About suffering they were never wrong

I keep thinking about this guy David, who I used to ride bikes with. David was gregarious, competitive, and confident. He smiled almost all the time.

David loved cycling. In winter, I’d meet David and a handful of other regular riders before sunrise at the Upper Crust Bakery. We’d slurp coffee, crunch on pastries, and talk bikes and races. As the sky greyed, we’d pedal through the cold city streets.

David, 10 years or so older than the rest of us, often struggled in the hills on the early part of the ride. But towards the end, where the route turned flat, he’d be out front, setting a 20-plus MPH pace, dropping all but the strongest riders.

I last pedaled through town with David sometime in early 2004. Fatherhood loomed that winter, and my priorities had shifted. Racing had stopped mattering much, and I couldn’t bring myself to get up at 5:30 on Tuesday for those hard rides.

I’d see David from time to time in the years that followed, going the other way on the greenbelt or in the parking lot at the start of a charity bike ride. I’d say hey, and he’d say hey back. I’m not sure if he even remembered my name.

Last month, David sold his well-loved bike, a Giant NRS he’d owned since the days of those early morning bakery rides, and unloaded his professional tool set.

A week or so later, he emailed his family and friends. “Life’s a beach,” he wrote.

On the local cycling message board, he posted the same words. Life’s a beach.

Then he drove his van to Port Aransas on the Texas coast, placed his wallet on the dashboard, stared at the sand and the waves, and committed suicide.

I have a hard time imagining that David, the man in his apartment alone, the cyclist selling off his well-cared for gear, the 50-something scheming to end his life. 

Last week, Sally and I loaded up the boys to go to Port Aransas for boogie boarding, fried fish eating, pool-side lounging, and late night talk with our old pals, the Tubres. As always, the trip ended too soon. We dig the beach life, its simple days of flip flops and iced beer and too much sun. We could float through the summer there.

I didn’t know of David’s fate then. I didn’t know that his van with the Bike Mojo sticker that I’d seen so many times had been towed off the beach the day before we walked onto that same sand. I didn’t know that David had gazed at the ocean in those final moments just as I would a few days later.

I wonder if, like me, he was awed by the Gulf, its vastness, its violence lurking inside its green water. He probably wasn’t.

My guess is that his insides were clouded and dim as winter as he stared at that Gulf that went all the way to the sky.

But I’d like to think that he got the power and beauty of that place that final morning, that he felt stilled and lucid as the light left his world. And I’d like to think that right now he’s on his Giant NRS, his body muscle and vein, grinding up a steep hill at the front of a wheezing group and smiling all the way to the podium.

That’s what I’d like to think.

But what I believe, what churns in my gut and sloshes in my head, is something entirely different.

Note: I wrote this a week or so ago, alone, late at night, in a strange mood. When I read it the next day, I hated it. I despised the tone, the maudlin narrative, the platitudes about suicide, pretty much all of it. And I wasn’t sure if I had the right to write about David, a guy I didn’t know in any meaningful way.

Today, I saw the post sitting as a draft, and I reread it. To be honest, I still didn’t like it, and I still wasn’t sure if I should share it, but I decided to click publish anyway. I’m not sure why. Maybe I just needed to get this story out and then move on.

Also, the title comes from a W.H. Auden poem on suffering called Musee des Beaux Arts. You probably knew that. You’re smart people, all four of you Bad Chemicals readers.


3 Responses to “About suffering they were never wrong”

  1. 1 Gesi August 20, 2009 at 6:34 pm

    Thanks for clicking publish.

  2. 2 Teri August 24, 2009 at 2:55 pm

    It’s very powerful and nicely written. I agree with Gesi.

  3. 3 lesleyfamily August 25, 2009 at 3:01 pm

    Thanks for the kindness, Gesi and Teri. I reckon it’s good to share whatever then get back to doing the stuff that matters–changing diapers, watching Dexter, Season 3, disc one, cursing Snurp, and so on.

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