Barb and Dave became close friends when they were both well into their adult lives. They were thirty-somethings. Dave was attending college, and Barb was raising her daughter and helping care for her aging parents. The smaller and larger details of their friendship securely knotted itself almost entirely out of my view. The stories I have to share are mostly second-hand from the perspective of Dave or Barb. Regardless, the essence of it glowed with life and was an obvious source of joy to both of them.
As they regularly hiked around our neighborhood on their walk and roll, they learned, revealed, reached new awarenesses of each other, uncovered the meaning of life. The foundation of their friendship was primarily based on words rather than sharing big outrageous burn down the house type of adventures.
When I lived at our parents’ home after Sven was born, if Dave wasn’t home, he was usually hanging out with Barb somewhere. In between their walks or visits at her place, she was among those who frequently stopped for a quick drive-by, “How’s it going?” chat session from her car window if Dave were out front. I would pass them on their walk and roll when I was driving around the world within our greater neighborhood. Barb walked in the street with Dave and pointed out that how he would always make her walk on the inside of their path away from traffic, even as a paralyzed guy he was a protective gentleman sentry on duty. He was always paying attention to their safety. I would see them visiting in her front yard, him on her driveway, she on her porch as I drove home from anywhere west of our house. Even relaxing sitting in her yard, he paid attention to everything happening around him, what cars drove by, he noticed everyone. He gave me the head-nod of recognition when we made eye contact.
Dave would take Sven on wheelchair rides on his lap that usually temporarily stopped at Barb’s house. Sven loved Barb’s daughter Kirstin like all little kids seem to do with a slightly older child. She was a cute little replica of Barb, plus they had a pool, so when it was warm, the kids might swim. Steven loved hanging out with uncle Dave in general, but a 6 M.P.H. ride to Barb’s to adore Kirstin was his favorite outing.
Dave came home from one such visit to Barb’s with Sven and could hardly contain himself with the giggles as he proceeded to tell me all about the interactions of Sven and Kirstin that day. He set the scene, Kirstin had spent the night at a friend’s. He, Barb, and Sven were in the front yard chatting, Kirstin was dropped off by the mother of her friend. She had a suitcase with her when she got out of the car. Hers was not a full-sized suitcase, but a smaller, rectangular-shaped suitcase-type of bag with no wheels. Steven, smitten with the cute little girl, stepped up like a gentleman and offered to carry her bag in for her.
Kirstin was completely oblivious to Sven’s adoration. Someone offered to carry her bag in, she was fine with that and headed to the house without a backward glance. He was a little kid, maybe three, definitely a preschooler. She had to be six, maybe seven. Dave described the bag as coming up to Steven’s armpit. We all know you have no leverage with something that scale, no matter how big we are. Nevertheless, Sven determinedly wrangled it to the house, but it was a process with many many stops in between the 40 feet or so trek.
He started by lifting it a few inches off the ground with both his hands in front of him, feet sticking out below, shins hitting it as he walked it out of the street up the tiny incline from the curb cutout of the driveway to the sidewalk before he heavily thudded it back down. He then tried picking it up with one hand from the side, bending his body the opposite direction to leverage the bag off the ground. He made it a few more feet, but with almost no height to work with, he had little to offset the balance needed to heft the bag as tall as his armpit, it hit the ground heavily again.
Barb and Dave were biting their lips, watching Steven resigned to problem solve the best transportation method through trial and error as the behemoth bag tried to get the best of him. He made progress a little at a time. The tension of the scene built into a springloaded situation comedy as they held back their laughter. Steven continued earnestly schlepped that enormous bag, a few feet at a time a variety of ways from the street, stopping about seven times along the short flat driveway, up the steps of the porch to the door.
Meanwhile, Kirstin was long inside the house, witnessing none of the chivalry of the roughly three-year-old being spent at her behest. Dave and Barb could no longer look at each other; they knew they would not be able to hold their laughter. Still, between their quieted snickers, they were equally surprised at his preschool-year-old tenacity. He wouldn’t let Barb help him carry it, and the way he had repeatedly deadlifted it, clunking it back down noisily along.
Dave vocalized the deep, determined, and focusing breath that Sven drew in before each attempted lift with a stabbing “huhhhhhh.” and then the sound of the bag dropping those few inches back to Earth, “Thudd.” like a special effects foley (sound) artist. He used pauses for the breaks, building that comedic tension that was perfectly paced. The weightlifter air loading techniques, preparing his muscles and mentally for the clean jerk of the weight but, accurately, scaled down to the body of a toddler grunting in the moment of the deadlift were hilarious. He presented Sven’s brief mission in live-action time.
