I heard his laugh before I’d even met him. It came tinkling down the wooden steps from the apartment above where my friend lived. It was a cross between a cackle and a giggle, and just a little bit, ever so wonderfully, dirty…you can tell a lot about a person from their laugh! All I knew was that this was someone I had to meet… . What I didn’t know at the time was that this person, with this incredible laugh, was someone who would effect my life forever.
He eventually cruised down those wooden steps, and in to my friends apartment, preceded by an adorable ball of blonde fluff (a labradoodle named Bella) and a very good-looking guy named Sean (his boyfriend). His name was David, and it turned out his smile was even more captivating than his laugh.
There was something about David. I’m not sure I’ll ever figure out exactly what it was…but I quickly felt like we’d been friends for a long long time. Some kind of wonderful connection, that made us laugh at the same stuff, speak to each other in stupid voices and descend in to general silliness at any given opportunity. But not just that. Though we were the same age he seemed so much wiser and more worldly than me, perhaps because he was! I felt that I could talk to him and ask him about anything, without judgement for not knowing – it was just his way. I was interested in everything he had to say whether it was what his family would make to eat at thanksgiving, the working conditions of loggers in Alaska or being a Jew. He taught me about piroshki’s, American politics and drag queens. Man I loved talking to him.
When we moved here from the UK we were unsure we’d ever find friends. Not just any old friends, really good ones, the kind that are for life, not just for Christmas (parties). We’d lived here just a year and we’d only really met two good ones. But when David and Sean walked down those wooden steps and in to our lives, it wasn’t long before that two became four – four whole friends (which would eventually become six a little further down the line)! Over the next couple of years we lived a bit of a whirlwind; camping trips, skiing, Palm Springs, festivals, wine tasting, whale watching, eating (always eating), drinking, games, dancing, proposing (David proposed to Sean on Christmas Day 2014!). Living as if our lives depended on it, and as only ‘out of towners’ can. And then just as quickly as they walked in to our lives they told us of their plans to leave the city… .
We were going to lose two of our wolf-pack to Seattle, for good reasons of course, and I was so excited for them but the selfish part of me was utterly gutted. And so the day after Christmas Day 2015, through blurry eyes, and with tear stained cheeks, we waved goodbye.
But David and Sean were planning their wedding so we distracted ourselves with that – something bright and shiny that would be happening in just a few short months. They made a couple of surprise visits to SF in the meantime where we spent lovely days enjoying each others company, and eating of course! Then we threw caution to the wind and booked a weekend with them in June, just over a month before their big day! They took us to all their favorite places…they wanted us to see why they loved Seattle…and we did… . That weekend seemed to go on forever, I wish it had, it was wonderful! And then the bubble burst.
I was driving to work. My phone rang. David was in hospital. It was about a week before their wedding.
I’m not sure I can write all of what happened next, it’s not my story to tell and quite frankly it’s too hard. So I’ll stick to my part… .
They cancelled the wedding which was due to take place in Seattle. But we made the trip, in the hopes, if nothing else, that they would feel our love and support. And it was whilst I was waiting at the airport in SF that my phone rang, again. David had been diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.
It was a strange and emotional trip. My niece was born that same weekend. We all managed to remain up-beat in the most part. We distracted ourselves and did our best to enjoy their city and make the most of our trip, which we knew they wanted us to. Then we got a message from Sean. David had asked if we would all go and visit him in hospital. We couldn’t believe it. He hadn’t been able to see anyone. I’d prepared myself. I even wore a t-shirt with abeach scene printed on it which reminded me of Hawaii, one of his favorite places. Kind of stupid I know but I wore it in the hopes that this bit of sunshine may brighten his day just a little, it was all I could think of that I could ‘do’ (I would come to find over the next months that there was very little that I could in-fact ‘do’ to make anything even just ok). The visit was short, and though he was obviously really ill and being pumped full of, goodness knows what (I didn’t know what), he joked and told us where we should visit and what we should eat. He even gently scolded Sean for not giving us the right information, in his opinion! Still the same David, it was good to hear, though he looked rather different from the last time I’d seen him. I didn’t really know what the implications of Davids diagnosis were, not really, and I’ll always be grateful for not knowing. As it transpired, others knew. They knew what it all meant. What’s the saying ‘ignorance is bliss’ well in hindsight it really really was, for me anyway.
Sitting on the tarmac waiting for our plane to take off back to SF, at the end of the weekend, felt so wrong. So I booked a flight back to Seattle in August, then and there. I didn’t care, I just did it.
I kept a constant stream of messages pinging in David’s direction. I knew he was bored out of his mind in hospital so I’d send him anything that I thought may bring a smile, that smile, to his lovely face. He’d praise me for my use of gay colloquialism, I’d send him photos of hot, Scottish male nurses!
