In Memoriam

Her name is Duffie Miller. I knew her first as Duffie Downing. She was named for her grandmother, who was an elementary teacher at our school. Amy, in her post termed Duffie’s siblings as “ragtag.” Duffie would probably smile at that description. She was the older of two biological children born to a couple that adopted (I think) 10 more children, spread in age from several years older to several years younger than Duffie and me. I don’t remember when I first met her. It was certainly some time in elementary school (after I transferred to Central in fourth grade). It was probably when we started beginner band together in fifth grade.

To me, one of the mysteries of my time in school will always be why Duffie and I did not become close friends then. She and I were always friendly. In an environment that I often considered quite hostile to me, I never remember a time when I didn’t count Duffie as being “on my side”. We were fighting a lot of the same social battles. For some reason, though, our paths didn’t cross more than just casually.

Flash forward to our senior year of high school. I was driving home from Florence one Wednesday night, and I happened to spot her car on the road. I pulled alongside and honked at her (my ‘76 VW Beetle was unmistakable, so I figured she probably knew who I was). In a bit of impulsiveness that I will never regret, I followed her home. We got out of our cars, and ended up just sitting out on her front porch and talking. We talked about life in general: where we had been, where we were, and most of all where we were going. I don’t remember a lot of specifics about the conversation, but I remember us being in agreement about how excited we were about our lives entering the next chapter. We talked as if we really had been close friends all those years. When I think back to what I liked about high school, that night is one of the high points.

Soon afterward, we were both off to college. I had lunch with her before we parted ways. By that time, I’m fairly certain she was already dating the guy that would become her first husband. I distinctly remember being jealous about that. :) Over the next few years, I went to her wedding, I heard about her from various people, I invited her and her husband to my wedding. Somewhere between there and last year we pretty much completely lost touch.

So, this is about where we meet Amy’s telling of the story. I’m not going to repeat all of it, because (as usual) she did a wonderful job of capturing the emotion of what happened. The only thing I can add to that part of the story is a picture that Amy took of me and Duffie that night. It was intended to be part of a post (which I never wrote) about our reunion. (edited 6 December 2015: I figured out I have another picture of Duffie.) What I really want to add, though, is some detail that comes after what Amy wrote. I think she left it out because she felt it wasn’t her business to tell. I want to tell it, though, because the best way I can think of to honor Duffie’s memory is to share this piece of me. She deserves that (as do any of her friends and family that end up reading this). It will also better help those who know me understand just where this fits in my life.

Amy said in her post that after we left Tim’s that night that we didn’t hear from Duffie again. That’s actually not quite true. From there, Duffie and I traded several emails (her unpredictable schedule made that the best way to keep in touch), and I even met her and a student volunteer from the hospital for dinner one night (Amy knows all this). I was incredibly excited about having a second chance to get to know Duffie (especially since I really felt like I had missed an opportunity the first time). It was wonderful just how well she and I “clicked” as we basically reviewed that front porch conversation topic from so many years ago. Catching up with old friends is always fun, but there was a like-mindedness here that was quite unusual. Duffie herself put it best in one of her emails: “No doubt, we were cut from the same cloth.”

Over the last few weeks of the year, we traded several really great emails. The last was one she sent to me on December 28. Her last sentence in that email was, “Anyway, maybe things will calm down after New Year’s and we can get together again.” I didn’t send another email to her account until May 24. For those playing the home game, that’s almost 3 months after she died.

Why? I think I’m going to be turning that question and its answer over and over in my mind for years to come. The short answer is that I’m a dumbass. Duffie and I had become so close so quickly that I actually started feeling guilty about it. My mind would ask: “What are you doing becoming such good friends with a woman that isn’t your wife?” Forget the fact that Amy was ecstatic that I had rediscovered such a good friend. Forget that she has several male friends in which she confides on personal matters. Forget that Duffie and I had neither done nor said anything that Amy would consider even remotely inappropriate. For some reason, I just couldn’t get past myself on this. Instead of just talking about it with Amy, I let it fester and basically ignored Duffie out of guilt. I don’t regret many things in my life. This is one of the big ones.

