Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Two Weeks, Two Deaths

Dale died very early this morning at Georgetown Hospital in Washington, DC. It was a quiet event, according to his family, a transition from one state of being to another. He joined The Big Guy and it must have been a joyous encounter since Dale and TBG were on intimate terms. Dale humbly asked, and more often than not, TBG delivered.

Dale liked attractive blonds, and they, in turn, hovered around him like hummingbirds near a trumpet vine. He carried in his wallet a favorite photo of himself surrounded by five young and beautiful light-haired women and when asked why, after more than 20 years in the program he still attended ten AA meetings a week, he would pull out the photo and pass it around.  Nuff said.

Dale was a slow talker, sometimes infuriatingly so, and anyone who frequented the rooms for more than a year or three was bound to hear one of his two most moving stories. The first was about his family, which had led an unsuccessful intervention on him more than two decades earlier, and how his youngest daughter, when he turned away their help, had walked away, swearing she'd never see him again. The second was how, four years ago, he fell to his knees and recited the Serenity Prayer when he learned one of his daughters had died of an overdose.

It took him more than a decade of sobriety to get his family back, and he would tell you that if there was a single miracle that dominated his life, that was it.

Dale was a former college football quarterback, an inveterate Redskins fan, the owner of a ratty red sweater he wore eight months out of the year and that his family desperately wanted to burn, a history buff, and the only person I have ever met who routinely ordered a hot dog on a bun at restaurants.

He often parked his car spanning two spaces in the church parking lot. He touched hundreds of people in a kind and gentle way and I mourn his wisdom and his passing. We'll be the poorer without him.

Here's installment 90 of Wasted Miracles.
The ship was in Freeport, would sail the following afternoon on its last leg, a straight shot to New York. The travel agent Colin knew from AA said the trip would take about 48 hours. “It can hug the coast this time of year, do maybe 36 knots an hour,” the man said, pointing to a map on the wall of his office. “Now during winter, there’s too much current off Hatteras, right here; a ship gets caught off Cape Fear, well, it wasn’t named that without a good reason. Some 2,000 ships have foundered there at one time or another. So your boat would have to make a large loop,” he traced it with a finger, “go out to sea and come back in. That’s in winter. It takes longer. But right now? No storms, current’s nice and friendly. Two days at the outside.”


Mamadou would take one of the limos. He glanced once again at the scrap of paper found in the Zulu’s home. Clare Drake, Jennifer Jamieson, aboard the Isadora. The ship’s arrival date in New York, complete with pier number, were underlined. The Zulu had been thorough.

     With the limo, he’d be able to get close to the ship. No one would question his presence there, just another chauffeur holding up a sign bearing the names of his clients.


Perched on a stool at the bar in Dulles Airport nursing a Coke and nibbling on pretzels, Mollie once again chided herself for getting there far too early. It had set her back $22 to take a limo from downtown and she still had two hours to wait before boarding. It galled her that the limo hadn’t been a real limousine, which was what she’d been expecting. Instead, she rode in a cheesy gray van with tinted windows, sharing the middle seat with a thickly accented businessman from God-knew-where. He’d tried to make conversation in a thick guttural voice but she’d ignored him, and after a while he’d fallen silent, watching the traffic flow along the Dulles access road.

     She looked at the digital clock over the bar. Time to go. She gathered her carry-on bag and purse, double-checked to make sure the ticket was in the back pocket of her jeans. At the security check-in she placed the bag and purse on the conveyor belt and held her breath. She’d made sure to empty both the bag and purse of anything metallic. She stepped up to the metal detector. A bored security agent waved her through.

     In the plane she placed the carry-on beneath her seat as the card instructed, fastened her seat belt and closed here eyes. She hated flying. When the plane took off she held on to the armrests, promised God that if she got through this, she’d never do anything bad again.

     The flight went quickly. She ordered coffee twice, ate the dry-roasted peanuts, read the airline magazine. She wanted to check the carry-on, make sure all the money was still there, resisted the illogical impulse. Of course it was still there. And what if someone saw her? All those bills, fifties, twenties and tens. Three thousand four hundred and eighty two dollars. Less twenty-two for the limo ride.

     When the plane began its descent into Freeport, she forced herself to look outside. From that high up, there wasn’t much to see. The water did seem a shade bluer than she’d seen elsewhere though not as blue as on the TV ads. There were palm trees, just like in the South. As the plane made its final approach, she saw the harbor and the five cruise ships anchored there. She squinted, tried to make out names but couldn’t.

     She passed through the airport like any one of the thousands of tourists that came and left daily, a nondescript young woman in blue jeans and a University of Maryland Terrapins sweatshirt that was far too hot for the Bahamian weather that day.


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