There’s a story in my family that my brother, David, was given nine lives.
Speaking to David about his many misadventures, and later to his friends and other siblings, I would have had to place that number closer to twenty.
There was the sledding accident that broke long bones and left him chair-bound for months. The fight that resulted in a broken jaw. Riding home at night on a bicycle, David was hit by a car. Once “road-surfing” on the roof of a van, he took a nasty fall onto the pavement. There was a fall from a roof. There were several near-drowning incidents on Lake Nepessing, in all seasons of the year.
Once, walking home on the side of a narrow road, someone opened a car door as they went by, knocking David into a pole, then into the lagoon. He crawled out of the water covered with cuts, abrasions and bruises…but also with sludge, slime and seaweed. He went door-to-door looking for assistance, terrifying the home-owners with his “Creature from the Black Lagoon” appearance. He walked all the way home. That’s when Mom took care of him. Dad later told how his midnight snack was rendered almost inedible due to the screams coming from the next room as Mom treated David’s wounds with mercurochrome and hydrogen peroxide.
David was one of the youngest in our large family. His brother, most of his other sisters and I have memories that stretch back to his birth. Many of us had turns rocking him to sleep. Amy, the only one younger than David, shared memories and experiences unique to the two of them, as the “babies” in the family.
As an infant, David had tiny dimples in the top of each ear, and eyes so large that his eyelids didn’t quite cover them when he slept. I was appalled when, many years later, I answered the phone at my parents house and the caller asked for “Bug-Eye”…but the reference was obvious. The nick-name didn’t bother David (he laughingly called it his “prison name”), but we didn’t use it. To us he was just Dave, or David.
When David was little, Mom called him “BeetleBomb,” after a horse that was always coming from behind to win a race. She also called him “Boodler,” because he was one. We called him Davey. Grandma Florence called him “Crocket.” I can picture him, still, as that little guy…cowboy hat hanging down his back, shirtless, holster with toy guns riding low on his hips, barefoot, squinting into the sun…
It seems like it was just the blink of an eye, and he was grown.
Busy with my own life, I didn’t see the transition.
David, as an adult, had a toothy grin and a big laugh. He talked too loud and often didn’t know when to “shut up.” He made all of us cringe with stories of our youth that we’d just as soon forget. He often made us angry with his teasing banter. In fact, when considering his multitude of “lives”, I should take note of the many times members of his family told him, “David, if you don’t cut it out, I’m gonna kill ya!”
David won the lottery once. Not the millions, but a pretty good sum. He turned it all into cash. No-one saw him for three days! Then he was spotted, his pockets spilling over with bills, coming out of the Eagles tavern. David didn’t go to work for two weeks, but took the whole crew out for steak dinner many nights. He bought drinks all around at every bar he went into. He kept himself pretty well lit until the money ran out.
Though he had little, David bought not one lasting thing with his winnings. He played. I’d like to say it was the time of his life, but I don’t know that to be true. Money – and material things – meant so little to David, winning the lottery was probably not a highlight.
David liked fun. He lived in the moment. He loved the party, the craziness, the giddiness of life. We didn’t have a lot in common in that sense, but we loved each other just the same.
When my father was dying, I flew from Beaver Island to Davison Airport, then ran door-to-door to get to a phone, to get a taxi to take me to the hospital, in hopes of seeing Dad one last time…
When I got to the hospital and walked out of the elevator on my way to Dad’s room, there was my brother, David, passed out asleep in a chair in the hallway. I still smile at the sense of calm and normalcy that vision gave me, at a time when the whole world seemed up-side-down.
Dad’s death changed all of us, for the better.
We came face-to-face with mortality, and so came to be more appreciative of life.
In our usually non-demonstrative family, we have became more generous with hugs, quicker to say, “I love you.” We’ve taken the time to get to know each other better, even when we have little in common.
I grew to know and appreciate David’s wit, intelligence and good-heartedness.
I’m very thankful for that.
As it turned out, even twenty lives wasn’t enough to keep David with us.
In our last conversation, David hanged his head and said, “I guess I should’ve quit drinking two years ago when the doctor told me to…”
Well, I wish he had.
I would love to have my little brother, David, around driving me crazy today and for many years to come…but the time for recriminations was past. I told him one of my memories from his childhood:
Dad would sit in his chair at the head of the long kitchen table, one leg crossed over the other. David – it was Davey back then – would sit on Dad’s raised foot. Dad would hold both of Davey’s hands in his one big hand, and bounce his foot up and down…a “pony ride.” More like a bucking bronco, when Dad was in charge! Then, Dad’s wicked humor coming into play, the foot would go up, Dad would release his grip on Davey’s hands, and the little boy would go flying. He’d land on his feet, if he was lucky, but just as often on his bottom or his belly or his back. As soon as he recovered his breath, Davey would burst into giggles…and go running right back for more. Again and again and again.
“That’s the problem, David,” I told him, “in your entire life, you never have known when to quit!”
It was a good visit.
Though I was pretty sure it was the last time I’d see him, it had to end. David was tired; I had a schedule to keep. Hugs all around, and I was out the door, then back in for one last good-bye. As I turned to leave that last time, I put my hand up to wave. David leaned forward in the recliner, smiled and said, “See ya…”
My brother, David, died three years ago today. I still miss him every day, and can picture that smile as if it was yesterday.