Douglas A. Bartha
December 14, 1954-April 30, 2017
It is commonly assumed childhood ends at puberty. A sudden sprout of hair where once none existed, a drop in vocal register, or, for girls, that first flow of menstrual blood, signals for us the end of innocence, and onward to the next stage of Life, adolescence.
Some, like myself, due to a combination of emotional immaturity, or a reluctance to leave the familiar, cling to childhood, moving on, but cherishing it in the memory bank, when so many of us don't.
Though I am now old enough to be called a Senior Citizen, I retain a kind of childlike quality, taking delight in things that pleasured me back then, and meeting new experiences with the same kind of head-on enthusiasm I had when young. Of course, technically, I am not a child, but I am free to kid myself.
The kidding stopped on April 30 of this year. This date, which also happened to be my father's (he is still alive!) 102nd birthday, was the day I lost my childhood friend of 57 years, Douglas A. Bartha.
We met in kindergarten, where we had that teacher we mutually hated, Mrs. Compton. I recall how, in the early years, Doug was extremely confident. Until third grade, he surpassed me scholastically.
We shared mutual interests, starting with monster movies, and then onto books and films. And, of course, as kids, we competed--who got the better grade; who was the first to get the new "Famous Monsters Of Filmland?" Or to see "The Singing Nun," with Debbie Reynolds? I recall a time, in third grade, with Mrs. Bergen, when we were submitting so many book reports, in some kind of unspoken contest, she asked us to stop writing them.
Until sixth grade, we were in the same class, every year, at Irving School. When sixth grade rolled around, it was a shock! It was also the last year I can say both of us were carefree and innocent. Because, from seventh grade on, we began to diverge.
Doug, in seventh grade, was placed on a lower track, than I, which did something to his esteem. I became more competitive, and did the most I could to prove myself; I just HAD to be noticed.
Doug embraced the hippie culture, which was ending just as we entered this phase of our lives. I believe he wanted to be a part of that community in some way. I always thought he should have become a disc jockey, because he had one of the best vinyl pop music collections of the day. And he kept up with the latest trends, where I stayed stationary, or branched off into musical theater. When we were going off to college, that Fall of 1973, and he told me he was going to major in Sociology, I was thrown. True, I could see him being a social worker--he had activist leanings, then--but I also knew that his major required a course in Statistics. For all that I was not a math student, Doug was worse, so why choose a major demanding something so insurmountable?
It was the first of many questions I was not able to answer. Like how his family splitting up around then really did a number on him. For all the talking we did, there were areas we just did not explore. It was unspoken, but I knew doing so would be too painful for him. Doug found a way to cope with that pain. Unfortunately, it led to his demise. I think you know what I am talking about. Doug lost a lifelong battle with the bottle.
And I have lost the last symbol of my childhood. It saddens me. It also angers me. The choices Doug did make, over what he could have made. The crazy things we did as kids, the different paths we took, as adults.
To think my father's birthday will, from now on, be a combination of both joy and sadness. It was not like Doug's passing was a surprise; I can trace its trajectory over the last six years.
I would not be altogether honest if I did not say the following, so I will say it as tactfully as I can. By the time of our junior year in high school, I sensed there was trouble in his house. I did not know what, nor did Doug tell me, but I sensed it. And it became clearer to me, during this time, when, on several visits, his mother, with whom mine was good friends with, would ambivalently lash out at me, blaming me for something I had no idea what I was responsible for. Or whether I was responsible. If there is one answer I would like about Doug's passing it was this--What did I ever do to you, Mrs. B? Why take out your frustrations on me?
She made it clear she could not wait till we were separated by college. Perhaps she ate her words. Looking back, not to take credit for myself, but it seems as if I got Doug through the K-12 part of his life; we got each other through. Until he met his companion, Harold, in 1974, who got him through the next 43 years, I have no idea about that window of eighteen months, when he was on his own; the only time, actually. I came to accept, as the years went on, Doug could not function alone. I thanked God he had Harold, and that nothing would happen to him.
Until his decline, in 2011, I believe Doug, to a degree, lived the life he wanted, and had some degree of happiness. Satisfaction is another thing. I don't think he was ever satisfied, which was part of his disease.
I shall look at our childhood craziness as our best time together. We were able to make each other laugh. I shall forever wonder if there was something I should have done or said that could have made a difference. I am not so sure; we were both equally head strong.
In the wake of his passing, I keep wondering how his path could have been turned another way, or what got him onto the turn he took. I have some ideas, but those I will keep to myself.
As the title song of the film "The Goodbye Girl" says, "Goodbye doesn't mean forever." I have my memories--my God, the "Crazy Foam" fight!!!!!!!!!!--and will keep the good ones intact.
Doug experienced much in his 62 years. He did not live as long as my mother, and was deserving of so much more. Wherever he may be, I hope he realizes that, and how much he was worth to so many of us he left behind.
So ends Childhood. On to Old Age!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!