A Memory of David
This is a tough one. A story that lacks a real solid core, that fills its own void with catastrophizing, universalizing, and reflection on a single, indelible personal experience. I don’t know why I’m writing it, or why I’m writing it here. All I know is that it will be written, and that’s sadly the best that I can do.
David is a funny name, because I don’t think I’ve ever known someone named David personally – which is bizarre, because David is so common. Those common names have never been too popular where I ‘ve lived, however -no Davids, one John, very few Joes. So it’s redundant to say never really knew the David that I’m writing about here. He was a sophomore that went to my college, I saw him in the halls every once in a while, but that was it. He was everyone, he was a face that you scanned briefly as they passed, subconciously noting the patterns of his eyes and nose, forgetting your calculations almost instantly.
David committed suicide a couple weeks ago. Some of my friends knew him, and were pretty broken up. He had apparently just entered into their circle, really only getting to know them. To sit in their house and hear them talk about him now is to hear, in very upfront terms, young people dealing with shock. They aren’t in shock; that time has passed. They suppress it enough to make it leave their throats so they can remember him with a smile. Remember how vibrant and energetic he was, always up for anything, always in a great mood. To look at his face, according to them, was to see someone living. Then the shock returns, and the struggle is visible again. I listen intently, but with a sad amount of distance; I mean, it’s sad when people who go to your school die, and it’s affecting, but without intimate knowledge of the person, how affected can you be? As the conversation ends, my buddy Matt slides onto the arm of the couch next to me.
“How are you dealing with this?” he says, in a tone reserved especially for grief counseling. I almost felt embarrassed for him even asking me.
“Well, I didn’t really know him at all.” Matt turns a little sour, a little surprised, and I see the conversation turn as his lips suck inside for a moment, ready to produce some quickly-thought analysis.
“He was the helmet guy.”
About a week before his death, David was at a party at the house where I was now seated. I was there too; despite my general view of parties (namely, I hate them), this was special. This was the Tour de Franzia, which I have written about previously for this site. Quick recap: teams of two, every team had a box of wine, first team to finish box wins. I like competition, so Matt and I competed, and we won. There was cheering, there were high-fives, there was an excessive amount of bellyaching (both the whining kind and the kind where your belly actually hurts).
For most of the night, however, I was rotating between the two major rooms of the house – the kitchen and the living room. The living room’s two couches were filled with interesting people; the kitchen counter was filled with slightly less-interesting people, but it also had a gong. A real life fucking Wuhan-brand gong. I was walking into the kitchen with one thought on my mind – I must hit this gong. (Sadly, this not only wasn’t possible (the mallet had been, wisely, hid prior), but it would have made me very unpopular, and my few feeble attempts to hit it with my fists were stopped rather quickly.)As I decided to stop and simply converse with the people in the general gong area, I noticed two guys talking next to the kitchen table.
One of them was David…and he had a hockey helmet in his hands. We’re talking the high school and college, full-cage, taking a puck to the fucking face and smiling afterwords sort of hockey helmet. Why did he have a hockey helmet? was all I could think. I didn’t know him, he had no consequence in my life, but I had to ask him about his hockey helmet.
“Hey, dude…why do you have a hockey helmet?”
He said it belonged to one of the girls living at the house.
“Does it fit?”
He placed it on his head to show exactly how snugly, how perfectly it fit. And then, in a flash of brilliance:
“Will you hit me in the head…with your head…with the helmet on it?”
This question does not come without precedent. As the pro wrestling fan that I am, I have made asking my friends to wield weapons against me several times throughout my life. I’ve had friends tentatively hit me with steel chairs across the back, I have been Rock Bottomed onto hard planks of oak. I’ve tried (unsuccessfully) to have people put clean socks on their hands and shove them in my mouth. But I had never bled. Even when me and my much-younger friends would stage elaborate matches in our bedrooms, with all the sharp corners and easy access to our parent’s razors, I’d always been too scared to allow my skin to break. However, after entering into grown-up research about blood lost through the forehead, understanding (roughly) the main arteries and where they were located, the fear was gone. It was a well-researched, well-rehearsed part of the business. The amount of cheap wine that I had in my veins was really only the candle on the cake.
I’ll never forget David’s response. “Sure!”, like I had just asked him if he’d like a million dollars in unmarked, legal tender. I was prepared for the standard response when you spout off drunk ideas – a bit of pandering, a bit of humor had at the drunk’s expense, and then a hand on the shoulder accompanied by “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” said like a first-grade teacher to a kid planning to bite on a crayon. Not David – David was game. The glee in my face must have been sickening. I was about to have a dream come true.
We set ourselves with our hands on each other shoulders. His friend, mystified and laughing, checked David’s helmet to make sure it wouldn’t pop back and cut his nose. The look on David’s face morphed from humorous joy-boy to stern and surgical concentration, like we were preparing for an epic magic trick, one that required full and complete awareness from all parties.
“On three,” I said, and counted. At three, I snapped my head back, pulled in my chin, and thrust my hairline squarely for the cage. David took a much less informed path towards contact, essentially pulling back his head and then shoving it forward again (think Quagmire’s “giggity-giggity” motion).
The sound of plastic joints colliding all throughout the cage was one of sirens singing on the rocks, one of angels belting out trumpets through the heavens, a chorus of Playboy models simultaneously reaching climax. We both threw up our hands and cheered while those around us starred with combinations of horror and and disgust (and, I like to think, a little envy). We man-hugged each other, I man-hugged his friend, we examined the helmet to see if it was still in tact and smiled. I smiled widely as one of the girls who lived at the house came in the room, looked at me, her mouth at a gape.
We had forgotten to check if I was bleeding! I put my hand through my quickly-moistening hair and pulled it clumsily to my eyes. I was. I could feel the blood squeezing out of the top of my forehead, streaming slowly down my face. There was no artery hit. It was just blood, just pure and fun blood. I found Matt, showed him my wound, and in the final such moment of the night, yelled:
“MATT, I BLADED THE HARD WAY!!!”
As the weeks have rolled on since this moment, I’ve recalled some of the faces that I saw on baseball diamonds and football fields as a kid. As silly and poorly played as our games were, we were there together. We were young men, engaging in the way that young men do – through silly games that involve thick shoulder pads, gloves worn by our fathers and, yes, helmets. I miss those days, not because the games meant anything, and not because I imagine a life where harder focus in those moments could have lead me to a scholarship at a D-1 school. I remember what it was like to look into the eyes of a bunch of men my age and know we were all thinking the exact same thing. That nothing beyond 90 feet or 10 yards meant a damn thing to us. We wanted to get on base, we wanted to block for the half-back, we wanted to turn a double play that connected us like sinew of the same body. And as much as I love all of my women friends, it is a shame to think about how difficult such male bonding is when you’re an english major at a tiny liberal arts college where no one likes sports. There aren’t common goals in real life, or at least not enough.
Thinking about these things has lead me to one specific memory – the only person that I ever knew named John. He was a cornerback on the Peewee team I played for. Before each game we had a ritual – in clear view of the players on the other team, we’d put on our helmets, place our hands on each others shoulder pads, and slam our heads six times as hard as we could. It would rattle us, but we’d be fine, and we’d be ready for an entire game afterwords. The players looked at us with combinations of horror and disgust. And, I think, a little bit of envy. They shifted their eyes towards each other, wondering, “When in the hell would I ever do that?”
So rest in peace, David. There’s no way to know what that second of collision meant to you, but it meant so much to me. And it meant that on that great list of names that we keep in our heads, the list that reminds us who we know and who we don’t, there’s one less to check off. Thank you.