David.

I wrote this when I was about 15 years old and I truly hate it but its the first short story I ever finished. I finished it in one sitting and I honestly cannot read it without cringing. But in the interest of honesty and transparency, I'm posting it here.


I never thought a single person could undermine the pretense of my existence, and destroy the independent façade, which I always displayed. But apparently a single person could. And one did, when, last October, I met David Blake.

We met by chance, during a musical theater class. It was my first day, but I knew who David was, through seeing various plays of his. The only thing I really knew about him was that people tended to gravitate towards him. I didn’t know why until that class, which is when I realized that David Blake was “that guy” The one everyone loves to be around, and you end up thrilled if he accepts you as a friend. And you just can’t explain why it’s him that makes you feel that way. And you think, ‘Why isn’t it me that’s like that? Why not Parker, or Lana?’ But it was David, and it didn’t take me long to figure this out.

            Sometimes I think it was fate that David and I ever got to be friends. I mean, if we hadn’t been paired together to sing a few duets for our musical theater class, I doubt we would have gotten to know each other. And I very much doubt he would have made a difference in my life if that hadn’t happened. But I was partners with David, and so began a new chapter in my life, when I realized who I really was, and then what I could be.

            At the end of January, when we finished our duets, David went on to perform as Marius in the complete Broadway version of Les Miserables. I couldn’t do it, because AP classes tend to keep you on a tight schedule. So while I studied 700 years of European history, and life cycles of various organisms, David rehearsed. We kept in contact, but I was excited to see him in person. He emanated a certain energy which telephone lines or email could not convey.

            That day David was in the newspaper. Well, not exclusively David, but the entire theater group. Nevertheless it was David’s picture on the front page. That was the first time I felt jealous of David, because he was so perfect and so photogenic and he had his whole future already planned out, and everyone was so intent on making that future a reality for him. And I was just me, just mediocre Casey Belle Wyzeman, with a movie star name that didn’t fit.

            When I went to go see his play, he was extraordinary, as he always was. Out in the lobby of the theater, after the play, some children, they couldn’t have been older than seven, came up to him and asked for an autograph. And David gave them as many as they wanted. And when my friend Anna asked to take a picture with him, since her theory was that he was going to become the next American Idol, he took several with her, smiling all the way.

            And that’s when I realized why David was “that guy”. It was because he was one of those people who thrive off making others happy. The type of person whose existence isn’t about being their best self to make themselves feel better, like mine was. David’s existence was about being his best self for other people. In a way, he gave people what they wanted. But in no way was David weak minded or easily manipulated. He was almost the exact opposite. He gave people what he knew they wanted, even if they didn’t know it themselves. And he gave me a perfect friend, and it wasn’t until it was too late that I realized that that was the best gift he could have ever given me.      

            After that, I didn’t see David for about half a year, which inexplicably destroyed my inner artist. I mainly kept to myself. I became a dedicated writer and painter, which I realized was art I could do all by myself. I didn’t have to always associate what I did with David. He wasn’t the main component to my life. And just when I managed to convince myself that I could live without him, he walked into my art studio, and signed up for classes.

            It took him about 15 minutes to notice I was in the class too. But the exact moment when our eyes connected for the first time in months, I instantly forgave him. I jerked my head at the empty easel next to mine, and David, taking a hint, army crawled along the floor, pushing his canvas and paints out in front of him, making me laugh so hard I accidentally splashed a jar of paint thinner all over my freshly painted-on canvas (and quite a bit of my neighbors).

            David and I spent a majority of that class in the hallway. Laughing, nonetheless, but still in trouble. At first my dad was upset that I was ‘wasting his money’, but when he realized how truly happy I was after five months, he said it was money well spent.

            It was during one of our ‘Hallway Excursions’ from art class that The Birthday was born. The Birthday was actually both of our birthdays, because we were both born on December 8.  When we actually got around to celebrating it, we rented the party room at the bowling alley (you should have seen the poor girl who was our party host’s face. You could tell she didn’t expect the party to consist of two teenagers) and we hogged the Dance Dance Revolution for two hours. The only reason we were allowed to do this was because I wore an absurdly large plastic fedora the whole time, with grossly pink letters spelling out ‘BIRTHDAY GIRL’ attached to the top of the hat with springs. I think the employees got some strange thrill out of watching me embarrass myself in front of half the town.

