I started gatorsonlylater.com with the idea that I would initiate it and build momentum, but that ultimately other contributors would step forward to tell their stories in their own fresh voices. Perhaps someone would do as I have done by reporting other people’s stories interlaced with my own. Life is a shared journey. Those with whom we walked in our youth are still with us. Not all of us are in regular contact with even our closest friends from high school. I’ve found we still carry each other in our minds as memories. Or, in some cases, on our backs as wounds that just won’t heal.
I’m proud to say that the first step forward towards that larger vision of a community of contributors will occur in my next two blog posts. The first is a piece by the inimitable Jeremy Parks. Somehow, Jeremy lives on the opposite side of the world and we are closer now than we were when we sat next to each other in class every day. It’s a miracle of technology, for sure. I am grateful for that bond.
In the haunting piece below, Jeremy reflects on his time and friendship with the now deceased David Gregory. It’s haunting, whether you knew David or not.
“Everything ends eventually, Dave.”
David Dwight Gregory, class of ’89, was my best friend. He appeared out of the blue in 5th grade; I didn’t even know there was a school in Bacliff, much less that they’d force kids to trek to Dunbar Elementary.
And now, nearly eight years after we met, Dave and I were arguing in the parking lot at Pine Drive Baptist Church. Heatedly.
Like most friends, Dave and I found ourselves as buddies for no discernable reasons. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.’” In our case, “you-too” centered on trust. We simply recognized the other as one who would not take advantage of momentary vulnerabilities.
For being great friends, we surprisingly pursued none of the same activities. I dabbled in band, speech, and drama before settling on cross country and track. Dave chased baseball, football, and karate. Our senior year he decided to go for track, tossing the discus. More on that later.
I tried, as any good Baptist boy would, to get Dave to come to church with me, though my reasons were more fraternal than spiritual. He instead attended a Church of Christ with his maternal grandparents. They lived just off Baker Drive by the high school, right next to Baker Drive Baptist Church. You remember – as you were driving down Baker from the school parking lot towards 517, it was the last street on the right. Turn there and his grandparents lived in the first house on the left. Had a carport and, as I recall, a red pickup.
Memory says we were thick as thieves at McAdams; reality likely disagrees. We represented best, or only, friends for so many years my mind incorrectly extends that same degree of closeness back through all of junior high. Our extra-curricular activities, as already noted, took us in differing directions. The pressures of our respective home lives, especially as they bled into our school existence, turned us inwards and away from deeper friendship. The distance between our working class homes meant we said a final good-bye each Friday, and spent entire summers without contact.
In high school, though, we hit our stride. Inside jokes. Matching class schedules. Ski trips. Pranks involving Mr. Fore and a toilet lifted from a construction site. Attempts to see how many free glasses of water we could get from fast food establishments between the end of a movie and the start of curfew.
Eventually, he joined the track team. Despite his choice of discus, he ran in the mornings with the distance runners before school, down Owens Drive towards what is now the Green Caye golf neighborhood. I think he just wanted to belong.
We spent much of our senior year planning to attend Texas A&M. I have no idea what we were thinking. Our parents could not afford to send us. We had no money. Even so, we made our plans….until spring. Thus, the argument.
Long story made short, I shifted my allegiance to Texas Tech. Dave was furious; more to the point, he was hurt and confused. I was abandoning our dream of heading off to the same school, sharing classes and dorms and who knows what else. Perhaps on a certain level I betrayed the trust that characterized our original connection. At any rate, David foresaw our disparate college choices as signaling the end of our relationship. Hence, my response.
“Everything ends eventually, Dave.”
Dave represented a sort of yin to my yang. In the manner of first-borns everywhere, David castigated himself for every mistake. Once, while playing kickball, he flubbed an easy fly ball at third base. Instead of scooping up the ball and tagging a passing runner, Dave clapped his hands to his head and yelled in frustration. The runner scored. Easily.
I, on the other hand, gave my mistakes a free pass.
I had my own intensity, though. Tackett describes my anger in junior high as “volcanic” and I’m not inclined to disagree. I went toe-to-toe with whomever – teachers, friends, strangers – over anything. Dave was far more relaxed. Anger, as a general concept, did not form an essential part of his personality.
