Chapter essay from the upcoming book Viking Funeral. Scroll down to March 13 for the first post to read in order. XO M
Brian stood comfortably at the podium. The bonfire was roaring at this point. He started by outlining Dave’s many accomplishments much like a coach would give a motivational speech. “Dave was an amazing athlete. He wrestled, played water polo, participated in track, and he played the position of center on the football team. Not very many freshmen are starting players on the Varsity Football team at a big high school, and San Bernardino High School probably had 3000 students at that time. It was a big deal that he started as a Freshman. He was chosen as an All-City, All-Star Player every year of high school. Do you know what that means? He was a very good player.”
I thought giving this eulogy would be hard on Brian. He is a lovely tender-hearted man. I knew he was hurting and I was worried about him, nervous for him. I am certain most people attending knew without a doubt the loss of his best friend was hurting him. They were the shadow of each other forever. Where would one be without the shadow of the other?
Brian is a great storyteller. This talent transferred seamlessly to public speaking…even thankfully, at a funeral. He had so much composure and warmth in his presence that the fear of the crowd, the fear of watching him struggle in this potentially emotional moment was calmed as he proceeded to crack us up conveying one of my very favorite stories in my life, the day he and Dave met.
“We both arrived at Arrowview Junior High School, 12 yeas old. Dave and I had independently joined a group of familiar guys that had gathered before school. The blend of several feeder elementary schools created a student body where many people knew someone but no one knew everyone the first morning of the school year. We stood around looking at each other and making very small talk before the bell rang when we headed to class.”
It was officially dark at this point. I wasn’t really looking at Brian but at the wild patterns the bonfire light was casting on the dark wall of hedges behind him. I was listening, enjoying his voice, knowing where his story was going from here. I could listen to him tell this story a dozen more times and still love it.
“The end of the school day arrived, and a similar group of guys had gathered after school like kids everywhere gather for the after school social scene. There was some discussion among the group of tryouts for the wrestling team.”
The crowd was rapt with Brian’s storytelling manner and felt the growing anticipation of certain drama headed our way fast…
“I was sizing up Dave, the biggest guy in the group and said, ‘So, I hear you’re tough?’
Dave coolly reacted, ‘What? I don’t know, I guess so.’ He was always modest, more of a put up or shut up kind of person.
‘Ya? Well, prove it!’
‘WhaT?’ (emphasis on hard ending with that T)
‘PROOOOVE IT! Right here. Right now, tough guy!’
Dave, as you can imagine, could not and would not turn away from a challenge to fight on the first day of school. That would be social suicide, a Junior High School career-ending move and on the first day.”
Heads were nodding, smiles were on faces, people were cracking up envisioning these two. I was so happy he was telling this story, the tears were rolling down my face as I was cracking up.
“We both threw down our stuff dramatically and grabbed each other in a wrestling clinch. The kids standing around us were surprised at how fast things were moving and went wild as kids do when a fight breaks out with chants of ‘FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!’ Other kids on campus heard the call of the wild, instinctively gathered in a growing circle around us, to witness us Duke it out.”
I loved looking around at the more than a hundred faces glowing in the bonfire light, their eyes as excited as those kids waiting for the two seventh-graders… “duking it out” so to speak.
Brian continued with the right amount of breathing space where people would laugh, and nod, he created comedic tension perfectly. “It wasn’t a bloody fight. I mean, we weren’t throwing blows, we were wrestling. It wasn’t long before we were both on the ground. We went and rolled around in circles on the grass one way, then the other, basically running in circles on our sides back and forth. We were pretty well matched.”
The surprising thing about these “kids” is that they were, in fact, full-grown by the age of 12. Brian was 6’2” 185 pounds and Dave was 5’11”more than 200 pounds of solid bulky muscle.
“We went around in circles for so long on that hot afternoon on the playfields of Arrowhead View Junior High that due to the lack of any blood, or clear progress between us, the crowd grew bored and slowly shrank to a smaller and smaller group until it was just me and Dave left. We both tried to gain advantage over the other unsuccessfully yet neither of us would give in. We had managed to work our way into a mutual Scissor Hold with each having our legs wrapped around the other with our feet crossed at the ankles, locked in place.”
I was uncontrollably, joyfully, bawling at this point, picturing those two wearing out a circle in the grass. I was taking in the magic of the moment in the looks of engagement on the faces of everyone in the flickering red-orange glow…feeling everyone enjoy this funny account of THE day these two met, shifting between complete silence waiting for the next detail from Brian and cracking up as he delivered each visual detail of the two of them as 12-year-olds.
“While being inextricably locked together in our mutual scissor hold, we managed to hold a conversation that de-escalated from jabs like ‘What are you going to do tough guy?’ ‘Oh, you’re going down!’ to periods of silence that turned into ice breaker type of questions and answers. ‘So, where do you live?’ We would attempt to overthrow the other briefly between breaths. ‘I live on Arrowhead. Where do you live?’ A couple more moves to attempt freedom or a pin. ‘I live on 17th Street.’ In between these attempted unsuccessful wrestling moves that extended for hours we exchanged the details of an entire personal history of the world in the life of two 12-year-olds, on that itchy grassy playfield that afternoon.”
I didn’t know for sure I was going to be writing a book about this night, this particular moment years later but everything about it was and is burned into the deepest places in my memory. I didn’t watch Brian, I watched the beautiful movie of firelight play over the crowd of faces with Brian narrating, relieving all of us from our grief for a time as the story I am sure became one of their favorites too. It was perfect.
“We wrestled so long that the street lights started to come on. As soon as they did Dave immediately shifted gears and exclaimed in a voice that conveyed something almost like panic, ‘I have to get home because my mom will get mad if I’m not there by the time the street lights come on!’ At this I busted out laughing at the tough guy whose mommy was going to get mad at him because he was home after the street lights came on. We agreed to a stalemate and let each other go.”
In early September in Southern California, the street lights, the silent detached curfew notification of our era would not have come on until dusk around 7:00 p.m. They wrestled from roughly the time school got out until the street lights came on. Talk about an ice breaker.
The time Brian spoke was short compared to their decades of time spent together, but it was the best story of the day their life together started. “Dave was a good listener. We could talk about anything. He helped me through some difficult times. People always say I am such a good friend to Dave, but they don’t realize that HE was such a good friend to me.” He finished by saying he was “gladly entangled from that day forward with that knuckle-head Dave.”
Thank you for reading this blog post. I have found it so very helpful in my grieving process to write and share about my brother. If you have a story of your loved one you would like to share with me, I would love to hear every word! Together we can move through the fire of grief. XO M