“You’re one of my top three favorite people.” He said this to me almost every time I saw him. He had a way of making everyone he liked feel special in his presence. Something tells me that there were hundreds of other people who fell into his Top-3-List. I can see his wide eyes, and perfect, white smile when I think of the greeting I received at every face-to-face encounter. Except for the one time he sent me a nasty text message, likely after too much vodka or Veuve. It wasn’t well received. I blocked his number. Eventually he apologized, and won me over with his “top three favorite” proclamation. And just like that, we were friends again.
I should let you know early in this story, it does not have a happy ending. It’s quite sad and devastating actually. I haven’t written in many months. Call it writer’s block. Call it a busy schedule. Call it a million excuses. But I never thought that after my seven-month sabbatical from writing, THIS would be the story I would tell. These were not the words I was supposed to write. I wanted my litterateur awakening to inspire, not to teach a lesson through someone else’s pain. But here I am, sitting at my kitchen island, with my mind caught between the truth and what I wish was a cruel hoax.
How do I write the truth when I only have a glimpse into someone else’s story? And who I am I to write that story when I’m only one of hundreds in the “top three list?” He always told me that I was a great writer, insightful, and smart. He supported the release of my book, and bought copies for all of his friends. So for this story, I will let my writing and insight carry me to the final word.
We met almost two decades ago. I was dining at some hipster establishment in the Ohio City section of Cleveland with a friend. Somewhere between a bite of Capicola pizza, and reaching for a sip of Chianti, an impeccably dressed man and his beautiful girlfriend joined our table. Like a man who knew no strangers (I should add that he was a friend of my dinner companion), he sat beside me, asked what I was drinking, and ordered two more bottles of red for the table. He introduced himself with a firm, friendly handshake, and within minutes, I felt like I made a lifelong friend. Some people just have that way about them. He had that way about him. When dinner was finished, he paid the bill (our bill), even though he never ate a bite of the food, and only sipped on a vodka soda. He was generous that way. And it was always unnecessary in my eyes. But I came to learn that he wouldn’t have it any other way. Some called it showy. Others called it generous. I would simple say, that was his way. That meeting was our first introduction. From there, we became friends. Not friends who would talk every day, or go out for drinks regularly. But friends who would catch up from time to time. It was a platonic friendship. And it was filled with quality time spent talking about life, hopes, dreams, and goals; all the while, I would psycho-analyze him with my not-PhD. My curiosity didn’t go unnoticed, as he would often say that I was the “best interviewer” he’d known after opening up about topics he never planned to discuss.
Years passed. We both fell in and out of personal relationships, and stumbled through life’s challenges. But it became clear that the vibrant, happy man I met years before, was carrying torment somewhere inside. Yes, he would still smile, laugh, and sing a tune at Johnny’s downtown. Yes, he would still act, to be the life of the party. Yes, he would seemingly live a life that many would covet; from first class world travel, to custom-made suits, to occupying trendy living spaces, to VIP treatment. But there were undertones of sadness. Over time, those undertones became rippling currents, giving way to strong undercurrents. Currents that became too difficult to swim against. To some, the pain was obvious as they observed him up close, or from afar through the social channels. While others may have missed the signals that were a cry for help. In the end, the signals crossed, and the currents pulled him under.
Many people make the mistake of believing that achievement is greater than fulfillment. As human beings we need to feel fulfillment to feed our souls. Accolades, money, and praise are nice, but fleeting. Robin Williams made the world laugh. He achieved the highest level of success in his profession. But he was in pain. A pain that for him, was too great to bear. Ernest Hemingway is considered one of the greatest literary writers of all time. He won both the Pulitzer Prize and Nobel Prize. But a mind that created brilliance, ultimately turned against him. Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain created a movement through his music. But his lyrics also told the stories of his inner demons. While living, each man was considered successful to the outside world. Achievement, in and of itself, does not equal pain. But there’s so much more below the surface of a person. Sometimes we miss the painful cues that are masked by exciting appearances.
I saw the cues 100 times. I became accustomed to the cues. I wish for my friend’s sake that life gave us a do-over for the 101st cue.
His name was David.
He was larger than life. He did everything big, from the good to the not-always-good. And I think he’d sign off on all that I’m writing. His storyline was filled with grandeur, excitement, explosiveness, heartbreak, love, and a desire to please others. He was a showman. He knew how to entertain. If there was a Real House-Life of Cleveland, he was it. He was the star. His story was in constant motion, and so alive. For those who knew him, and many did, it’s hard to believe that his story has ended. Rest well, friend to many, rest well.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255.