One of my closest friends was killed shortly after I graduated high school. I was stupid drunk in love at the time of the accident. My friend Andy called to give me the news on a drizzly Wednesday evening. I think my drunkenness broke my fall when I first found out. I’d moved on and fled the small town in which I attended high school. That was all the same, as my friend Fennewald had moved to Springfield a couple years before graduation. He often visited, especially in the summer.
The last time we spoke he was trying to nurse me back to sobriety. I had a hard time in high school. My friend Morgan graciously entertained my daydreams as a manner of coping with the smallness I so often wished to escape. (Ironically, I’m revisiting that smallness to complete my new manuscript.) Daniel is far and away the most gracious and encouraging friend I’ll ever have. We sat together that last night I’d ever see him alive. He rubbed my back as I vomited.
“Hang in there pal,” he told me. “If anyone’s going to get out of here and do something worthwhile, it’ll be you.”
I remembered his words when the great love, my great distraction that I referenced earlier in the post, was torn away from me. When I hit the road, I would often ask myself if Fennewald was looking down at me and laughing. I don’t think he was. But in my head, his spectre was having a good laugh. I would often convince myself to do stupid things by rationalizing that Daniel would want me to give it a shot.
I said, “this one’s for you, Fennewald,” just before boarding a charter fishing boat to the Caribbean without telling anyone I was leaving the country. Images of Daniel looking down at me and cheering me on as I trekked causeways to nowhere became my favorite inside joke. Eventually my joke got the better of me and I had to face my immense sorrow at Daniel’s departure from this world. I drank a lot in those days.
When I started writing Forest Life I tried to think of subtle winks and nudges I could throw in the story as a nod to my unresolved grief over Daniel. One night I remembered back to when Daniel and I were still baby high school students and I thought of German class. I was a piss poor student, unmotivated and apathetic, but I remember researching the origin of Daniel’s last name on the internet for an assignment. I was researching the meaning behind the name Fennewald when I stumbled on a German variant spelling – Vennewald. I noticed that Fennewald was actually a variant spelling of German Vennewald, a topographic name from Middle Low German fenne ‘bog’ + wald ‘wood’, ‘forest’.
The cabin in Paris serves as the setting for a majority of my novel. I was living in a cabin on the shore of Kentucky Lake drinking myself to death when I stumbled into the woods and began drunkenly screaming at a deity, demanding that it restore my lost love and my friend. I never got a response. My observation is that only greasy haired televangelists are on the buddy system with God. I have no hard feelings.
It should be apparent now that the title of my new novel is an allusion to my dear friend, Daniel Fennewald. If you’re reading this, and you knew my old friend, I’d encourage you to say to yourself, “this ones for you, Fennewald,” before reading my book.