            After being laughed at, David and I went back to the party room and ate about half the birthday cake each. We had told the party host that she really didn’t have to be there with us, so we gave her a slice of cake and sent her on her way. Then I gave David his presents: a collection of randomly patterned guitar picks and a random assortment of sheet music (did I mention David played? I wasn’t really surprised when I found out. It doesn’t seem like there’s a lot David can’t do. I don’t think I’d be stunned if he could fly, sling webs or had X-ray vision) and then he gave me his presents, two flat packages in purple wrapping.

            Opening the bigger of the two packages, I found two leather-bound books. The first one had gold stamped letters on the front, spelling out ‘JOURNAL’. I thanked him, pleasantly surprised that he had remembered writing to be my newfound passion. The other package was smaller, and it contained a scrapbook. I looked at him curiously. He simply gestured at the cover, which had the date we met, and our names in alphabet stickers. It read:

The Adventures of David and Casey

(December 8-               )

            He had left space for me to write the date when I finished the scrapbook. I opened the book, expecting the translucent slip-in pages you normally see. But instead I saw pages of color; at least a third of the book was pages David had made for me. The first had three pictures. One of me as Galinda from Wicked on Halloween (He had stolen it from my desk when he came over to work on the play) was in the lower right hand corner, and then there was one of him as Marius in the upper left hand corner. And the picture in the center was one was of the day we met. It was blurry; David had taken it on his cell phone, and done whatever it is technological people do to get it onto their computers.

            As I turned the pages, familiar scenes and places jumped out at me. The drama studio, the bowling alley, the theater where I had first seen him. I had actually got to a point in our friendship where I wasn’t scared to tell him I’d known him before he knew me. Of course, David, being David, had made fun of me for days afterwards. He was still making fun of me by the time The Birthday rolled around.

            Tears began welling up in my eyes. David noticed. He sat awkwardly for a moment, and then realizing I didn’t care what he did, he hugged me tightly. We stayed that way, me crying, and him hugging me and wondering why I was crying. I wasn’t going to tell him why though. It was because I had just realized I was never going to be a good enough friend for David. He gave me everything he possibly could. He gave that to everyone. I was selfish. I always thought of myself first. David…I wouldn’t be surprised if David barely spared himself a second’s thought.

            But that was the truth, plain and simple. No matter what David told me, no matter what I did, I’d never think it was fair for David to be my friend.  

            Three months later, David was rehearsing for ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’ He was going to play George Bailey. We barely talked during those days. The role was emotionally draining for him, and all he did was practice his lines and blocking, sleep, eat, and still he managed to drag himself to school every day and maintain his 4.0 GPA. By the time the final performance rolled around, David had dark half-circles under his eyes, and worryingly slow reflexes.

            I had to work the day of the show. I tried and tried to switch shifts. I couldn’t miss David’s play. He gave me so much, but it was so hard for me to give him anything back. But of course no one could work my shift, and I took my cell phone out to our front porch. Sitting on the swing, one leg folded comfortably under me, I dialed his cell phone number.

I’ll always remember that conversation with David. I’ll always remember it was six minutes and twenty-three seconds long. I’ll always remember the way the sun was beginning to set, to slip gently behind the mountain range, casting a beautiful array of fiery oranges and reds across the sky. That was because we talked about the sunset, because no matter where we were, or what we were doing, we could just look at the sky, and know the other was looking at it too.

“Hi, this is Casey, is David there?” I said, sounding rehearsed, because, well, I was.  I knew it was his cell phone, but he shared it with his sister, and she can be intimidating.

“Hold on, just a second,” his sister said. I heard her yelling at David, while she tried to muffle the noise by putting her hand over the lower end of the phone. But I could hear it anyway.

“Hello?” David asked, a minute later.

“David…it’s Casey.”

“Hey Casey, what’s up?”

“Not much,” I took a deep breath. “I’m so, so, so sorry, David, but I don’t think I can make it tonight. I really want to see you perform, because you’re going to be fabulous—“

David cut me off.

“Casey, I hate the word fabulous. Please don’t use it.”

David.

Casey.”

He mimicked me perfectly. I rolled my eyes.

“You’re rolling your eyes,” he said.

David. The play. I can’t come!”

“Oh, it’s all good.”

“I totally owe you now. Anywhere you want to go, call me up and I’ll be there.”

