My childhood friend, Captain Bruce MacFarlane, was killed in Kandahar, Afghanistan on July 6, 2012 of “unspecified causes.”
(Please see the note about the memorial fund at the end of this story.)
I’m devastated. He’s the 5th person I’ve lost in the past 13 months.
Bruce was a year older than me. Just five houses down, we grew up on the same street in Pine Hills, a suburb of Orlando.
We weren’t just friends because we were neighbors. Or because our families went to the same church. Or because we went to the same school. Or because we swam on the same swim team for years.
We just genuinely liked each other. We made each other giggle. I hear this giggle as I type these words. And it makes me want to cry.
My favorite memories of us centered around The Doors, swimming & surfing, skimboarding, heading off to Ron Jons in Cocoa Beach to get some OP Surf Shorts and—every summer, of course—the latest Ron Jons shirt (And cut off the sleeves. Duh.)
While in High School, we used to surf at Playa Linda near Cape Canaveral which, yes, was also a nudist beach. The waves, fantastic at times for Florida, were worth drawing the ire of the nudists in order to get to them (the waves).
See, the thing with the nudists is they were corralled to only one section of the beach, as if they had cholera. In order to get to these waves, you had to walk past them. One time—after many times thinking about it— Bruce and I (and another friend) said “fuck it” and walked through the forbidden zone…doing as the Romans do. We yanked off our surf shorts and ran down the beach with our dilly dallies flailing about, screaming at the tops of our lungs: “Baaaahhhh!!!!!!!!! GAAHHHHH!!!!!”
We were idiots. And we didn’t care.
Coolest thing? Playa Linda was only accessible by first driving onto government land (NASA) which meant that we drove right by the Space Shuttle’s primary Launch Pad. Sometimes we were lucky enough to drive by when it was out there prepping for a launch. There were always blackout times when you couldn’t go on the beach, but if we were lucky, you’d get to see it in all its splendor.
And when we went, we drove 110 miles an hour in his old Dodge Dart. He loved that thing, and he always loved egging on the “nice cars” before he blew them off the road. Course, he finally got a ticket. When that happened we went from pretend crazy teenagers to good Catholic boys in a matter of seconds.
And we always listened to The Doors. They were one of the first bands that made me think I could “be a [so called] rock star.” Reason is, I used to put my little record player on top of my piano and play along. Before the Doors, it was all Beethoven, Bach and Brahms. But once I figured out that, ‘Hey, the music coming out of this stereo I can actually play on this piano!!’, I was off on my lifelong musical pursuit.
And Bruce was the one who turned me on to their Greatest Hits. We loved wondering just how crazy it was that it always seemed to be raining when the car radio played “Riders on the Storm”, not exactly realizing that a) DJs could control what came on the radio, and b) that we lived in fricking Florida and gee, what are the odds of it raining in Florida??!!
Bruce, I think of you every time that song plays. And now it makes me want to cry.
We were on swim teams together. He was always tall and lanky, and had the distinct advantage over my short and skinny. But I would always root for him with pride and enthusiasm when he made it to the final heats and I did not. I never felt in competition with Bruce. We were just different enough that we could simply enjoy each other’s friendship with fondness, camaraderie and nothing more.
We used to build skimboards together, usually in his Dad’s garage. We’d go out and buy some ol’ Dr Zoggz original sex wax, prime that bad boy up and head over to the Central Florida Fairgrounds. Reason is, this fairground was completely abandoned when not in use. So, it was just large fields of ignored weeds and uncut grass. And it’d get a lot of water that would puddle after rains, sometimes 6 inches deep. So, we’d park our car and just spin that skimboard over the puddles and skim the light fantastic. I hope that I can somehow give my son the opportunity to have such a memory.
Then, a shock: his family moved to California. San Francisco, if I remember correctly. I hated it. I tried my best to stay in contact, but it just didn’t work out.
Then, through a series of “barely missed ya’s”, he moved back to Orlando. My parents were going through a divorce, and soon thereafter, I had gone on the road with my old cover band singing “Hello, I love you” just about nightly. I remember always wanting to tell him that I thought of him every single time I sang it.
By the 90’s, I had moved to California. When the Internet started up in earnest, I tried like crazy to hunt him down. I’d call anyone named Bruce MacFarlane in Florida phone books. Everyone said, “Nope, I’m not him.”
All this while and unbeknownst to me, he only happened to be serving in Kuwait and Afghanistan while earning medal after medal after medal, notably the Bronze Star. He flew Attack Apache Helicopters, achieving the rank of Captain.
In late 2010, I finally found him. Yes, on Facebook. The golden goose** of my childhood, he was the one remaining true friend I could never seem to track down. And I caught him.
I even told him as such on the phone, the day we got in touch. “Dude, I’ve been trying to get a hold of you for years! You were my golden goose**!!” (**note: I realize I probably had my fables mixed up, but it’s what I called him, and he knew what I meant!haha) He just laughed and said that he didn’t really like being “available” on the Internet. And I think we laughed at that too since it was ironic he had a Facebook account!
We spoke of each other’s lives, accomplishments, and the time that had passed. I told him I was coming to Orlando in August (of 2011) and that we had to meet.
And so it was. After 20 plus years of looking, there Bruce was standing in my mom’s living room—in my childhood home— looking just as he always did: smiling, giggling, fit as could be and quite simply a happy man.
We went to a stupid chain restaurant with my wife and we just caught up. We spoke of many things, but he was most proud of two things: his service and his family. Don’t get me wrong; he was humble in regards to his service. But it made him happy. Just because he was easy going didn’t mean you couldn’t see the gleam in his eye.
I was proud of it all. Just so happy to see him. Just so thrilled he was everything I thought he would be. Just so happy that our lives were connected again.
And then this.
His last words to me, just a few short weeks ago, were a Facebook comment he wrote on a photo that my wife had posted of Henry and me taking out the trash:
See? Always giggling.
Bruce, I am so grateful we got to see each other last year, and grateful for the friendship you gave me. Grateful for the service you gave to our country. For the love you gave to your children and to your wife. For the example you set, and the accomplishments you achieved.
I love you,
Bruce leaves behind his wife Kristina, and their children Conner and Chloe. A memorial fund has been set up.
Captain Bruce MacFarlane Memorial Fund:
Fairwinds Credit Union.
12800 Tanja King Blvd
Orlando, Fl. 32828
Payments can be made through PayPal. Use: remembercptbrucemacfarlane@gma