Thursday, March 24, 2016

An Unexpected Goodbye

Last Saturday morning I got up early and put a cut up chicken, onion, celery, carrots, garlic, parsley, salt, and bay leaves in a pot to simmer for my homemade southern style chicken and dumplings. I settled into the couch to watch some English soccer and get ready for the third day of March Madness when my cell phone rang.

It's rare that my phone rings since it's used most often for text messages, tweets, and web surfing, but it's even more rare that it rings that early on a weekend. It was a close friend from Kansas City. He had just called me a couple of weeks ago when he was making a last minute trip up to Des Moines, so I figured he was calling about something similar. I was wrong.

Chris asked, "Where are you?" I said, "Sitting in my messy living room with food on the stove. Why?" He didn't beat around the bush, "Dave died last night." It felt as if I had fallen from a great height. "What? How? What happened?"

Dave was my very best friend for a large part of my life. We met in 5th grade band when all of the area elementary schools came together for an all district concert. We both played french horn and hit it off immediately. It seems almost everyone has that one friend through middle school and high school that if they aren't at your house, then you are at theirs. That was Dave.

We were high energy kids who got in trouble for talking and goofing off, but we weren't troublemakers by any stretch. We were in band and choir together. We double-dated for every single high school dance. I drank my first beer with Dave. He got a six pack of tall boys from his Cousin Jim and we drank them as fast as we could behind the dock at the building where we worked in the summer. I was with Dave the very first time I threw up from drinking. Coincidentally the same night as the six-pack mentioned above.

After high school we roomed together in college and contributed to each others' poor decisions that led to both of us being asked to take a semester off to "re-evaluate our academic goals." Neither of us ever returned to college. We got an apartment together and both got a job at the same fine dining restaurant. Dave eventually got let go because he couldn't stop himself from telling the Maitre D' exactly what he thought of him.

After going through a few mind numbing office jobs Dave decided that he needed a new adventure. He joined the Marines in 1989 and completed his training just in time to get deployed for Desert Storm. Dave was in a Marine heavy weapons platoon that was attached to the Army's Big Red One 1st Mechanical for the short, but intense battles that took place after the U.S. began their ground campaign against Saddam's troops in 1991. He never talked much about what he saw or did while there, but he was never fully the same after he returned.

After we both married and had kids we drifted apart. We would still get together when old friends would come back to town and it was always like no time at all had passed.

It's been 5 days since he died and we still don't know exactly what did him in. He went to bed about midnight and about 4 AM his girlfriend (he and his wife divorced a couple of years ago) realized he wasn't snoring so she checked on him and he was gone. The autopsy results won't be back for a while, but everybody who knows him well knows it will be somehow related to his drinking.

Dave's ex asked our friend group if we wouldn't mind saying a few words about Dave at the funeral service. I told her I would try. I'm a big crier. I get choked up at songs all the time, so trying to speak at the funeral of one of my best friends in the world was sure to turn on the water works. I finally decided that I didn't give a shit if I cried in front of a bunch of strangers.

I got up and talked about what good friends Dave and I were through high school, college, and after college. I told everyone that my list of really close friends is very short so losing one of them hits  extra hard. I wanted to depict for them how Dave was the type of guy that would do anything for his friends and always had your back. We shared a love of movies and could hold a complete conversation just in movie quotes, so it was apt that I used a movie reference to make my point. If you've seen the movie "The Town" you'll remember the scene where Ben Affleck goes to Jeremy Renner and asks in his Southie accent, "I need your help with somethin'. We're probably gonna have to hurt some people and you can't ask me about it later." Renner thinks for about half a second before asking, "Whose car are we takin'." That was Dave. If you needed his help with anything he didn't stop to consider the consequences or costs. He just showed up and did whatever needed doing.

Today they buried him with full military honors at the Iowa Veterans Cemetery. It still is surreal to me that one of my closest friends is really gone.

Here are Dave and I just out of college doing what we did best at our first apartment. Dave is on the left and I'm on the right. In the last photo Dave is predictably in the center of the action and I'm on the right again.  Rest in peace, friend. A lot of people will miss you.


  1. Wow -- sorry to hear about your friend. It sucks getting past that age where you think everyone is virtually invulnerable unless involved in a tragic accident. I have been fortunate in not having lost any close friends or family members of my generation yet.

    I get concerned when I see or hear of people who drink to excess. I have seen people who basically died way too young because they ravaged their body with alcohol.

    Let's hope you don't have to face this kind of news again for many years.