I finally got over myself and talked all this over with Amy. We worked through a lot of things, and she scolded me soundly for how silly I’d been. She said that she had wondered why she hadn’t heard anything about Duffie in so long. I was excited that I had gotten past this, and I sent Duffie a very apologetic email (the one on May 24). When I didn’t hear from her, I didn’t worry too much. By that time, I was sure that Duffie was up in Tennessee studying to be an anesthesiologist (as she had planned). She was certainly quite busy, and she had told me that she rarely checked her email. Even if she was mad at me for not writing, I didn’t want to push. So, I gave it time. At any rate, I had ideas about other ways to get in touch…

Flash forward to yesterday. I decided that I would drive over to the hospital with a letter for her and see if one of the other CCU nurses might be able to forward it to her. Most of you know the story from there, but just to complete it: I learned from the woman working the desk that Duffie died in February… the 27th to be exact. My mother called her family back home and learned that the cause was a blood clot which apparently migrated from her ankle (an oh-so-wonderful after-effect of a fracture from which she was recovering when we spoke the first time last year). Through a twisted set of circumstances, those that knew she had died didn’t know that I would have wanted to know (I never met her widower Jeremy), and those that would have told me didn’t know she had died (her last name changed twice since high school).

Before anyone gets really worried about me, I’m okay. I promise. For one thing, writing all this out helps a lot. I’ve mostly just been dazed. There’s something not quite real about all of it yet. I’m just numb.

There’s nothing I could have done to prevent her death (as I said, that chain of events was set in motion before we reconnected). I’m not in a mad depression. I also realize that she didn’t write me any emails in that time either. It doesn’t matter, though. I’m angry at myself for squandering my second (and last) chance to develop the friendship with Duffie that I believe we could have had (if only for a couple of months).

So, life goes on, no? I feel quite certain that Duffie would be displeased with me if I moped about this. She certainly had no tolerance for self-pity. I think she was possibly one of the “most alive” people I’ve ever had the privilege of calling a friend. Amy remembers Narkle and the laughter. I can hear that laugh right now. I’ll throw in a few more things that even now have the ability to bring a smile to my face. I’ve run out of anything else to say, anyway, so this seems like the perfect way to end the post.

  • Her purse, in keeping with her whimsical personality, was made in the form of a Chinese takeout box.
  • She told me she had a fetish for flavored lip gloss.
  • She joked that when she was in trauma, she and her fellow nurses were so good at keeping people alive that they would sometimes keep severed arms alive for weeks… just because they could.
  • She was apparently utterly fearless in the face of the gore she must have seen in the trauma ward, but she said she would make any excuse to not be in the room for a mother giving birth.
  • From her descriptions, any doctor that worked with her for any length of time started learning to check for signs taped to his/her back and various other practical jokes.

Goodbye, Duffie.

3 thoughts on “In Memoriam

  1. You know Stephen and I have just gone through this. We know what it feels like. I hate to sound trite but it really makes you think of how short life is and how we have to live it as best as we can. I guess things are trite sometimes because they are true. Let us know if you need anything.

  2. I spent a lot of Christmas holiday in Little Rock some five miles from Stephanie. It was my last chance to have seen her alive. But even if I had seen her then, it wouldn’t have helped much. There will always be one more thing you could have done, one more time you could have called or emailed. Take what comfort you can find in the time you did have and the things you did do. What-could-have-been is always a losing game.

  3. Stephen:
    You are, of course, exactly right. Even if we had kept in touch, her schedule, especially with her getting ready to move, would have kept us from seeing each other much (just as it had the previous months). When it comes down to it, it’s not so much the time lost that I regret as much as the stupid reason behind it. That and her being gone before I got over myself and had a chance to explain that it wasn’t her fault I was ignoring her. It’s always the things left unsaid, isn’t it?

    *shrug* Misty has it right. Trite though it may sound, it’s all about trying to make sure we don’t put off anything like that. I’m not silly enough to say I’ll never do it again, but this is certainly a motivation to get better at it.

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