August came and I arrived at their beautiful home and began ‘doing’. Shopping, cooking, playing with Bella (who I love, love, love). I finally felt just a little bit useful. The hospital eventually released him, and so our weekend began. At the centre of everything was that thing that we talked about so often, food! Having not really been able to eat for almost two months, he was a man on a mission. The Swedish bakery for pastries and Challah, delicious savoury treats at a nearby pub, and a bbq. He was very specific about that. A bbq with chicken and Kielbasa. We had text so often about the day when he’d be out of hospital and relaxing on their back deck in the sunshine with Sean and Bella, this was his moment. It was what he’d visualized while the doctors had pumped his body with drugs. And he was doing it, finally. He dozed in the sunshine while we cooked and talked. Unfortunately a day or so after I left, he had to go back in. In fact that weekend in August would turn out to be one of the very few short visits home David would be able to make over the months that followed.
I forget the order of things exactly over the next couple of months. I’m not sure I want to remember. My phone rang. And then it rang again. It wasn’t good news.
Once again I found myself booking a flight to Seattle for Friday 18th November. David was feeling miserable but was looking forward to us visiting for ‘a big hug and smooch’. But on Tuesday 15th, my phone rang, again.
I changed my flight and flew on the Wednesday, heading straight for the hospital. I was on my own. The waiting room was crowded but peaceful. I recognized a couple of people from Facebook photos, so I knew they were David and Sean’s ‘crew’. In normal circumstances this would put me completely out of my comfort zone, a room full of strangers, but these weren’t normal circumstances. And so, though totally out of character for me, I introduced myself. I was hugged and welcomed like an old friend. They told me to go to David’s room but when I got there the door was shut and there was a sign saying not to enter and so, ever the rule follower, I didn’t (his sister Lisa and I would joke about this later). I found a nurse who knocked and let me in. Sean’s lovely face smiled a tired but loving smile and he immediately brought me to David’s bedside, where his family sat vigil. He wasn’t conscious but could hear, I was assured. And so I spent the next few days at the hospital. In the waiting room reading, getting to know his lovely friends and family, and visiting with him. Talking to him, sometimes lighthearted silly stuff, sometimes more meaningful. I felt most at peace at the hospital, surrounded by what seemed like an endless stream of people coming to see him. Though there was more than one moment during that time when I felt like a bit of fraud…some of these people had known David forever, I on the other hand had only had the pleasure for less than three years. It didn’t matter, his beautiful soul had captured us all under it’s spell. Getting to know all his people, particularly his family, over those few short days felt like some kind of beautiful plan that David had made. Like he always intended us all to meet and see why he loved each of us, of course we all would have done, at their wedding. All the usual barriers were broken down because we all so needed ‘this’, whatever ‘this’ was. Looking back it all seems a bit like a dream, it’s sort of hard to explain but there was just so much love in that hospital. I know David could feel it.
On the Friday night their next-door-neighbours arrived at the hospital with the other love of David’s life – Bella Beyonce! Sean snuck her in to his room with the help of some incredible nurses (despite a strict no pet policy). It was one of the most beautiful moments, she knew just what to do and climbed carefully on to his bed, she was so calm (not her usual MO!). She needed to say goodbye too.
I will forever be grateful for that time, and those moments, and for Sean and his family so generously and graciously sharing David’s last days in such a special way.
At about 7am on Saturday 19th November, my phone pinged.
Right up until my phone rang on Tuesday 15th November I always believed that David would recover. I was convinced of this, to me it was a fact. I guess if I’d probed and asked more questions I may have been able to prepare myself a little better but as it happened I had just a few days, which I suppose is more than some ever get.
The flight back to SF after that trip was very difficult. I was in the window seat, eyes streaming as we took off, and as we pushed through to the other side of the clouds a circular rainbow appeared around the tip of the wing, it took my breath away. Then as we circled above SF waiting to land, I saw another rainbow, this time a vertical one, pushing through the thick cloud towards the ground.
Afterwards, I read a bit about grief. One piece in particular stuck with me. The writer likened grief to ocean waves (I love the ocean so perhaps that’s why this particular analogy resonated). They said that each day was like a wave, and that every wave was different, but that you eventually learned to deal with each one, and then just when you least expected it a big outsider would come in and crash right over you. This has been and still is my experience.
David was a remarkable human, one of my very favourites. I love(d) him for many, many reasons. He taught me so much. Of course I didn’t realise that’s what he was doing at the time. He probably didn’t either. I just thought I was hanging out with a funny, gorgeous, kind and intelligent man, which I was, but only in hindsight do I see the effect he had and continues to have on my life. I see so much of him reflected in my everyday, he’s never far away. I was and will always be heartbroken that he is no longer here.
Miss you big time my friend xx
David and Sean did get married, in David’s hospital room in an intimate ceremony officiated by David’s lovely sister, Lisa. Though David is no longer here in body, they will celebrate their one year anniversary on 17th July 2017.