neighbors, people who worked with him, those lucky enough to see him often. He was bigger than life. He was a force of nature that you never forgot once you knew him.
Despite his contrary nature, he cared deeply. He stood up for the underdog, for causes, for what was right. There was no way I was going to do the Ice Bucket Challenge until he called me on it. Then there was no way I could NOT do the Ice Bucket Challenge. He thanked me after I dumped the freezing water on my head and told me he not to worry about giving the money, he’d already donated for me which breaks my heart right now.
In the past couple of years we had gotten together with two other high school friends and the time spent together was beyond what I can give credit here. It wasn’t just catching up, it was creating a new level of friendship. We went to a baseball game at Fenway Park. Red Sox vs. the Mariners. They were down by six runs in the nineth, it was a game they trailed from the top of the first inning which was a minor drawback to the fun of being together. We stayed because we were having so much fun talking, laughing, catching up, and honestly, switching seats to take a turn sitting next to Donnie. Until the 9th inning when the Red Sox started to come back. What was definitely a fun night turned into an amazing night in our friendship, and in the Red Sox 2013 season. They won it all. I believed we would all get together many times for many years to rehash that incredible night.
I just can’t get my mind around it. My dear friend Donnie is not here. He’s gone. It is such a huge void. If I could do anything for his family right now, I wish I could take some of their grief and loss because I can’t imagine the vacuum of his death to them. To quote Watson, when faced with Sherlock’s death, all I can say is, “I want you to be not dead.”
Donnie loved Joe Castiglione’s tradition of reading part of Bart Giamatti’s poem Green Fields of the Mind at the end of every season. It is fitting here, now, as I say goodbye to you except I wish with all my heart that you would come back. Rest in Peace my dear friend.
“The Green Fields of the Mind”
“It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.”