On the evening of Monday, March 25, 2013, I was leaving a dinner meeting w aith colleagues, a group with whom I had been meeting for just under twenty years, once a month during the school year, to eat together and to support each other in our work. We’d been through births, deaths, marriages, divorces, new practices, failing practices, the whole bit. We ate that night at the cafe at Nordstrom’s, up at the Fashion Mall on the north side of Indianapolis.
I had just stepped into my Chevy Traverse, in the free parking garage just north of the mall, third floor as I recall, easier to reach from the skybridge connecting store to parking facility. It must have been around 830 PM or so.
My phone rang. I recognized the number. It was Athos.
When I answered, I heard the only vocal inflection that one dreads more to speak than to hear.
“Doc, it’s me. I’m sorry to bother you at home, but…it’s about Porthos. He was in a car wreck this afternoon, coming back from Fort Brag. He’s…he’s dead.
At 2:16 AM, Tuesday, March 26, 2013, I published the following blog post, entitled Goodbye, My Friend:
Mere hours ago, one of my patients died, not by his own hand, but suddenly, unexpectedly, far too young, far too soon.
Words fail me. Yet at the same time, I cannot let this night pass without my having typed at least a few such words onto a screen, into cyberspace, for him, whose smile I will never again see.
My God, never again.
Goodbye, my friend. For indeed we were not just “doctor and patient,” were we? It matters not that in another few hours, in the very next daylight I will see, I will write my final note in your chart, does it, for you were never just another note, never just words under federal protection.
These very words that I type, at this very moment: God, I wish you could see them. I wish I could see you seeing them. I wish we could laugh about them. I wish I could hear you say, “Jesus, Doc, lighten up, why don’t you.”
I promise, my friend, that one day I will. The memory of your smile will help me do just that.
But for now, I have to ask you to give me a few hours, a few days, as long as it will take.
May somewhere, somehow, not just my memory of you, but you—you—know: it was never just a job.
At this very moment, you cannot know how glad I am that I can write that.
But then on second thought: maybe you always did know that.
Ergo, your smile.
Goodbye, my friend. Goodbye.
On Saturday morning, March 30, 2013, I then posted the following, under the title In Memoriam: Porthos, 1985-2013:
With the permission of his family, and with much sadness, I let you all know that this week, as I said before, I lost not only a patient, but a friend: a man whom some of you have come to know as Porthos.
In the late afternoon of Monday, March 25, 2013, he died in an auto accident, leaving his parents, his brothers, his family and friends, me—and a brave, tired, bereft battle buddy, Athos—rich in memory, yet broken in heart. He will be buried with full military honors this coming week.
I then quoted extensively from the both No Trouble at All and Merry Christmas, Reality Notwithstanding, from the latter an excerpt that had spoken of Porthos’ younger brother.
Porthos returned to a family with whom he has cried, laughed, struggled. He returned to a younger brother who can outflank his every protestation, yet who can then quietly shed his own tears as he listens to his big brother’s overwhelming grief.
To that, I then added
Again, with tears that younger brother called me Monday evening, just as I was texting him to express my concern and condolences. We spoke only briefly. There was little to say.
Yet as I thought about it that night, the night I wrote the previous entry, Goodbye, My Friend, I did realize there was indeed one more thing to say, to text to this handsome, younger brother, to this—perhaps?—D’Artagnan:
“I wanted you to know: when he and I met on Friday, he told me that he was worried about you and asked me to check on you. . . I know the two of you could go at it at times, but please do know that he loved you dearly and was proud to be your brother. That I know, and that I wanted you to know as well.”
I then added an excerpt from To Remember, Not Relive, ending it with the following quote from the blog post:
Still exhausted, but somewhere, unbelievably, still rakish, [Porthos] closed his eyes, took in a deep breath, opened his eyes back up, looked into mine, and merely whispered, “If you say so, Doc. If you say so.”
I do say so. And I do believe so.
I concluded the post as follows:
And I can at least say this, for the sake of his family, for the sake of Athos, for the sake of all combat veterans who have worried that, indeed, “hope” is an oxymoron: he was indeed getting better. He had a long ways to go. His road would have been a challenging one. But he was walking it. He would have continued to walk it.
The reliving was becoming remembering. In a way, he’d gone out on the road this past weekend to continue that very process. It was the process he was living when his time—like that of Aramis, also one to Live capitalized until the very end—came.
I can write no more now. Amazing what you can do with the Ctrl-C and the Ctrl-V commands. Copy and paste. Works like a charm.
I’m dreading next Wednesday. I’m dreading the guns. I’m dreading “Taps.”
And yet who am I, really? I did not raise him. I did not wrestle with him, argue with him, dream about the future with him, at five, fifteen, even twenty-five. I did not stand with him over the body of a dead comrade, sing with him at the top of our lungs Back Where I Come From, miles and miles away.
But he did permit me to feel his heart, to honor me with his pain, to trust me with his future.
I so wish there had been more of the latter, Porthos. I so, so wish.
He died at age twenty-seven, having seen so much death, having hurt so much pain, yet having also smiled so many smiles, having pulled so many pranks, having charmed his way out of so many tight squeezes, having watched so many episodes of The Vampire Diaries with his Dad, having known he could talk to his Mom about anything, having deeply enjoyed his brothers’ happiness with the loves of their lives, having texted one last time to Athos, the last Musketeer, just hours before his death, “Love you, bro.”
And he did, Athos. He did. That I know, and that I wanted you to know as well.
Goodbye, my friend. Goodbye.
Three years. So much changes. So much does not.
Until tomorrow, be well,