He was the only person I knew when I moved to New York City. The older brother of a dear friend, I’d long idolized him as the sole person from our small Catholic high school to study film at New York University – my holy grail of colleges. He was tall and thin and theatrical and when I finally arrived at Tisch myself he didn’t hesitate to take me under his wing both on campus and off. I shoveled snow as a PA on his thesis film and he invited me to fabulous parties with themes like “Dead Literati” where he introduced me to fascinating people. Yesterday at his memorial service I recounted to someone how I knew Dave and they clasped their hand over their heart and exclaimed with a grin, “what an incredible ambassador to the city!” He was.
It was an artist’s sendoff – rightfully so, as his creativity was permeating and made better artists of everyone around him. The service opened with an old friend singing You Can’t Take That Away From Me, audible sobs repeatedly escaping the congregation in stark contrast with her piano accompaniment and upbeat croon, and continued on as picture-perfect as if David had directed it himself. No one tried to hide their pain. My brilliant and beautiful friend Diane eulogized her brother through her tears, knowing full well that composing herself wasn’t an option, making for one of the most raw and heartbreaking farewells to a lost loved one that I’ve ever had the honor of witnessing.
Dave and I weren’t close, but we were kindred spirits; Deep Valley kids matriculating through the same unique pattern of schools and art programs, chasing a love of film with a dark sense of humor.
Sitting in the pews watching the final chapter be written for a life which you sought to emulate is a humbling experience. Young death is a horror to process and sudden young death even more so. David’s departure leaves a gaping hole in countless lives. But listening to yet another voice I’d known since puberty proudly read aloud from the New York Times review of our departed friend’s critically hailed one-act play, a strange sense of relief pushed through the chest-rattling tears. Devoting your life to chasing down your dream is rare and catching it, even rarer. As an artist, Dave had achieved. As an artist, his legacy lives on.
Of course Jenny is right, the NYT review eerily mirrors a luminous life cut short:
”The Lightning Field” cries out for a full-length treatment. Its characters might breathe more between soul-baring revelations, and an audience could use time to fully absorb its shocks. A brilliant flash, the play could yet be a searing illumination. As Andy puts it, ”It’s not about the lightning but about the light.”
Later, after I’d hugged my high school drama coach goodbye and picked up my daughter from preschool I couldn’t keep my thoughts from turning inward. More than one person at the memorial had looked at me with hopeful eyes over damp cheeks and asked a question I’ve dreaded as of late: “Are you still writing?”
I am, of course. All I do is write – I’m writing right now – but that’s not what they meant. And although I answered yes, the sinking feeling in my stomach reminds me otherwise. The pain of seeing my friend’s storied young life summarized reminded me of something as artists we know but too often forget: we’re not living if we’re not creating. Dave was always creating. And because of that, he lived more than most.
I should have known you’d bestow one last dose of inspiration, friend. Your absence from this world is palpable. The next time I’m invited to a Dead Literati party, I’m going as you.