Years later, as the school bus drove past David’s old stop, I would wonder. Why, when I remembered David, did I not feel sad? Why did I remember David’s birthday party, at his house down that driveway, where David had a full head of wheat blond hair and a big smile on his face? Why did I not remember the bald David, string off into nothingness with those tired eyes? The weak eyes of someone who is fighting for their life, the chemotherapy steeling all their strength.
I don’t remember exactly when David died, I know it was in fifth grade. Mrs. Vinning’s class, where David sat in the back corner—when he came to school, which was less and less often. His leukemia was bad, had been since the year before. That year, fourth grade, we sent David to Disney World, or at least we helped. Our class designed some little pictures and had them printed on some little pads. I designed one of them, a simple scroll that said “David” and had some stars on it. We also had some pencils and erasers that said “David” on them. In the mornings before school we would stand at a table in the lobby and sell these things to the other students as they got off the bus. They would buy a few with the money their mother or father had given them for it, because the school had sent home a piece of paper explaining what we where doing and why we where doing it.
What we where doing was trying to raise enough money to send David and his family, his mother, father and younger sister, to Disney World—his dream. We did not even know how much it cost, but we where determined to send them. Each of us bought something every morning, even if we did not need it, even if we had bought one the day before.
In the end we did raise some money, I don’t know how much but we gave it to David’s parents so they could take him to Disney World. The Starlight Foundation payed for the rest, airplane tickets, tickets to Disney World, hotel, and even a limo to pick David up from school to go to the airport. That was a great day, the end of forth grade, and everyone in our class outside of school waving to the limo as it drove David and his family off to the airport.
I do remember the phone call. It must have been a holiday, maybe spring break, because it was sunny and nice outside and my mom called from work. She told me that David has “passed away.” This was not the first time that someone I had known had “passed away” but this was the first time it was not someone old, it was the first time it was someone I saw more than a few times a year and it was the first time one of my friends had “passed away.” This was someone my age, this was someone who was not supposed to die. Even though David had been sick for years and getting worse the idea that he would not get better had never occurred to me. This was the first time I really came face to face with mortality.
I cried, and my mom tried to comfort me over the phone. She also said that she thought it would be better if I did not go the to funeral, she would go but I should stay home. I tried to argue, I said I wanted to go, that David was my friend. But she convinced me that it would be better if I stayed home, if my last memories of David where happy ones not ones of his funeral. She said I did not really want to see David like that.
So I did not go to David’s funeral and the next week we went back to school. Nothing changed in our daily routine except that the counselor came in and talked to our class, and we got the chance to talk to him one-on-one. But something imperceptible did change, the desk in the back of the room took on a new significance. It embodied the struggle of life and death in a way that science class could not and looking back at it brought you face to face with mortality. From this desk, for a long time, the icy finger of reality could come up and tap you unexpectedly on the shoulder and make your eyes swell with tears.
But years later, as the bus drove past David’s driveway I did not think of any of this. I did not think of David, bald, tired, dieing. I thought of David, happy, smiling, laughing, full of life at his birthday party. And the bus drove by David’s stop everyday, and my life went on, and David is still my friend.