I was out of breath with laughter, crying on our porch, envisioning all of it through Dave’s comedically dramatic reenactment. Dave and I tried to figure out where he came up with the thought of carrying her bag for her, I didn’t own any luggage at that point, and had not taken him anywhere on vacation. So we laughed as we searched our brains to figure that kid out. I am going to say he gets his grit from Dave. This is just one example of the type of second-hand conveyance from either Dave or Barb as to how I came to know about their adventures and friendship.
Barb referred to Dave as her Father Confessor. This phrase denotes a spiritual advisor, even though Dave was not religiously affiliated in any way and would not have defined himself in that spiritual sense. She shared her innermost thoughts with him, admitting that “he knew me better than anyone; he was my soul mate,” he was that easy to be with and talk to about anything.
Barb’s life and ours were always loosely intertwined. From back in elementary school when Dave and Barb attended together briefly, through many common friends, our parents’ common friends, we all crossed paths through the years at back yard B.B.Q.s, graduations, weddings, and funerals. Dave came to know Barb’s parents well in those years beyond his previous friendly hello’s with them as they walked the neighborhood to the cathedral across the street for more than two decades prior. And Barb came to know ours.
Barb’s mom departed without notice one evening as quickly as Dave had departed. She hadn’t been ill, nor had any chronic illnesses. She had always been a very active woman, walked often, was trim, sharp as a tack. Brian was on duty at another Fire Station across town. He recognized Barbara’s address on the radio because Firemen hear everything that is going on around town as they may be required for added unit response and have to know where every structure is located to get there from memory rather than take the time to look at a map. This knowledge is required to become an Engineer, which Brian had been for a few years, before becoming a Captain. He heard the dispatch for Station 4 (fours) to the address 800 feet around the corner from the station on E street to Barbara’s parents’ house on 25th. He called Dave to ask if he knew of anything going on at Barb’s house. Dave called to find out; Barb conveyed in few words that she was pretty sure her mom had just died… Barb recapped, “She just walked out of the kitchen.” and quietly off the planet, just like that.
Barb describes the difficulty of that time, feeling the pressure of having to keep the proverbial “it” together. After dealing with the affairs of the day that had to be handled at the mortuary with her siblings, she stopped by to talk to Dave. My mom opened the door to her; as Barb walked in, my mom said one of the things you say when you don’t know what to say, “Oh, Honey…” she and my dad pulled her inside and hugged her without further words. In the safety of our home, Barb was undertaken by the tide of her life’s new reality, the one without her mom, the enormity of that awareness tried to drown her in our dining room.
She had had to be strong and helpful for her dad, her daughter, worked to be neutral and inclusive of everyone’s raw feelings; the anxiety of the totality of it all was running unbridled among everyone, among the anxiety, the desires to be heard, she dealt with ancient sibling posturing that only occurs under one’s parent’s roof, Barb was witnessing it all and trying to maintain peace across the land of their childhood family home for all of them…all these things were a veritable emotional minefield that revolves around the immediate loss of a loved one.
They hugged Barb for a long moment as she let out her tightly held breath, as the tears came, the shock of it all caught up with her and was allowed to rise to the surface and overwhelm her in the safety of our home on Arrowhead and 25th Street. After she caught her breath, they all went into Dave’s room, where she began the first moments of recalculating the infinity ahead, less her mom. On the couch in Dave’s room, my dad told Barb the shocking news of her mom’s sudden departure had caused him to hug, my parents to hug each other all night because they were reminded of how fragile life is and that it can be gone in an instant.
When Barbs dad was in failing health a few years after her mom walked off the planet, as he was reaching the last days of his life, Barb was talking to Dave often on the phone, because she was unable to leave her dad’s side and that was her only option to talk to Dave. She needed that connection to and support as she struggled against the clock running out on her dad’s time on Earth. She mentioned that her dad was so weak that he couldn’t walk any longer. Our dad went down the street to help her carry her dad to his den, where he remained the last two days of his life.
When our dad departed somewhat quickly after his brief four-month decline, Barb, along with all of us, felt that shockwave. He seemed larger than life, indestructible to her too. She felt a special connection to him through Dave as he had conveyed an enormous awe, love, and respect for our dad through the many examples of stories he shared with her on their walks, talks from the porch, her kitchen, over the phone, from her car window, of courage, hard work, kindnesses that comprised our dad’s life. Dave felt our dad was his hero for how well he (and my mom) had cared for him, how he so thoughtfully built an extraordinary number of devices to make navigating life a little easier for him. She heard from both Dave and Brian how my dad tied Brian’s ties for him forever. She saw my dad catch Bruce when he was overcome with the bad news of his daughter Adrienne. And of course, he was there for the demise of both her parents. For all of these reasons, she loved and respected him too.
Barb was among the people who spoke at our dad’s memorial. She admired his bright smile that he shared with everyone, his quick, wholesome laugh, and great stories. She spoke of the kindness our dad freely gave away, such a consistent big love example of his life, his love for Dave, for our family, for humanity. She told us how both of our parents caught her when her parents departed.