“I don’t doubt it,” David sounded amused. “And they’re going to record the performance, so you can come over and watch it.”

“Awesome,” I breathed, relieved.

“Oh, hey, listen. I got to go. We’re supposed to be on in 20 minutes. I’ll call you as soon as it’s over.”

“Yeah, yeah. Break a leg.”

“Oh, of course. And I will call you as soon as it’s over. I got to go!” There was a click as he hung up the phone.

He never called me back. I didn’t find out why until a day later, when I walked over to his house to ask him how the show went. Somehow his house looked still, frozen in time. I figured out why when David’ mom answered the door.

It’s always disconcerting when an adult cries. You sit frozen, wondering what to do. Do you comfort them? Or do you ignore their emotions? Because if an adult’s crying, you feel as if the people who are meant to have control have suddenly lost it. And you don’t know what to do, so you cry too.

That’s what I started doing. I started crying, great, heaving sobs, not even wondering why I was crying. Because a small part of me already knew that I would never see my beautiful friend, my guardian angel again.

His mother hugged me. I didn’t even have to ask what happened. But I let her lead me inside, and to his bedroom. She left me there, and I stayed standing, awkward.

I didn’t want to touch anything. I felt like this was all there was left of David, and by moving anything, I would start erasing his memory. I didn’t want that. I felt like I didn’t want anything.

I stared around the room, numb, until I noticed seven white envelopes on the polished wooden desk in the corner of his room. Slowly, I sat down in David’s chair. It still smelled like him, warm, and inviting. On the desk, in addition to the envelopes, was a newspaper clipping. The newspaper clipping was an obituary, and even though I already knew, it was too much to see it in print. A few phrases jumped out at me. ‘Local teen died yesterday,’ ‘drove off the side of Washington Bridge,’ ‘dead upon arrival,’  I threw the newspaper on the floor. I knew what was going to come next. A sugary description of David, painting him as the George Bailey he had played. But David wasn’t George Bailey. They would never be able to put into words what David truly did. The way he could look at you and make you feel as if you were the only person in the world.

Crying silently, I moved on to the envelopes. The first one was dated October 15th, 2006. The week after we met. The latest one was dated December 14th, 2007, the day of the final performance. My fingers trembling slightly, I opened the letter, and began to read.

Dear Casey,

I write to you a lot. I don’t know why, because I don’t expect you to ever get these letters. I just have a lot I really want to say. And the bravest I get is writing these letters and addressing them to you.

I envy you, Casey. You’re so in the moment, that you would probably send these letters if you were me. I know you think I can’t see things the way they are, but Casey, trust me. I’m right about this. You’re wonderfully spontaneous. You’d tell me if you’d realized something important, even if it potentially made our friendship awkward.

Because I just realized I might be in love with you. People say that 17 year olds can’t fall in love, but I really think I can. And I think I have.

                  ~David

A single tear splashed down onto the page, blurring the ink spelling out David’s name. It was in that moment that I realized I loved David . I always had loved him. And no matter how many times over the past year I had tried to convince myself that what I felt for David was just brotherly love, that just wasn’t true, and the realization broke my heart painfully in two.

I left the letters in David’s desk. I didn’t want them. I didn’t want any more reasons to cry. Would David really have wanted me to spend my life in mourning? I knew without thinking that he wouldn’t have. I wasn’t going to spend my life missing him, although I would at times. Instead, I was going to live my life honoring David’s memory, and do what he thought I did best: live in the moment.

And that’s when I realized that maybe David had been more like the George Bailey he had played than I realized. He had always given, and worked hard to give others what they needed. And he was so grateful for anything anyone gave him, no matter how small it was. David always said how lucky he was to have all of us. But, now that I think about it, it was all of us who were the lucky ones.

As soon as I got home, I went over to my bedside table, and pulled out the scrapbook David had given me on The Birthday. I had filled it up gradually with pictures and ticket stubs, and other random things that reminded me of him. I only had enough space for one more page. Why not make it now?

Selecting a dark blue sheet of paper, I pasted my favorite picture of David to it. It was one of him, not as Billy Flynn, not as Rooster, but of himself, sitting on a park bench, the glowing oranges of the sunset hitting his face just so. Above it, I wrote the heading in silver cursive:

David Blake,

who taught me how to live.

Sangeeta Ranade