David’s family had moved to town a couple of years before. I remember that they lived a number of places before they had found their large old house just off of Route 96. David had started school a year before I did, but one of his previous schools had held him back a year. By the third grade, David and I were both enrolled at Saint Patrick’s School in Seneca Falls.
We were best friends from the start. He was Huck Finn to my Tom Sawyer, or at least I thought so. Even then, I was dreaming of a world in, or near the spotlight. I wanted to be a filmmaker, a baseball player, broadcaster, musician. Anything and everything that interested me, I dreamed of it. My house was a mile or two away from David’s, looking directly out over Cayuga Lake. My backyard had been the scene of a massive battle between Indians and the colonial army in 1780. Only two other families around us lived there the entire year, with others coming in for the summer. It was rural, to say the least, but it gave me a lot of time and space to dream. And David and I dreamed big, like children do.
David’s experiences seemed more worldly than mine, even at that young age. He knew dirty jokes (at least to an eight-year-old) that I had never heard before. To this day, I can still recite most of them. David’s house, which he shared with his parents and his older brother Chip, also shared in that alternate view of the world. It was a rustic place, with lots of acreage. There had originally been a wood stove in the kitchen with a pipe that had gone straight through the roof. By the time I started visiting the place, the stove was gone, but the large hole in the room above the kitchen, where David and Chip slept, was still there. To my young mind, that was wild! Between visits to each other’s houses, we shared our feelings about school, our families, and what we someday hoped to do.
For all my dreams of traveling the world, when my dad got a job in North Carolina in the fall of 1983, I really didn’t want to go. I’d had a really good life to that point, and I didn’t want it to change. And I didn’t want to leave friends like David. We promised to stay in touch, and see each other whenever I came back. Truth be told, the first couple of years in Charlotte, NC were pretty hard on me, and I spent a lot of time wishing that I was back by Cayuga Lake. With David, all of my friends, and the life I used to know. Slowly, life carried on.
David and I wrote each other often for a few years. My family and I made a couple of trips back to New York. We swung by my old school, only to discover that school had been closed for that day. That summer, we stopped by David’s house, but the family wasn’t there. Within a year or two, David’s family had moved to North Chili, NY, and we kept writing each other. In 1988, David wrote to say that his family was moving again to another town, yet he wasn’t sure where. I wrote to David, hoping to catch him and get his new address. My letter came back, stamped “moved to unknown place”. I still have that letter, still sealed by the 14-year-old version of myself.
In the following years, I slowly began to realize some version of my youthful dreams. Be on TV? My high school friends did our own shows for local TV. Movies? I worked on a few film sets, before I realized that the individual moments in the camera, such as a still photo, held more emotion than the moving image. The Beatles? Seen two of them, and met and photographed their collaborators, children, and fellow musicians. I even went to Abbey Road, that place featured on an album I first fell in love with when I was four years old. I’ve had my ups and downs, but all in all, I’ve been very lucky, and still yearn to seek out the experiences that David and I first imagined having.
For years, I tried searching for David. Once, I thought I’d found him in a phone directory, but it turned out to be someone else. I kept searching for him, wondering where he was, who he’d become. I named one of my cameras David. Sure, I usually only named my cameras for loved ones that I’d lost, but David just seemed right. And someday, I’d tell him all about it. All of the things that I’d gotten to do, and wishing that he’d been there with me.
In January of 2014, I was doing research for a book, and had gotten pretty good at locating long-lost bandmates for North Carolina groups during the 1960s. I had realized that if I typed in the person’s name and birth year, I had a much better chance to finding that person. One night, I decided to look up David. I immediately found some information. Along with his death certificate.
Soon after, I located his brother Chip, who told me what had happened. In January of 1993, David had just joined the Marines. He had just gotten a motorbike, something that he’d wanted for a long time. He and some fellow cadets went out with their bikes. When another person on a bike in front of David suddenly stopped, David could not stop in time. He crashed into a pole and died on the scene. One of the things that Chip wrote me was, “One of the reasons that I liked about you and David was that you both liked to have fun.” We did have a lot of fun. David loved to have fun. One never knows where the things you love to do can lead you.
Gone. In 1993. Over twenty years ago. The news is very hard to comprehend, even all these years later. Had I known all those years ago, even on some unconscious level? I don’t know. As a kid, you want and hope for the best in yourself, and all your friends. Yes, it might seem naive to think that those dreams were possible, but they were very real to me, and I have carried them with me my entire life. And, now I realize, I also have carried David with me. The hopes, the dreams, the fears, the possibilities. These were things that David and I both created, wishing for our lives to come. And in that respect, David never left me. In some ways, David has been with me all along.
Later this year, I hope to return to New York. I hope to visit David’s grave, and finally say hello, one more time. Chip Pasquale recently sent me his parents’ phone number. The adult in me says, “What do I say after all these years?” The hopeful, excitable child in me says, “Just say hello! Go ahead!” Soon, I will listen to that younger version of me, and do so. Where does this circle lead? I wish I knew. All I can do is continue to hope for the best, and press on. Just like David and I always wanted to do.
Hi David. You have been gone from this place longer than you were here. Yet your memory is still very real to me. Recently, I photographed an event with a number of TV stars from the shows we used to watch. I found myself thinking, “The nine-year-old version of me wouldn’t have believed this.” Yeah, David, we would not have believed it. You’re still the best friend I ever had. I originally thought about writing this in January, on the anniversary of your passing, but I realized that I knew you as you lived. That is what I choose to celebrate today, on what would have been your birthday, July 8th. I still see you in my mind, just as the dreams of children will continue to live on, be they in upstate New York, or anywhere. As long as there still are kids to dream big, and there are adults that still believe in their own childlike dreams.
Happy birthday, David. See you around, again, someday.
July 8, 2015