They say in life you are faced with two guarantees. Death and Taxes. If you’re a writer, you can add in Rejection, a lot of it. This week the former presented itself to me.
It’s a subject few of us like to talk about but an absolute in life everyone will face one day. Nobody escapes their last page turned over.
The worst part for me personally was the Lost Goodbye.
When someone dies unexpectedly, you go back to your last interaction, what you said or didn’t say. What you did or didn’t do. Life doesn’t afford us do-overs, but at the same token, regrets don’t accomplish a damn thing. Sadly, I lost my opportunity to say goodbye; I didn’t get to wish him fair winds and following seas.
My friend’s name was Doug King. And this is my Lost Goodbye.
Thirty years my senior, Doug was unlike most of my friends. To describe him in one word, I think the apt adjective for him would be boisterous. If Doug had something to say, anything to say for that matter, you heard him. He was loud, opinionated, and good heavens could he weave a good tale. He loved his wife, sons, and grandkids unconditionally; he often bragged on them as we sat in his office late in the afternoon and “chewed the fat.” His PC screen saver contained pictures of his grandkids, and countless images dotted his walls in various photo collages.
His business was two doors down from my office. Nearly three years ago, when I moved into my office space, Doug popped in to welcome “the new guy.” He saw the various flags from foreign countries hanging on my walls and asked if I served in the military. I told him no, but one of my closest friends was a member of 5th Group and brought me back a flag from every deployment. Doug then shared with me his own military experience as he served in the Army. As we spoke, he noticed my overflowing bookshelves. He asked about my reading tastes, and we discovered our literary tastes mirrored each other. As soon as I told him I wrote novels as well, it was off to the races. He wanted to know what I wrote, how I created my stories, and above all, when he could get a copy.
For a long time, I resisted giving him my latest novel, The Body Man. I’m not sure why actually; maybe my imposter syndrome kicked in, and he would think I didn’t match up to all the fantastic authors we frequently discussed: Clancy, Flynn, Ludlum, Baldacci, or Child? (PS. I know, I don’t)
Often we exchanged books. Doug would come into my office, and I’d give him one or two books from my collection at a time. He would always bring them back (often dropping them in my mail slot if I was out that day) and tell me later what he thought. Sometimes he’d inform me the book was crap, although rarely did he not finish a novel he borrowed. In the past year, I got him hooked on Jack Carr, CJ Box, Kyle Mills, and most recently, Daniel Silva. I couldn’t believe he hadn’t read Silva, the purest writer of his generation. Sadly, he didn’t get the chance to dig into many of Daniel’s works.
Finally, in November of 2020, I let go of my internal insecurities and emailed him a copy of The Body Man. I waited a few weeks for his thoughts, I asked a few times during those weeks, and he replied in a calm voice, “I’ll tell you what I think when I’m done, Eric.”
The day finally arrived, and he walked into my office. He said, “I’m damn proud of you, you wrote a solid book, and I’m sure it’ll be a success. I’ve read a lot of books in my time, and this book deserves to be published.” I knew him well enough to know he meant every word. I felt relieved.
At the end of February, I stopped by his office to tell him I had a book contract, not just for The Body Man but for two sequels. He smiled from ear to ear and said, “I knew you would; congratulations. I’ll buy the first copy, and I want it signed.” I told him (jokingly) I needed him to buy more than one, a box if he could; after all, it’s a competitive field, and every sale counts. He laughed and said he would.
Doug didn’t get the chance. I had already included him in my acknowledgments since he was an advanced reader and friend, but I knew this week I’d have to modify what I said on those pages. I’m sad he’s gone, but at the same time, I feel blessed to have known him for a few years. God gives us many gifts in life, and I think one of the most treasured ones happens to be friendship. Friends come in various personalities/styles, even ages; often, they arrive when you least expect them and sometimes depart whether you want them to or not.
When you finish reading this, pick up your phone and call a friend. Maybe someone you haven’t spoken to in a while. Check-in with them. Trust me; you don’t want a Lost Goodbye.
Goodbye, Doug. Thanks for believing in me, thanks for being boisterous, and thanks for sharing our love of the written word.
Godspeed, my friend.