Thursday, April 5, 2012

"Want Out"

I found out today that my good friend Stanley “Chuck” Want passed away.  Chuck worked for me as a seasonal firefighter at Eel River Ranger Station, on the Mendocino National Forest back in the 90’s.  I wanted to take a moment out of my day to say a few things in memory of Chuck.  Chuck lived way too short of a life.  He was one of the most intelligent men I’ve known.  He cared about other people very much.  He was hard working.  But his life was beset with heart break and tragedy of the kind few people know much less have to live through. 

 From time to time he would call me, or I would call him, just to check in and see how each other was doing.  A couple years back, he called me and asked if I could help him with some money.  I thought, “here we go.”  I paused and asked him, “What do you need it for?”  He started to sob into the phone and told me that his Wife had been killed in a car accident, that she had been crushed to death by a car that ran through a stop sign.  He didn’t have the money to bury her and needed help.  Their baby, his only child was two at that time.  Chuck’s own Mother had passed away within days of his baby’s birth.  When his Wife died, he told me the only thing he had to live for was his daughter, if not for her, he wanted out.  I helped him, but it wasn't a loan and Chuck never asked to borow money from me.      

His death certificate will likely read that he died from complications resulting from his diabetic condition, but alcohol took Chuck.  He went toe to toe with booze for many, many rounds, and in the end booze took him out.  The last time I spoke with him, he told me that his people wanted to take him somewhere in Southern California to get sober, and he wanted to do it.  But he said that he knew he couldn’t ride in a car long enough without a drink to go that far and he couldn’t drink in the car with his people.  I offered to go get him and take him to a meeting, but he declined saying, “I’ll keep it in mind.”  I didn’t do enough, I should have went and got him and took him to meetings.  The last time I spoke with him he told me that it hurt his stomach terribly when he put alcohol into it, but if he didn’t put alcohol into it, it hurt even worse, and he was afraid to stop because of the delirium tremens (DT’s) that would surely come.

When Chuck worked for me, sometimes depending on who was on duty, Chuck would be assigned to carry a hand held radio.  Standard and accepted radio use procedure calls for ending a transmission with your assigned radio designator (“Engine 52,” or, “Crew 11,” etc.), or your last name if you don’t have a designator, or the word, “copy.”  Chuck always ended his transmissions with, “Want out,” because he thought it was funny.  Today, I can hear his voice saying those two words, and I can’t help but think of the irony in that.

Today was Chuck’s funeral.  I didn’t know, or I would have made the 12 hour drive to Covelo, in the Round Valley, to be there with his people and pay my respects.  Instead I cried here in this chair, looking out a window at those mountains.  That’s where I got to know Chuck, in the mountains.  Maybe finally now, he can rest and have peace.  I will think of him and remember his laugh whenever I am in the mountains.  At the end, he couldn’t drink anymore, but he couldn’t not drink either.  That is the “ism” of alcoholism.  I know of what I speak, as I have three years sober.  I should have tried harder to take him the message.  He willingly followed me towards the flames, but he wouldn’t follow me to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.  I guess that was more scary.

After I found out, I called his Grandmother’s house where he stayed.  She told me Chuck was found in his room, slumped on his knees beside his bed.  He was gone.  There are numerous other close relatives of his who have passed away over the past five years.  His family has had to endure too much death; it’s been one funeral after another, not even time to grieve before the next one.  Maybe Chuck never forsook God, but in his shoes, I may have decided to turn my back on God.  I’m going to believe that he passed while on his knees asking for God’s help, and that it’s never too late.

Rest in peace, Brother      

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