It started with a text message from Emily Neal: “Please call me. I need to talk to you.” I was in lower Manhattan, a few blocks from Ground Zero. I found a quiet spot in a park to call her back. Then I heard the words, “David is dead.”
They’re still just words to me. They sit like a block of concrete poised above my head, suspended by apparently very strong dental floss that will, I’m sure, snap at any moment. Fortunately not before I endured the longest, most cramped ride on the F train I’ve yet experienced in my 9 months as a New Yorker. So I’ll continue to write in the strange clarity that imminent grief provides.
David was a magnificent jackass. He had a charm that I always appreciated, even if few others seemed to. There was a certain Corey Feldman-esque flavor to him. My fondest recollections of him usually involve us getting into trouble in some form or fashion, like the time Mrs. Smith held us in from recess after we made too much noise playing a game in class. We kind of lost touch during junior high and high school, but we maintained that special bond that two people have when they’ve broken rules together. As Stephen King says in Stand By Me: “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve.”
We were reunited just a few years ago at our high school reunion when we discovered we’d both been living in Little Rock for some time. So I’d go out to his place in Maumelle to hang out every few months. He or Emily would cook dinner and we’d play dominoes (the man was a kung-fu domino player) or just visit. After their son Cooper was born, I looked forward to being another adopted uncle, and in the back of my mind pictured my future children hanging out with wacky uncle David.
But that’s not the way it’s going to go down. I think this will clinch my decision, though, to return to Arkansas. I was thinking I’d be back in November anyway, but now I definitely want to be available to Emily and Cooper for whatever they might need. This little New York adventure will have been bookended by death. It began with my grandfather and ended with my best friend from 3rd grade. At least I filled up the space.
1.) Which then made me Corey Haim. Or more accurately, Sean Astin. We were the Goonies of Boone County.