Last Saturday, I woke up to a truly sad private message on Facebook. My good friend, Cheryl, wrote to tell me that her boyfriend, the love of her life, David, had died suddenly. One minute he was there, playfully asking her if she loved him...the next, he was gone. Just like that. A cough, a loss of breath, and that was it.
David, Cheryl and I all went to the same small, elite high school, where we we all knew one another and formed tighter bonds than anyone from any other school I know. Maybe, as Cheryl has said, it's because we were considered "special" kids - square pegs who'd finally found others like us. Maybe it was because, unlike most high schools, Hunter ran from 7th grade until 12th: six years of togetherness. Or maybe it was because most of us had been uprooted from our bridge-and-tunnel neighborhood friends and forced to take long rides on the subway, every day, to the upper east side of Manhattan, for the privilege of attending what many consider the finest school in America. For whatever reason, Hunter College High School alums are a rare breed. We stick together. We have school spirit. Most of us remember those years with great fondness.
I didn't know David very well in high school, but I liked him. That he and Cheryl -who is one of my favorite people: smart, funny, original, genuinely good and generous - found each other and fell in love, 20+ years after high school was over, made me like him more. He made her happy. They made each other happy. And they deserved it. Thanks to Cheryl, I got to know David a little better during the last two years or so. He made me laugh.
This is what I do know about David:
He was gentle
He was kind
He loved music
He was a teacher and a librarian
He had a sense of fairness that made him fight for the underdog: kids, union members, the LGBT community, the poor....
He was funny
He was a single father who clearly devoted himself to his daughter
He was very much in love with my friend, and showed her the respect and admiration she deserved
David was only 44. He and Cheryl only had a few years together. It's not fair. But the one good thing to come out of this, if that's the right way to phrase it, is the revelation that he and Cheryl didn't waste time. They didn't leave things unsaid. Two years may not sound like a lot of time, but it's clear they made the most of it, and never missed an opportunity to appreciate one another, to enjoy each other not just as partners, but as friends, to be kind to one another. They laughed a lot, and didn't waste time on pettiness. And, thank God, they were together when he died.
He died too soon, but he died in the presence of the person who changed his life, who he loved more than anything, who made him happy.
Few of us will experience the kind of relationship David and Cheryl had. Few of us are open to that kind of partnership...to taking that much of a chance on life. Time slips by, and we find we've missed the boat. I'm so glad David and Cheryl did take the chance and didn't miss the boat. I only wish it had been a longer trip.
So long, David. I don't know if you liked Cat Stevens, but this song is joyous, and makes me think of how happy Cheryl has been since you entered her life, and of the journey you've embarked on. Peace, brother.