He did sometimes hate, of course, aiming at a poorly populated group of targets. Jo Saitta, the geometry teacher, topped the short list of despised teachers. No one, though, came close to Michael “Psycho” Hoffman.
Dave took Honors Geometry just after lunch with Mrs. Saitta. She permitted students to enter during lunch and hang out. Hoffman, amongst others, routinely arrived early. Dave often arrived well before the bell and would submit his homework in the basket before leaving to visit the toilet. Hoffman, whose studied and deliberate displays of apathy served largely to call attention, would remove the homework and bury it in the back of David’s overstuff clipboard. Those gathered would laugh.
Dave flunked that last quarter of Geometry, forcing him to re-take an entire semester. Those present only admitted Hoffman’s acts once the ink had dried on report cards and Psycho had quit the state.
Hell hath no fury, as the saying goes.
You know, for all the years we were friends I could never remember his exact birthdate. I’ve never been good at birthdays, and I’ve matured into an adult who barely remembers my own. Even so, birthdays matter to kids, yet I could not recall his.
For the record, it’s either the 13th or 15th of February. I always aimed to give him a card or something on the 13th. At worst, I would have been guilty of celebrating early; better that than late.
David had a little sister – Candace – who followed in the footsteps of siblings immemorial by irritating him with her mere presence in this earthly plane. Years later, he admitted a deep respect and admiration for her. David’s mom, Marilyn, worked at Boeing, or Lockheed Martin; something with airplanes. I never knew what his father did, but Dave expressed immense pride for his dad’s work in keeping their extended family safe and secure.
Dave and I survived the argument over colleges. He applied to Tech. We weren’t able to share dorms, but we shared friends and meals and general collegiate silliness. He approved of my very last girlfriend, and worked on learning sign language to join our chats. We played tennis together, a new sport for him, over the summer; at least, when we weren’t working together at the DISD maintenance department.
By Christmas of 1992, I was married and attending Lamar University. Dave came to the house on his way from Lubbock to Bacliff for the last untroubled visit we would ever have.
He’d grown a beard. A thick, wooly, barely-trimmed beard. Dave, who once likened kissing a smoker to licking the bottom of an ashtray, smoked. Dave, who swore on the ruined lives of alcoholic relatives he would never drink, had become an alcoholic. He’d been fired from on campus jobs and faced academic expulsion.
He returned to Bacliff and faced the music his situation had composed. He left Tech, joined AA, and began putting things back together academically by attending College of the Mainland. It was not to last.
Sometime around that elusive birthday, Dave had a stroke in his sleep. His diminutive mother wrestled him down the stairs and to the first of many doctors who helped the family address the cancerous brain tumors; slowly growing tumors that explained the slow pace of Dave’s reading; the hand tremors he had in high school; the changes in his behavior as a young adult.
He died in September 2001.
“Everything ends eventually, Dave.”
Our argument displayed something fundamental about our personalities.
That sentence I tossed at him aptly summarized the fatalistic pessimism that permeated my thoughts back then. Everything gets lost, and there’s nothing we can do about it. Doesn’t matter what we do because we lack the power to affect our own fates. Move along, nothing to see here.
Dave did not see life that way, and as a result he was a far better friend to me than I was to him. I think he knew he needed our relationship more than I. That didn’t sound right – I desperately needed Diamond Dave’s presence. I meant David acknowledged the need that I refused to admit. He pursued our friendship deliberately while I slouched along because he believed it was possible to control the fate of our relationship.
He took the classes I took. He chased the sports I played. He applied for the same jobs I did. He shifted his scholastic loyalties to the same university as I, even during the summers. He learned sign language when I did, and briefly majored in the same subject.
But the tumors changed everything.
My life went forward along traditional lines. Marriage, college, graduation, graduate school, job, kid, mortgage. Dave stayed home.
When he wasn’t being treated for cancer, he volunteered at K.E. Little Elementary. His sweet nature made him a natural for hanging out with kids. We saw one another when I was in town visiting the parents. His parents eventually built a house over next to the high school on the same street as his grandparents.
And for him, that’s where everything ended eventually.