A New Normal

Usually on this site my main goal is to insult or praise a person or thing while throwing in as many dick and fart jokes as possible.  For once, though, I’m actually going to be serious, and I can’t think of a more appropriate time.

About two weeks ago, one of my best friends and someone I’ve known since the fifth grade, Nick Wojczulis, died.  As badly as I wanted to do this post when everything happened, I felt it was a better idea to let the initial shock and funeral pass before I spilled a bunch of words onto this site that could be easily be thrown to the wayside.  And though it still is difficult to think about, I feel that now I can give you a better idea of the Nick I had the pleasure of knowing for almost the past twenty years.

As I said earlier, I met Nick in the fifth grade.  We started hanging out and doing all the things that kids of that age do.  We played football, rode our bikes, and crashed at each other’s houses.  He kinda got pegged as a troublemaker, which made it seem weird, even to me sometimes, that we ended up as friends.  Still, though, he managed to get me out of my shell even back then.  In the sixth grade, he sold me his old CD boom-box (which sparked a CD collection that is somewhere around 2,000 currently).  In the seventh grade, he gave me my first Playboy (which sparked my obsession with Drew Barrymore).  And in the eighth grade, we were even arrested together for chucking milk creamers at cars and writing nonsense with a magic marker on the side of a liquor store.

Once in high school, Nick began to become the Nick that we all knew and loved.  If you ask anyone from our group of friends at that time there would be no disagreement:  Nick was our leader.  If he wanted to hang out at his house, that’s where we went.  If he felt like going down to the lake at 4:30 in the morning, we typically followed.  To me at least, Nick had all the qualities I wished I had.  He did what he wanted, he didn’t give a fuck what other people thought, and he could talk to a girl without having a panic attack.  I know they say that at that point in your life you shouldn’t be a follower, but I wasn’t the kind of person who could get through adolescence unaided.  And though I am still something of a dork, I have Nick to thank for being there through those formative years and insuring that my constant awkwardness didn’t always come across as creepy.

After high school and through our twenties, our group started living our lives.  Some of us left, and some of us returned.  As for Nick and I, well, he wouldn’t have let me leave if I tried.  When I spent a year or so living in Chicago, he was one of few friends who visited me (even though I was going back to Milwaukee twice a month).  If I went a week or so without seeing him, he would call me.  And after he spent 45 minutes telling me how ineffective the Packers’ “Nickel Defense” was, I would tell him I had to go.  Then, twenty minutes he would call again to tell me how great Gogol Bordello is.  Between me and a couple of other lucky people, it seemed Nick cared about his friends the way most people care about their families.  And I thank him for that, because it made the last few years that much better.

I talked to my mom the other day about how everything just seems a little off kilter.  My phone doesn’t ring at 11:30 when I’m trying to go to bed.  I’m no longer getting detailed descriptions of Nick’s bowel movements.  And my future wife is now the only one nagging me to get my pale ass to the beach.  Nothing seems normal anymore.  My mom looked at me and told me: “As tough as it may be and as long as it may take, you have to find a “new normal.””

As it true as that may be…

A “new normal” will be tough to find the next time I watch a Packer game.

A “new normal” will be nowhere in sight when I go to the cemetery to visit a friend.

And a “new normal” will be the biggest pill to swallow when Nick is not at my side on my wedding day.

But as impossible as it may be to find, Nick left behind so many people who cared about him, I know I won’t have to find that new normal alone.

RIP Nick

You will be missed.

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12 Responses to “A New Normal”

  1. Dave W Says:

    Man, I still can’t believe this happened…

    This post brought back memories…I still remember the “eighth grade night” and the liquor store. Do you remember what he wrote on the wall?

    I wish I would have been able to make it to the services last Thursday. But, rest assured that Nick was certainly on my mind the entire day…

    • jamesdolata Says:

      If I’m not mistaken, I think he wrote “Jimmy the Jammer,” because as he was writing it he told me that he’d blame everything on me if we got caught.

      • Dave W Says:

        I remember his “name” being PERV, and he used the V to be the legs of a stick figure that he made. I remember this because he was pissed off when I wanted my “name” to be ERT…

      • jamesdolata Says:

        Yup. Do you remember the boat races?

  2. Dave W Says:

    I do. I painted mine white with white-out and glued little Lego men to it. I remember Nick crossing Wilson Creek and falling in and getting pissed. Then it happened to us, too…Good times…so young…so innocent…so much fun!

  3. Mom Says:

    As in prior difficult situations you will find strength that you didn’t know you had. You are a good man, you have a wonderful woman at your side and you have family and friends that love and care about you.

    I remember some of the events you wrote about. Some of them were not a parents proudest moments but I can chuckle about them now.

    Hang in there son, I’m always here if and when you need me. And as in the past, sometimes when you don’t want me around, I’m always watching.

    Love You.

    • jamesdolata Says:

      Thanks mom. I think that’s the first time you ever referred to me as “man.” I love it and hate it at the same time. Either which way, thanks.

  4. Chelsea Says:

    Dammit, I met him once and I could tell he was loved by all of you. I’m so sorry. I know it will never be the same, but at least you have almost 2 decades of awesome memories of him. You should write down as many as you can, even if it’s not here.
    Love you.

  5. stupidfitter Says:

    Well said James, well said. Always remember, we’re all here to help each other reach that “new normal” together.

  6. Kelly Says:

    Wow… James… that was amazing. I’m truly sorry for your ( and everybody that ever met Nick) loss… He was such a great person. I was lucky enough to know him for a few years before moving to Arizona. And he helped me become a stronger person and made me realize it was okay to move away and start fresh. He will always be loved and will never be forgotten. And he will be smiling down on you on your wedding day probably with a Beast in his hand….

  7. Jamie Lyn Says:

    As one year has now approached us I felt that I should re-read “A new normal”. Thank you for sharing these stories, thoughts, and feelings. It has allowed me to shed some tears and smile over some old memories. Bitter sweet it is….

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