Dave was probably the funniest person I’ve ever known. Sharing a dark, absurdist sense of humor, we immediately committed to the challenge of making each other laugh. Everything was fair game, and Dave had an uncanny knack for delivering inappropriate jokes with a deadpan face. Whether he was telling me how sexy my eighty-year-old nana looked in her hairnet, or facetiously whispering sweet nothings to his cat (“Don’t worry, Martha, when they leave we’ll have our special time..”), Dave made a point of stepping over the line. One of his most memorable jokes annoyed me at the time, which of course made it funnier. My piece-of-shit Ford Escort had broken down near his house on the coldest night of the year, and I asked Dave if he could steer while I rolled it off the main road. Straining to push the car through a bone-chilling wind, I heard Dave’s muffled voice coming from the driver’s seat. “Vik, do you mind if we swing by 7-11? I’m a little parched.”
As funny as he was, Dave’s humor often hinted at a cynicism borne of the contrast between idealism and reality. His Kung Fu spoof, for example, in which he envisioned a blunter, less inspirational Master Po: “Run like the wind, Grasshopper. Your opponent will surely crush you to a pulp.” Or his pessimistic reimagining of the Bob Marley’s song, Get Up, Stand Up: “Get up, stand up. Sit back down again.”
Beneath the wisecracks, Dave was troubled. Cursed with poor self-esteem, he was characteristically anxious, and suffered through stretches of crippling depression. He always felt as though he should be doing more (code for living a more conventional life: pursuing an education, relationship, better job…), but the life he thought he should be aspiring to never seemed to fit. Whether he was in school or working in a cubicle, Dave invariably felt lonely and unsatisfied.
In his 20s, he undertook what would become a lifelong quest for higher meaning. Philosophy, politics, Morrissey, drugs, Dylan, vegetarianism, Wicca, crystals, therapy, Prozac, and ultimately Zen Buddhism, Dave tried them all. Like a safecracker searching for the right combination. While I admired his quest, it was heartbreaking to watch. No matter how hard he looked for his missing piece, he seemed fated not to find it; each door leading to another.
Dave wasn’t perfect. In fact, he could be a pain in the ass. He called me at all hours, dropped by unannounced, and became annoyed if I wasn’t able to spend time with him. He could be petty, argumentative, selfish. When we went out as a group he liked to pretend that he forgot his wallet (a running joke that stopped being funny). Least charming of all, was his resentment of those who were happy; as if they were somehow stealing his piece of the pie. But not only was Dave aware of his flaws, he struggled vigilantly to become a better person. And he did.
The last time I saw Dave he seemed adrift and dispirited. He was considering going back on antidepressants, but skeptical about their effectiveness. He was studying to be a pharmaceutical tech, but laughingly confessed that he had no interest in it. “I don’t know, I might come home,” he said, “but I dread the thought of returning to the real world.” (He was living at the San Francisco Zen Center) The next day, when I dropped him off at the airport, I told him to call me if he ever needed to talk. I don’t know if it would’ve made any difference, but I wish he had called.
Life is more difficult for some of us than others. The difference between Dave’s suffering and circumstantial depression is that his suffering couldn’t be separated from who he was. It wasn’t something that periodically affected him; it poured from him like blood from a wound. After fighting it for most of his adult life, Dave’s pain became unendurable. Yes, his decision to end his life was a “choice.” But the kind of choice a parachuteless man makes when he jumps from a burning plane.
Years after John Lennon was murdered, George Harrison said he didn’t think of him as dead. They had been living separate lives for so long, he explained, they no longer had a day-to-day relationship. Lennon existed for him, and would continue to exist, in memories. At the time I found Harrison’s sentiments a bit detached, but now I understand what he meant. I loved Dave, and it saddens me to think that we’ll never share another spontaneous moment. But my memories of him live on, and I’m grateful for that.