The People Who Made Me…

Yesterday morning I woke to the distinct smell of clove cigarette smoke in my bedroom. I don’t smoke. When I opened my eyes, someone who was not one of my dogs was sitting in the gold velvet armchair in the corner, looking back at me; it was my old friend, David, with a big, cheesy smile on his face. “What are you doing here,” I asked aloud, as if it’s the most normal thing in the world to wake up to the odd man sitting in my bedroom unannounced, and rubbed the sleep out of my eyes as I sat up. When I opened my eyes again, he was gone. But the smell of clove cigarette smoke lingered for hours.

I lost track of David a few years ago. The last time I saw him was in Florida, holding – of all things – a box of abandoned kittens he found, outside of the hospital where I had just had yet another surgery on my hand, that he was determined to raise himself so that they wouldn’t be killed at the shelter. After this surprise visit yesterday, I broke down and called his sister, only to learn that they buried David last Saturday, next to his mother. No one really knows what happened, she told me; she had seen him the week before, and he was fine. All anyone could say for certain is that a friend found him collapsed on the bathroom floor one morning, and the medical examiner will have a toxicology report in three month’s time. That’s going to turn up a bit fat nothing of useful information; David’s drug of choice was chocolate anything. Still, 50 is far too young to die. Whilst I’m not really surprised by this, I’m saddened and disappointed by the knowledge that I just missed him. I’m forever telling myself that I need to call this person, or that cousin, to tell them that I love them, only to learn that they’re gone forever. You always think that you have time, but you don’t. Time is an illusion, the stupid pet trick of a selfish, procrastinating mind; after that, all that is left are memories that will die with you, too. They fade, like the familiar spicy smoke coiling in silky gossamer tendrils out the open window of my room….

My friend David was tall, built like a tank, athletic, with dark curly hair that never behaved and eyes the very same colour as the Atlantic Ocean that he loved so well. Like me, he was an artist interested in too many things at once. Unlike me, David could draw perfectly proportioned animals and landscapes in fine detail with his eyes closed, and it was fascinating watching his long, elegant fingers trace coal across the page in lines as fine as sharp pencil without effort. He taught me how to snorkel and free dive (I was too much of a chicken to learn SCUBA, even though he offered many times to teach me) and, by necessity, how to treat a jellyfish sting without peeing on anything. We had fun collaborating on silkscreens we cut images for in layers with pen knives from emptied Peanut Butter Cap’n Crunch boxes. My memory of him is his handsome face peering out over the Eastern horizon, dark hair tousled by the misty wind as he sat smoking cigarettes on the beach, whilst giving me minutely detailed, exacting instructions on how to take care of my sea aquarium so that my clown fish (kidnapped by me from the sea years before anyone had heard of Nemo) would live long, “happy, happy fish lives.” Girls, babies and animals loved him, men respected him and, whilst it was amusing to watch, he legitimately deserved their admiration and trust.

About twenty years ago we had lunch together at some forgotten food court; he said to me, “Write this down,” as he sat drawing a live skulking tiger from memory, and he dictated a long, beautiful poem. “Bleeding heart, filled with barbed wire…praying for peace,” it began. When he was finished, I considered the page, then asked him what it meant. “That’s you,” he said tersely with a furrowed expression, as if I had missed the obvious. I blinked, and read it again, only vaguely understanding then. To this day, it is one of my most cherished possessions; turned out that he knew me far better than I could have imagined, even when he was not quite in this world, with his head in the clouds of his own artist’s reason.

David is the fifth beloved friend and family member I’ve lost this year. Whilst I’m relieved to know where he’s at, I’m truly sick and tired of losing people. Especially people whom I consider solid touchstones in this world of swirling uncertainties and darkness. Last year I asked another such friend, “how many times can a heart break before it can’t be put together again?” I don’t think I’m ever going to find the answer.

Anyway….Thanks for the visit, David. I’m sorry I missed you. Very, truly sorry I neglected our friendship…I have no good excuse for it. But I am genuinely relieved, if not happy, that you are safe with your mom, and I hope that you have peace. I suppose it’s never really too late to say I love you. And I do, Good Man.

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