She could directly see our dad’s warmth, honor, and magic that he passed to her friend Dave through his lifelong example. She felt such appreciation for the overt acts of kindness she witnessed him give, things she learned through Dave and Brian and Bruce, but especially the romantic way he dug up half our back lawn to put a rose garden in the center of our backyard for our mom because she always wanted a rose garden. Barb pointed to the rose garden as she spoke because our dad’s memorial was also held in our yard, and reminded us all that “Love is moving heaven and Earth to give your wife a rose garden because she always wanted one. There is nothing more loving and romantic to me than that rose garden right there.”
Barb married a few years later and moved about half an hour away from 25t Street in San Bernardino to Yucaipa; at the same time, Dave graduated with his Master’s and started working at Valley College. Their lives filled with new fulfilling things. They remained connected mostly through phone conversations and the occasional dinner.
In the last five years, Barb made a new friend, Gayle, in a highly randomness-of-life moment at their local Post Office in Yucaipa. Gayle has a similar, positively bright personality, and clicked with Barb while the two stood in line, talking about the atmospheric music playing in the lobby as they waited. They were not directly next to each other, just in the same general line, and found a kindred friendship with each other as they connected through this music discussion around the bystanders between them. Gayle ultimately asked her to join a women’s group that she hosts for wine and potluck lunch once a month.
Barb decided to check out the ladies’ potluck and wine event and attended the next meeting as Gayle’s new guest. Barb, meshed with the welcoming group from the get-go as she had with Gayle, as she does everywhere she goes. She has been with them ever since for the communion of all of the connection, laughter, positive thinking, supportive, potluck eating, and wine-drinking.
The group includes husbands and significant others, for an evening soiree at the holidays. The vibe has a very warm, relaxed nature. Gayle and her long time partner Donny, Barb and her husband Bill have come to be good friends through these and other milestone celebrations of life. I love how the right people fall out of the sky and end up on our path like this.
Barb sprinkled her fried Dave or her Dave into conversations among her closer and greater group of friends under a variety of contexts as long as Barb had been friends with Dave and after he was gone. This new group of ladies had heard of her Dave, but he had been gone awhile at that point and naturally didn’t organically rise into the table topics as frequently as he once had. I have attended the ladies’ wine and lunch potluck when my schedule aligns, so Gayle knows me, she knows Barb is connected to me through her friend Dave, my brother.
At a recent summer holiday celebration, Barb, Bill, Gayle, and Donny were talking at a table in someone’s backyard. The conversation among the foursome over wine at some point landed on the topic of college football. Barb asked Donny where he played. Don explained that he had played for a particular university but started at San Bernardino Valley College. Barb’s curiosity could not avoid asking him when he attended Valley. “1973.” He clarified. Barb knew when Dave attended Valley as they were the same age, and would have graduated the same year. She was starting to feel the hair on her arms, tingle, “Did you play football with my friend Dave–Linane?” Donny, her friend of close to five years at that point, had heard about Barb’s friend Dave in many contexts, which was usually couched with the detail that he had a broken neck or was paralyzed from playing football, but Barb had never said our last name.
His face quieted as he reviewed in fast motion all those conversations Barb shared about her amazing friend Dave, as he realized he knew the same Dave all along. He simply said, “I was there.”
Besides hearing about her Dave from Barb, Gayle, too, had heard about this Dave from Donny before she ever knew Barbara. Donny had felt deeply saddened by Dave’s accident; it shook the team, the coaches, the school, our community, football helmets everywhere even changed after that to avoid repeating his specific catastrophic injury. The memory of that day remained with Donny forever.
You expect to run into people who you know in common when you live in the same city. But when you live in a different city and meet people later in life who grew up elsewhere and know the same people, it is a little more unusual. The group shivered a quasi déjà vu–six degrees of Kevin (Dave loves) Bacon moment ricochet around the table as they knew without a doubt that the same Dave had been floating around beyond all of them knowing, in random unrecognized connections. They all knew what Donny’s few words, “I was there.” meant. He witnessed the moment my brother’s life changed forever. He admired Dave before his accident and even more so after. That Dave who Barb had been talking about with such fondness for years without putting it together. He added, “Man, what a great human he was.” Barb about burst into tears, her grateful heart filled with excitement and emotion. She felt the magical randomness of the lovely people at this table in front of her whose lives Dave touched if even briefly or indirectly, hers—directly; they knew her Dave all along and independently had agreed long before, what a great human.
Magical people may cross our paths briefly and make a lifelong impression; sometimes if we are lucky, our paths align for more than a little while, for years. We may move in and out of close physical contact during our lives, but that doesn’t mean we don’t feel every bit moved, lifted up by them, or as close to them just because they are temporarily out of our line of sight. This is the kind of friendship Dave and Barb had, one of few demands and all the laughter, understanding, kindness, a glow, soul mates.