The demons that pestered my friend Wayne for many of his 43 years were forever silenced by the massive heart attack that stole his life last Thursday morning.
Those who weren't close to him only saw the eminently likable, gregarious, and quick-witted public personae. Those of us who were more than casually acquainted with him knew of his struggles, but I’m not certain that any of us fully appreciated the turmoil that his inner conflicts inflicted on his daily life.
Wayne’s difficulties were certainly no match for his talents though. He once built us a birdhouse that was painstakingly crafted from junk lumber. It evolved into a complex work of art so exquisitely detailed that it included a mailbox filled with individual hand-made wooden letters with legible postage affixed, and the local Green Sheet. The roof appeared to be slate. The house included a fireplace and each log on the stack of firewood was individually created and hand painted. Inside was real flooring and a framed portrait of a bird hung on the wall.
Picture worth a thousand words and all that.
He was complex, yet a man of simple tastes, at home in his truck or hanging around the garage with the omnipresent Marlboro, just smoking and swapping stories for hours on end. Never once crossing his mind was the earlier promise to Barbara that he’d be home three hours ago. Then the realization followed by a shrug, and an Oh Well, I’m already this late no point in going now.
He was a man with a ready ear for all the tired old stories of the Glory Days and he’d never let on he’d heard each of them a dozen times already, laughing again as if it were really the first time. Or cracking wise--and you giggled like a giddy nine-year old until your stomach ached and you gasped for air, forgetting for just those few moments that you were way too old to laugh that hard.
Wayne dropped in a few weeks ago and we sat out front as the day was dying away, catching up. He talked about this and that and told me about a young black chick at work that had been relentlessly flirting and teasing him for several weeks. He assured me that since he was old and chubby the attention was welcome, not that I am going to do anything about it, Mike, I'm a married man, but I have to admit it's flattering. I guess she got bold and asked him point blank…..Come on Wayne, you ever been with a black woman? Cat quick he came back with Nah, the sheet always scares them off.
He often talked of life and speculated about our place in the cosmos. Occasionally he’d don the tinfoil hat, once crafting a startling and almost-believable tale of how Jim’s death was not an accident after all.
In the end, I keep coming back to this: In a prophetic bit of irony, he frequently scoffed at the concept of middle age, insisting that if you died at age 43 you were middle-aged at 25. And, it startles me just a little that you were ever so right, my friend.