When I was thirteen years old, I met this guy I couldn't put in a nice category. His first name was David but we called him by his last name, which I won't use here. At thirteen, I was fully hitting puberty, my level of deep thoughts was way beyond that of any peers my age and I was just beginning to fully rebel.
I had decided that my body was my own. I was feeling the full autonomy of myself. I was in full on hatred of my controlling paternal figure and much to my delight and chagrin, I was becoming attractive to males ready to exploit me.
David fit neatly into none of these categories. He was about five years older than me, at that age, kind of a big deal. And I didn't like him very much. He was always sarcastic and mean to pretty much everyone.
David held the spotlight at the Varsity during the Rocky Horror Picture Show.. He stood up on the armrests of the seats and held the spotlight on all of the performers so the audience could see us. I have no idea why he did this. It's a totally thankless thing to do. There's no glory in it, but he did it every single weekend pretty much without fail.
I was a pretty shy kid, so I did more listening than talking but hanging out with this crowd was making me more talkative and bringing me out of my shell. I can remember pretty clearly the distrust I had for David. I was wary of him and stayed out of his way and just regularly assumed he didn't like me.
At some point, I started getting to go to Denny's with the rest of the group if I could get a ride there and back home again. I was often pretty reckless and impulsive about getting a ride. I would pretty much take a ride from almost anyone. This caused trouble for me more than once. It was the reason why I accepted a ride from David the first time. I didn't necessarily trust him but I knew him. And he gave rides to lots of the young ones who went to Rocky.
I remember thinking, damn, that's nice of him, but also out of character for who I thought he was. He said such mean, sarcastic things. He made fun of me all the time. After a pretty awful experience one night when a guy who drove me home pretty much demanded sex from me, I started accepting rides from David most of the time.
He was not the least bit interested in me sexually and I wasn't in him either. Most of the boys I knew back then who weren't gay either wanted to control me or fuck me and David wanted neither one of these things. I was never sure if we were friends because he kept me at arms length, but as I look back on it now, he was very careful who he became close to. And he was fully capable of not keeping your secrets and stabbing you in the back at will. I didn't trust him. I watched him take information given to him in confidence and spread it around in the most unkind way.
So- what was it about him? I wish I knew. Somewhere along the way with all those rides home, often I was the last person dropped off and I did talk to him about my life. Granted, I told him those confidences that I did not care if they made the rounds of our tight knit little crowd of misfits. Sometimes, he would just ask me a lot of questions and I would candidly answer. I did not think he cared very much about me, it never seemed like it.
But he was always keeping me safe, even when I didn't know it.
As friendships do, ours grew. It was an odd, misfit sort of relationship but we were from an odd, misfit sort of community. I remember putting together odd clues that he did, in fact, like me as a person. I remember thinking it odd that he would give us kids a ride home when he practiced such disdain for humanity in general. David just seemed to hate everyone. I watched him closely because he was not an easy person to figure out and I loved a challenge. It's the writer in me, I guess, I know too well that what we are putting out there is not necessarily who we are. And duality was not some thing we made up.
I could feel myself as a different person when I was around my friends at Rocky-- different than who I was when I was at school and different than I was when I was at home with my family. In a way, I felt my most authentic self at Rocky but this was not true of everyone there.
It had not escaped my notice that lots of people were putting on a show while crying for acceptance.
David was definitely putting on a show and I am quite sure now, from this distance, that he was trying to figure out who he was but back then, he had me convinced he knew who he was and that he could see everyone else and you know, for the most part, I believe that was genuine. I know this guy, he was an old soul in many ways and he was carrying a wisdom lots of people his age had no idea about.
But back then, I remember getting a phone call from him one day.
"Did anyone invite you to see the Exorcist with us?" he said
"They must have forgot. I guess you'll need a ride, though."
"I'll pick you up at 7, be ready."
And that was how it went. He picked up four of us.
It has not escaped my attention that he was the unofficial leader of our little group, and you were in or out sometimes on his whim. Though no one was ever asked to leave Rocky, David could make your life miserable. David did not ask to lead us, but he commanded so much anyway.
I think he tried to discourage me from being there many times, but I was persistent enough to stick it out and I feel like it was this day when he made me part of things. It was after this day when I was invited to everything where before I was not always part of it. I think he admired that I didn't wait for permission. In a way, we appreciated each other's rebellions. He recognized a stubbornness in me and my ability to both avoid him and look him in the eye. In some way, the whole group was vying for his acceptance and I have no idea when he figured out I didn't care if I was accepted or not. I was asserting my right to be there and acceptance was merely secondary.
But it was this time that I began to notice David watching out for me. Quietly, behind the scenes, he was revealing he gave a damn. And when he realized I was about to start actually dating, it became the topic of our rides home. He wanted to know who I was interested in and why.
He would poke at me with intrusive questions making me look deeper into everyone I might like.
"Yeah, but do you really think that guy deserves your time? Isn't he just treating you like shit?"
And I would protest quietly about what I could put up with and he would say "That guy is a piece of shit."
And I would say "Isn't he your friend?"
And he would respond "Yeah, but he's a piece of shit, I hope you seriously don't date him."
David was not ever in love with me and had no attraction for me. He neither wanted to fuck me or control me. He wasn't gay. He was one of those rare males who was interested in who I was. For reasons that confused me. He didn't want to be some authoritarian person in my life. He didn't want to date me. I wondered what box to put him in. I couldn't wholly figure him out because he was determined I not know him, but what he didn't realize is his effort to know me was revealing it itself to me.
