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Dear Wayne: An Essay

This is the next installment of my Dear So-and-so series. It's the next logical stop for me after finishing with my relatives, but I've been hung up on writing it for a while. A lot of what I have to say to and about Wayne is stuff I have been wanting to tell him for years. And it was my plan to write it and then actually send it to him as well as post it to LiveJournal. That's still my plan, but it's turning out a little differently than I had planned.



Wayne is the organist and assistant choir director for the church I grew up in. I don't really remember a time he wasn't there, but I know from other events that he must have started there when I was 9 or 10. He didn't look like a Wayne to me. I don't know if I was the one who said it - it's been credited to one of the McSheehy girls - but he just didn't look like a Wayne. He looked more like a Ted. And a handful of us decided to call him Ted, for several years. Wayne has either enough of a sense of humor to appreciate it, or enough tolerance for the whims of little girls to put up with it, or both, because he answered to Ted, along with several other things that got tagged onto him as well.

Wayne is the best friend of Maggie, the choir director. In some ways, he's sort of a "utility male." He accompanies her to events her husband can't or doesn't want to attend. Some of those events include family visits! I remember recognizing very early what a useful sort of friend that would be, and going looking for my own. Bryan has played that sort of role in my own life, at times. (He now has too many women demanding his time for me to ask it.... but that's a story for another day.)

Wayne is a confirmed bachelor. Confirmed bachelor was an old-fashioned way of saying "doesn't like women" - gay, usually, or sometimes misogynist. While that's not completely inappropriate, that isn't the way I use the term. I'm using it as the male counterpart to "old maid" which really only implies the single status, not the rest of the baggage. Wayne is perennially unattached, and seems to be quite comfortable with it.

It's hard to describe exactly the way I think of Wayne. Leah, Maggie's daughter, calls him Uncle Wayne. I could have, if timing had been different. Certainly I think of Wayne as part of my family, the one I chose instead of the one I was born with. And Wayne has been my choir director, my role model, and my friend. I know I could count on Wayne to help me if I called on him, to the best of his ability.

But of all the things Wayne is or has been to me, I think the most important is godparent. I had three godparents who stood with my parents at my baptism, but none of them have been particularly significant in my life at all, let alone in my religious upbringing. My father, of course, has also not participated in my religious upbringing, since he is not a practicing member of any faith. Wayne has been my parental substitute at church and related activities for more than a decade. He has shown, by word and example, what it means to be a Christian adult, and why I would want to be one.

At my confirmation, when I was 14, the bishop invited the parents of the people being confirmed to come forward and put their hands on the shoulders of their children during the laying on of hands, to represent the part that they had played in reaching that point and to show their support for the future. When my turn came, I only expected my mother. The second hand was a complete surprise. It was Wayne. As far as I know, he had not planned it or discussed it with anyone. It was one of the most beautiful and touching things anyone has ever done to me. I do not know if I have ever managed to express to Wayne how much that meant to me, and still does. I treasure that memory.

Since I went to college so far from home, I couldn't continue to go to my home church and choir regularly. It has been my great good fortune to be welcomed back every time I can make it there. Wayne goes out of his way to make sure there is a seat and music for me on any Sunday I can make it, and shows me he is always glad to see me there.

Wayne helped me to get my act together and look for a job after I graduated from college, too, and he probably doesn't even realize it. I was at home after spending a summer sleeping on Bryan's floor, and I was depressed and felt like a failure. I couldn't even get my act together enough to look for ads to respond to. I went with my mother to a choir picnic, and Wayne suggested in the course of conversation that I should start coming to the church's Singles Group, which he was trying to publicize and encourage. That sank in. I was an adult, and if I was going to stay in that area, it was time to establish a life for myself as an adult up there. And, if I wasn't willing to do that, I needed to get myself back to the life and location I wanted. I started sending out resumes shortly thereafter.

The last time I was at home, I was only there for a few hours. I wasn't going to be there to go to church, so my mother told me all the news, as usual. She told me that Wayne was having trouble with his eyes, and he wouldn't be there because he wasn't able to drive.

Now, to me "trouble with eyes" with no other context makes me think pinkeye, or something like that. Or need for new glasses. Or, more seriously, cataracts, glaucoma, or macular degeneration, the big three in eye problems. (All of which are in my family history, as it happens. Is it really a surprise that I have 3 or 4 separate eye problems already at age 25?)

On Sunday when I talked to my mother, she told me Wayne is in the hospital. In addition to the eye problems, he also can't walk. His diagnosis is something called Burkitt's lymphoma, which is very aggressive but can be treated, with a 75% survival rate. Everyone's feeling good about that. And she gave me the address.

The thing is, I'm kind of in shock about it. All I had known was eye trouble. Now suddenly it's something with a survival rate. And you don't quote a survival rate if there isn't a non-survival rate. Something in the back of my head, that I would never have told anyone since it's so far out in What-If land, was that if for some reason my parents weren't still around whenever I get married, I would ask Wayne to give me away. Of course I don't know if he would agree, but since one hopes it wouldn't be an issue, it didn't really matter. And I didn't think much about it. Now it keeps bubbling to the top of my mind, for all the wrong reasons. I have never denied or feared my own mortality. Other people's scares me shitless, and leaves an ache in my gut and heart and head, and tears in my eyes.

And now I'm truly at a loss. I have known for years I should say to Wayne some of the things about how important he is to me. For months I have planned to send him a copy of this entry, whenever I got around to writing it. And for more than six weeks I have tried to find the right words, the right way to address it. But now I'm concerned it's going to look just like the platitudes and effusion which are always sent to people who are ill. My timing sucks, frankly. But now I have managed to find my words, and now I refuse to wait to find another time.

I will be sending this to Wayne tonight, with a cover letter explaining both LiveJournal and this project. I'm not sure what else it will say, other than I am praying for him and hope for his swift recovery. I don't know what I could say. Get-well notes to people in the hospital are not part of my experience to date, any more than condolence letters were about a year ago when my friend lost his mother. I almost want to leave it to Hallmark. That wouldn't satisfy me, though. Some things require a personal touch, even if I make a fool of myself. I can't learn without doing.