I remember him in the prime of middle age. A tall, thin man who I saw nearly every weekend when I went over to play with William at their farm. He seemed almost from another era, stern and proper but never unkind. He wasn't one to show emotions, at least when I was around, but his love came through in his actions and the calm, open patience he always showed. He knew his role as a stepfather was not to be the primary parent but rather an open loving male presence to be called upon when needed and sometimes distanced from when that was needed too. The other thing about him was that for as long as I could remember he couldn't eat salt. High blood pressure and bad cholesterol. At every meal our families shared the fact that David couldn't have salt was brought up and dealt with, as inherent to the fabric of the thing as asking people what they wanted to drink or washing the dishes afterward.
It wasn't the salt that got him though. It was the cancer. In the end he couldn't eat fat because of the damage done to his digestive system and his oral food intake was basically restricted to sorbet and other easily digested innocuous substances.
It's a matter of days now, and I just keep remembering the man he was and thinking about William who has now lost two fathers in less than a quarter of a century. I remember when I was 8 and got excited because David wrote about Will and I playing in the snow together in one of those country life things in the New York Times*, for which he was an editor. I remember making apple cider from their orchards and watching David putter around in the workshop. He always took good care of himself and seemed like the kind of man who'd last into his 80's, still puttering in the workshop and worrying about how much salt was in a cup of blueberry yogurt.
That's not the way life works, though. Death can strike at any moment, a fate so horrible that mankind has spent its entire sentient existence fantasizing postscripts to the end just so we don't have to deal with the finality of it. Each person is a world unto himself, and knowing that our own little worlds are going to end some day...well...we're always living in the end times.
And I think about the thousands who lost their lives in New Orleans. The hundreds who stayed out of choice because they could not imagine dying, they could not imagine the world going dark forever, and of course my own imminent demise. I think about how I've abused and misused my body, though my doctor says it's not too late, and the fact that I could have cancer, or an aneurysm right now and I would not even know it.
I think about those things and I am scared, and guilty for being scared when others have more reason to and while my friend's father is dying. I think about the grim irony of life being a terminal disease and about wasted hours and letters never sent.
Death is coming for all of us, riding a pale horse and without any concept of mercy. Without any concept of concept. As implacable and unstoppable as a freight train. Or a hurricane.
Maybe tomorrow I will have something to say about how death makes the little moments of life worth living and is part of the achingly beautiful tragedy of human existence but for now I think about my friend's father on his bed, his mind already gone, and the people left in their attics in New Orleans out of food, water, and hope, and just for a second I despair. Ain't nobody gets out of life alive. Nobody.
*Let nobody question my bourgeois credentials again.