I'm finding it impossible to give a complete sense of him here, but I want to write down my best memories of him.
David was the worst person at crossing the street. In front of the Varsity, he would walk out in front of an oncoming car and hold up his hand for the car to stop. Inevitably, it would stop, but I used to caution him that he was going to get hit by a car someday and he laughed at me. "They'll stop." he said. "They always stop." He said this with a casual authority and an arrogance that always worried me. He was unconcerned with his mortality and that bothered me. Though as a side note, he was not a reckless or careless driver himself, I always felt safe with him. And I never felt he put anyone at risk but himself.
When I was sixteen, I ran away from home several times. My father was quite abusive and I wanted out. I didn't tell David about this but he found out one night when my mother came looking for me at the Varsity. My friends rallied and managed to sneak me out the back door and escape once again. This whole evening was regarded as a major crisis and a bunch of us ended up at David's house in Clayton, I don't even remember how. We had never been there before and this was not something we had done on any regular basis. His parents were not reported to be that supportive of what he was doing. There were rumors around him constantly. That he was some rich kid, that he was unhappy. I wish I had known more of him but he kept his life cloaked in secrecy and you were as likely to get the truth as you were to get a complete fabrication from him. It amused him to lie about stuff and see how far he could take it. It also amused him to toy with people like me.
I remember him recording private phone conversations and then playing them for the whole group as part of some elaborate joke. I hated that part. He could be such an asshole.
This particular night, he called me into a side room by myself and started lecturing me about how I was screwing up my future. He pressed me to open up to him and I wouldn't. I was scared and I didn't trust him. The whole time he kept telling me how much promise I had and how smart I was and how I could bear it for a couple more years. That I would be able to get out after that but if I screwed this up, it was going to mess up the rest of my life. I broke down a little and talked to him a little. He was so intense that night. I had never seen him like that. I had never seen him take care of anyone like that. Yet of course he did, I just didn't know about it. Underneath that sarcastic asshole was a real person who showed he cared. But in the back of my head, I was wondering if I was being tape recorded for my humiliation later. I wasn't, though.
Probably the most real he ever was with me was on that night. What was going on was genuine.
Sadly, I did not listen to him. His effort to save me from myself and my own worst impulses did not work. I wish I had listened to him, he was more right than I let him believe. It was the last time he intervened.
David hated my boyfriend at the time. For every good reason there was. Shortly after this, David had a private New Years eve party at the bar of the Quality Inn. Everyone was invited and everyone went, this was the night I discovered amaretto sours. I wasn't really drunk but I was kissing everyone at midnight and having a great time until suddenly and epically, everything went wrong. The owner of the venue noticed underage drinking, the cops were called, a girl bit another girl's hand in a ridiculous fight and every punk rock boy that had been slam dancing moments before put their fold up hunting knives in the ceiling and fled.
I stood in the lobby after my boyfriend had abandoned me and watched David having a stand off with the male manager and the female owner of the club he rented for his party. He stood there stubbornly listening to these two yell at him about the giant clusterfuck the party had become and then the yelling became personally abusive. He squared off and very calmly looked at the guy and said "I only have one thing to say to you..." I held my breath, I knew what was coming. David was famous for this phrase, his timing was always impeccable, he played the pause for maximum effect as he went for the kill.
The man was infuriated beyond reason and he balled up his fist and laid David out on the floor in one punch.
David was knocked unconscious and his girlfriend immediately rushed to his side along with the rest of us. There was so much yelling and confusion, it was hard to tell what was going on but we knew the cops were arriving in just a minute.
David came to pretty quickly, looked around him from the floor and locked eyes with me. Quickly, he looked from me to his girlfriend and says to her words I will never forget. "The cops are coming- we have to get Vanessa out of here, she'll get arrested for curfew. Hurry, get her to the hotel room and keep her there till all this is over."
Suddenly and quickly I was whisked away to their hotel room (in the same building) and kept there until things died down.
I cannot imagine what was through his mind to have focused on my safety after he had just been assaulted but there it was. A kind of measurable proof that he cared about other people.
It was that night my then boyfriend had purchased a beer from David with a silver dollar that he stole from my house. A week later, David returned that silver dollar to me when I presented the case that had been pried open with a hunting knife now residing in the ceiling at the Quality Inn. It was one of the many things that had been stolen from my house over Christmas. David looked at me with pity and asked me one more time if I was sure that I wanted to date someone who stole from me. I remember shrugging helplessly and blaming love and loyalty for my foolishness.
"Your life." he said. That was all. He seemed done trying to fix me. That was all he had to say. It's clear that what he said stuck with me.
A few months later, David was struck by a car crossing the street next to Dennys. I cannot describe what it is to lose a friend in this way when you are sixteen years old. Someone that you had just begun to figure out. Someone who could be such a sarcastic asshole and the most loyal friend at the same time. Someone who inexplicably gave a damn about me but didn't really want to advertise it. Lots of people said they were glad he was dead. I wasn't. He was twenty one years old, though he felt so much older to me.
He was so much more than anyone realized. He was so much more than he realized. I often wonder who he would be now, so many years later. Would he have fulfilled his own potential? What would he think of me? Would I finally have lived up to his ideal of me? He saw something in me at a time when I was throwing away whatever there was of me. It's what you do when you're sixteen.
I still think of you, David. I still think of the impact you had on my life. I still think of what happened after you left us, how we had to confess to one another that we were indeed just mortal after all. But most of all, I wish I could talk to you now to figure out what you meant or what was in your head. You have remained one of the most fascinating figures in my life and I think you always will be.