A lament

He was the fastest person I knew as a kid. I guess he had to be. David threw his hands at the ground, ferocious, like the rest of him, but his feet fairly well glided over the grass. We met on the soccer pitch, played together for several years. He was the first person I ever met who learned how to get better at things with relentless practice. I remember more about our friendship than I do his soccer. But I remember this. We were a good team for a while and once we came across a better team that had a superlative striker. Our told him to mark him all night. David gulped, and set out to do it. And for 90 minutes that other dude did nothing against us.

That’s a youth soccer story and so it’s as real as it is meaningless, but that, in some small way, tells the story of David.

He grew up loved, but hard. His mother loved him, but doted on him, but she did that to all of us. His younger brother loved him, too, well, as much as a middle kid could. His two younger sisters worshipped the ground he walked on.

When he was 13, David saved a woman’s life. Got to a car crash and put a tourniquet on a woman before she bled out. Thirteen. I mean, really.

His father was a hard man. He was a Vietnam veteran, a chimney sweep, by trade. A man who knew about scraping out his way, and never afraid of the work. His was a big, strong personality and all that comes with that, for better and worse. David, even as a child, had his own big, strong personality, and some of you know what that might turn into. But his dad had his positive traits. He took his kids to work, took me with him too, and taught us all about spending a day in the sun. We built scaffolding, hauled up bricks, mixed and lifted mortar and tore down scaffolding and it was all probably something you couldn’t do with kids today. David’s dad, though, for a hard man, was generally a fair man. He demanded a lot of that boy, and so the two of them had their struggles, and sometimes I was the tiniest distraction or escape or whatever, and that was good. David was a deep sensitive kid, and it was obvious even among other kids.

That’s David, in the Yankees cap. This was at one of my birthday parties. He found a knife, cleaned it up, made me a sheath by hand. It was the cheapest, best, most thoughtful gift.

When David spent the weekend with me we’d go to the mall or the movies or do some other suburban sort of thing. When I spent the weekend with David, we’d spend the day wondering around downtown.

We moved in different directions, as people do. Different high schools, but stayed in touch. I went off to college and his family moved out of town. Not far, but just far enough. The last time we spent together we went camping, which was David’s natural environment. If there wasn’t a target to shoot at, or a fire to build or a tent raise, he’d find one. It was Christmas time. We had two or three tents and David, his younger brother and I went out in the too-cold and, being older, we tasked his brother with keeping the fire burning all night. Not too long after I woke up the next morning we heard him from over the next hill, “Hey guys! The pond’s froze over!”

No kidding, kid. Where’s my fire? But that was OK. We probably called him some names, but then we laughed about it. David and his brother figured it out, as brothers, the lucky ones, do.

Some time after that, David joined the Army. Became a paratrooper and made sergeant. He went to Iraq and worked on dismantling IEDs, or some such.

When he took off the fatigues he signed on as a security contractor. That’s when we found one another again, online. He was working in Afghanistan at the time. We had some pleasant chats. He was a soulful kid and a thoughtful man. And that sort of work just seemed perfect for him.

He’d met someone, got married, and was splitting time between assignments in troubled nations and at home in the States and at his other home in the Philippines. He loved it there. There was a lot of untouched countryside where he was, and he spent several chats telling me all about it. It felt a little like he had finally been able to tap into this calmness that was always in him that he didn’t know how to call upon.

A few years ago, not too long after his first kid was born, his father died. Then his mother-in-law died, pretty soon after. Last night I found a picture of David and his father, and his father his holding one of David’s kids and he’s looking down with this sense of peace and relief that I never saw in the man. He and his dad figured it out, too, and that was a blessing.

I saw that picture last night because I thought to look him up to see the latest, only to find out that my old friend, David, died at the very end of last year. His wife had died a few months before. They are survived by two little kids and some grieving siblings and probably a lot of friends. David was the sort that made them last, even if they got frayed or distanced around the globe.

He saved a woman’s life when he was 13 years old. He knew how to take in the moment, work hard at it, and make it happen, and I think he used that sort of force in some way or another most all of his life.

The Christmas before last I learned of a very distant great-great-aunt who had died, when I saw her marker at the cemetery. Had I learned of it at the time it would have been of the “Oh, that’s too bad. Her poor husband, her kids and grandkids … ” sort of reaction. Distant, as I say. I was sad because there was no one left on that side of the family that thought to tell me.

Last year, I learned that the woman who taught me how to be a mascot died of cancer in 2019.

This spring, I learned my college roommate died in early 2020. He was a success at everything, except maybe for picking a roommate. I think I frustrated him endlessly, but for two years he was a big brother to me, and I admired most everything about him. We hadn’t been close in ages, but I loved that guy.

This summer, I read that a former student of mine died last fall. It seemed she never seemed to perfectly fit in at a school where perfectly fitting in was criminally important. She had a spark and a vitality, though, that never let that be a problem. She moved to New York and lived one of her dreams, but it was all too short. She was 34.

Finding out things well after the fact brings up its own peculiar sort of helplessness.

Two bike rides this weekend. Twenty-five under-caloried miles on Saturday. I just looked at the scenery on Zwift. There’s neon signs on the stores in the middle of the desert. And the “neon” moves. And when the “neon” is off on most of the signs you can see the other neon “tubes.” They could do a lot more with this setup, but they do an awful lot with this setup. I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to notice things like that, but I want to now.

Saturday’s favorite sign was this pig. He waves at you as you go by.

I did a humble little 20-mile ride yesterday. Just wasn’t feeling any of it, but I’ll get back to it this week. I did notice, though, the stars dotting the nightscape, the snow-covered mountains and how the mountains held the clouds around them, as mountains often do.

I closed my eyes for the last five miles. I wanted to see how close I could get to the goal, just from counting the pedal strokes, without watching the graphics.

I made it to within one-tenth of a mile. Which, over five miles, means I should be fairly proud of my counting skills, or fairly disturbed by the amount of time I’ve spent on that particular gear in Zwift, to know the math as I do.

Tomorrow, there will be no neon, no mountains, no pedal strokes. Tomorrow I have to try a run.

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