Dave and Dan

The closest friend is the one who will stick by forever and cover you no matter what.

Dave and Dan were best friends. Next-door neighbors, grown men, these two, and both in the Navy. One flew jets while the other was a Black Shoe and worked at a desk, which my husband never ceased to remind him.

“Only a Black Shoe would drive the speed limit. Right Dave? I’ll drive, Buddy - that way we can get two beers!” Dave would just smile and say maybe later.

Dan was six foot two and Dave just cleared five foot. Together they were the neighborhood’s Mutt and Jeff.  

Dave’s hair was rusted red, thinned out with grey, and his Irish mustache, full, tapered, and curled, was slightly wider than his face. If it were not for that distinguishing mustache, Dave would get lost in a crowd – a small quiet man going about his way.

Dan laughed, “It’s a good thing you got that hair on your face. Otherwise folks would think there's nothing in your head!”

Dave would just smile, and off they’d go talking about lawn mowers, the Steelers, and how some day when they retired, they’d go in together and buy a big semi tractor-trailer and drive it all over the country. Maybe even let the women ride in the back of the cab.

Dan wasn’t around a lot because he was off on deployments most every year when we lived next door to Dave and Linda. Meanwhile, Dave served at his church, cooked for the homeless, and took care of his wife who was debilitated with MS. He didn’t say much to anyone. When he wasn’t at work, he stayed at home listening to his vast collection of rock ‘n roll, and trying out new recipes. He loved to cook.

When weather permitted, Dave took his workbench out to the driveway to chisel through thick pieces of glass to make sun catchers. With focused precision so as not to crush any fragile edges, he created glorious designs to catch and reflect the sunlight. The glass window with the Methodist cross and flame symbol that was mounted high above the new parish alter was his greatest artistic achievement. He kept quiet about that, too.

Those sun catchers harnessed the sun’s rays, releasing them through the angled glass to spread prisms of luminous hues over the universe. Dave’s days on earth were also channeled in an unexpected angle.

Dan was the first friend he told about the cancer. The two of them were out by Dave’s driveway where he was bagging leaves.

“You know how you said the mustache hid my empty head?’ Dave looked up to get my husband’s attention.

Of course, Dan had a quick comeback. “Well, I wouldn’t say it was empty. You probably have SOME marbles rolling around in there.”

Dave’s quiet comment was a stunning blow. “Turns out I do have a brain – with cancer.”

The two friends stood together in silence, the bag had fallen to the ground and golden leaves swirled all over the yards.

Finally Dan spoke. “Well, we better get a move on that truck of ours. But first I have to get my rake and get your damn leaves off of my grass. How about a Peterbilt Semi?

Over the following months, until Dave could no longer hang out in his yard, cook, or cut glass, the two friends talked about their truck and the places they would go.

My husband was never one to get really close to anyone. He had a pretty tough wall around his heart. He was, after all, a Fighter Pilot, and trained to kill – not to make friends. When Dave died, he didn’t say anything at first, just shook his head. Finally he muttered, “What am I going to do when I have a damn tractor trailer stuck in my drive-way?”

When a man loses a friend he thought didn’t need in the first place, that wall in his heart gets thicker. He starts to think he never had a friend at all.

A month after the funeral, Dave’s wife asked Dan to join their family on a boat to take Dave’s ashes out to sea. He consented, but complained to me.

“Why the hell do I want to throw a bunch of ashes out of a boat? The guy’s gone. He’s not in a bottle. He’d rather be in a truck.”

My husband was struggling. Whether he would admit it or not, he had lost his best friend, and he was mad at God about it. But he wouldn’t admit that either.

It was a blustery rainy day when Dan, Linda, her kids, and Dave’s ashes went out to sea in the small-piloted boat. The waves were rough and the wind tossed the boat. Linda threw the urn to Dan as she gripped the arm of the bench to keep from falling overboard. With as much respect as he could muster in the approaching storm, Dan opened up the urn and threw his friend’s ashes out into the roiling ocean. He held the boat’s railing for support while, huddling in a corner, Dave’s family prayed. Suddenly a gust of wind hurled Dave’s ashes back at the boat. Particles of his friend showered Dan from head to foot in a soft gray powder.

 “So now I have Dave’s ashes all over me,” Dan grumbled after telling me about his rugged event. It was true. Gray dust was sprinkled through his hair, under his eyes, and all over his jacket. Bewildered, my husband looked at me - stunned actually, a rare state for a Fighter Pilot.  But, true to form, he got himself together, and chuckled.

“Well, I guess Dave got the last laugh. For a Black Shoe, he would’ve been a good Wingman and covered my back when I needed him. Now when I go truckin’, he’ll always be in my hair.”