Like A Trip Back To Middle School

Friday, August 9, 2013

to dcf on his thirty-ninth birthday

In the thirty days leading up to my 30th birthday, I wrote private journal entries to the thirty non-family members who had influenced my life the most.  I wrote this one two years ago today.  I'm not sure why I felt a need to share it publicly today, but his absence from my life has hit me harder than usual this year.

I've written twelve of these already, and I still have a ways to go, but this one will, without question, be the hardest. With everyone I've written about so far, and everyone I'll write about in the days to come, I've known where they are, what they're doing, who they're doing it with - I've known that they were a phone call away or a Facebook message away, that I could get in touch with them whenever I wanted, if I wanted to do so. Dave is the only one I can't do that with, and the one I'd want to the most.

I can't think of a single person who influenced my teenage years more than Dave. And it kills me because every day I forget him more and more. I forget the details of the night we met, the tone of voice he would use when he would call me "meatball" or "turkey", the way he'd give me a little shove as he walked by me while we were cleaning a theater. I've written so many times about Dave - about how in the months before I got my job at the theater, I would see him there selling tickets and I had a huge crush on him even then. About how when I was offered the job, I thought to myself that I would finally get to work with the hot guy I'd been seeing for months. About how the first night that I started working there, he was the only one who wasn't warm and welcoming, and about how when we were sitting at a table in between movies with a group of girls who worked there and they all got up to smoke, I was left alone with him and we made the most awkward, uncomfortable small talk EVER.

I could write about all the teasing - about how he thought I was scared of him for the first few months I worked there because I would always jump out of the way when he'd walk by. About how he'd freaked out the first time we enjoyed lunch together, just the two of us, and I told him I was born in 1981. All the jokes and the flirting. The late nights working at the theater together and just talking about where his life was going and about everything. When he invited me out for his 25th birthday - called me at home to make sure I knew where they were going and what time he would be there and how I went and I came home that night sobbing uncontrollably because I didn't want to go to college, I didn't want to leave him. I could write about the time we went to Target on our break in between shifts because he'd never been there before, or the first time that I asked him to pick me up to drive me to work before I had my license, or about how when he drove me home and I gave him directions and he said "and now I make a left?" and I said "right" and then he went to turn right and I had to yell "no no, I meant correct!" How appreciative he was when I made him cupcakes for his birthday, how he came to my high school graduation party and he and his then-girlfriend Cindy brought me a picture frame that I still have, how he stuck his finger up my nose once trying to make me smell his sweet & sour sauce, how he invited me to come to his sister's house with him for New Year's Eve 1999/2000 and I didn't go because I was so stupid, I was so stupidly in love with him and terrified because he was seven years older and I wanted so bad for him to see me as more than some high school kid he worked with and knew he never would be able to.

I could write about that last summer we worked together, how I hated so much about that summer and the people I worked with, and how through all the horribleness of those few months, Dave was my saving grace, my cool breeze in hell, a legitimate friend in a way that he hadn't previously been for as close as we had been while I was in high school. I could write about how he came to visit me at school my sophomore year and took me out for pizza, or how he called me the day after my brother was arrested, and how he called me the day after 9/11 to make sure I was ok. I could write about the last time I saw him, when he asked me if I wanted to go out with them after work that Saturday night after Thanksgiving, but I got distracted talking to Phil before I left and I didn't get to say goodbye to him and then he had already left, but I thought "it's ok, I'll see him at Christmas break", and then my brother got arrested so working over Christmas never happened and I never got to see his face again. I could write about the tears that are running down my face right now as I write this because it doesn't seem fair, doesn't seem right that somebody who was so important to me, one of the thirty most influential people in my thirty years, hell, probably one of the five most influential people in my thirty years, was only a part of my life for one tenth of it. I could write about all of those things, but none of it would matter, because none of them would bring him back into my life.

I don't have a lot of true regrets in my life. People are supposed to make mistakes - that's how they learn, that's how they grow. Hell, my diary title is "Mistakes I Knew I Was Making" for reasons that don't just include Straylight Run. Allowing Dave to leave my life was a regret that I will take with me to the grave. I will never forgive myself for not picking up the phone that last time he called, for not calling him back when I still could have, for realizing too late that he had changed his cell phone number and moved and that I had no idea where he had gone. I have to remind myself that it could be worse - wherever he is, he is alive, and even though he's not in my life, he's living his -- and I hope more than anything that he is happy.

I ask myself often what would have happened if Dave and I had met when I was older - if there hadn't been seven years between us, or if there had been, but I hadn't been sixteen, seventeen, eighteen during the time we knew each other. Dave and I couldn't have been more different - he was a 25-year-old movie theater employee with no education, me an NYU student. I wonder what the past ten years brought him, if he ever went back to school, what he's doing now, what his family is like - I know in my heart that he must have a family, and I know how much he wanted that. Last year, when I convinced myself that I saw him -- it had to be him -- he was with a little boy, and a couple months ago when I had that dream about him, he was with his family, and he was so happy, and I needed to know that for him, I needed him to be happy. But I ask myself "what if" all the time. Dave and I had a connection that was unlike anything I've ever had with someone else - except maybe Briton, but even with Briton it's different. Dave and I were as close as we were despite the age difference, despite our different backgrounds, against all odds, and even now, even more than ten years after I last saw him, I still don't doubt that what I felt for him was really, truly love in the purest sense of the word.

He's 37 today - okay, so I fudged the ordering given to me by the random number generator just so I could write for him on his birthday. Dave is 37 and in 17 days, I'll be 30... an age I never saw him at. Dave never knew me in my twenties - never knew me post-9/11, never knew me through law school. It's hard to believe that it was twelve years ago tonight that I went to Mike's Place, a sports bar long since closed, to celebrate Dave's twenty-fifth birthday. It's hard to believe that twelve birthdays have passed since then. 
Wherever you are Dave . . . I think about you every day, and I hope more than anything that you are happy. 


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