RIP David S. Joyner: 9/1/1953 – 9/15/2010
I first met David in June, 2008 when I moved into my current apartment building. David was the first tenant I met. The day I moved my stuff in – a Saturday – he walked right up to me, introduced himself and offered to carry some of the light stuff. Five hours later, after I’d unpacked, he invited himself over to go through my DVD collection, nodding approvingly at some of my purchases, tsk-tsking at others.
David was the self-appointed social director of our little community. If a new tenant needed to know how to get to the nearest grocery store, he was directed to David. David was the one that introduced new people to everyone, making sure that people who wanted to have friends, had them.
A week after I met David, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. At first, I didn’t believe him, because he didn’t seem affected by the news. Even though he barely knew me at that point, I was the first person he told. We’d just discovered we shared the same birthday and were quickly bonding as “BFFs.” Well, if two middle-aged (or close to it) men would ever use the term BFF.
David and I hung out daily during the two years and several months of our friendship. We watched movies together. We gossiped about other tenants. We shared our good moments and our bad. We fought the same battles: against a woman we thought was our friend, but turned out to be an evil bitch queen of death; against the self-serving “liberal” landlord. Far from being the type of men who drink too many beers and devolve into “I love you, man!” we were like brothers.
When I “turned” conservative, David made no judgments. He loved listening to me rant about the idiocy of the Obama administration (an administration he, too, came to hate.) If I didn’t tell him what story I was following, or writing about on my blog, he would ask. He remained steadfastly apolitical, but I like to think I had a little influence with him and could have potentially changed his future voting record.
To know David was to develop a love for half-truths. David was a teller of big whopping lies. He altered entire portions of his life to make it seem more exciting. I don’t know whether this was pathological, or just a game he played. In any event, the lies he told never hurt anyone. He lied about himself. While I didn’t really appreciate it, in the end, it made no difference to me one way or the other. David was David. And the man I knew and called a friend was a warmhearted, generous person who always made time for others. Always.
Though he went through bouts of radiation and chemotherapy, David never let his spirit sink. We all understood the treatments were entirely palliative; there was no cure for his disease.
It wasn’t until the end of August that David’s health started to dramatically decline. The Sunday before our shared birthday, David lay in bed, unaware of what was going on around him, very confused and in a bit of pain. His other BFF, Stephanie, and I watched over him attentively. After all, he’d been such a good friend and such a positive influence in our lives, we felt we could do no less for him. We thought he would die that day. We felt it.
David was too stubborn to go quietly, though. He rebounded for his birthday, which we celebrated together by watching a movie and drinking one Guinness Stout apiece. David wasn’t a drinker, and he was wary of imbibing any alcohol while taking morphine, but he also refused to break with his birthday tradition.
By Friday of that week, David was on a downward spiral again. On Sunday, I had to call 911 and have David taken to the hospital. On Monday, doctors found his brain riddled with tumors. We all knew, at that point, David wouldn’t be coming home again. I visited him on Monday in the hospital. His mind had already started to go. At one point, he reached out a hand to me and said, “I’m afraid.” I took his hand and asked him what he feared, expecting to hear “death.” He told me he thought there was a red bone under his bed.
I got down on all fours and crawled all over the hospital room, “searching” for the evil red bone. Every few seconds, I would stop to assure David there wasn’t anything there. I’m sure passing nurses thought I was completely insane, but who cares? If they’d known why I was doing it, they would have done the same thing.
Before I left the hospital, I asked David if he needed anything, if he was in pain. He told me he was feeling fine. Then, if I’d had any lingering doubts about his character or his true self, he answered them. “How about you, Chris? Are you in pain? Is Stephanie in pain? Is Jeff in pain?” He wasn’t just asking; he was deeply concerned. Lying on his death bed awaiting the end, and his thoughts were of his friends first and foremost.
That’s the kind of man David Joyner was. Full of BS, hard headed, stubborn, funnier than hell, and totally consumed by compassion, concern and love for the people he held close to his heart.
I’m satisfied I won’t know much about my friend’s life before I met him. Sure, he had a couple friends he knew a bit longer than me, but his early life is completely undocumented, aside from the stories he told. None of that matters. I knew the type of man David became. The type of man he was at the end of his life. In those last few moments of true sentience, David’s only concern was for others. What greater testament could there be to a man’s character than that?
We went to visit David several times. He was moved to an adult care facility, then back to the hospital when he became too much to deal with.
On Wednesday, Stephanie and I arrived at the hospital just as David was taking his final breaths. The nurse left us alone with him. We’d already said our good-byes, so we just held his hands, touched his shoulders. We told him we loved him and that it was OK to go. Then, imperceptibly, his heartbeat slowed and stopped.
No trumpets sounded. There was no whooshing of displaced air. No white light. Just peace. I remember holding his shoulder and looking into his half-closed eyes while the visiting hospice nurse told us he was gone. I could have sworn he was still looking at me.
I don’t believe in God or an afterlife, but now is one of those times I wish I did. Not for my sake, but for David’s. If there was a soul that deserved eternal reward, it was David’s. He was no hero. He had no great philosophy. He never saved the world. He just made life better for everyone around him, including me. He is exactly what the “average” man should aspire to be: an exceptional character, full of true decency.
In accordance with his sense of style, David will have no funeral. He donated his body to the UW Medical Center, where it will be used by students studying pathology and, hopefully, to help find a cure for the cancer that eventually killed him. Close friends will be holding a private party; a wake of sorts. All others who knew David and need closer are invited to comment on this post, or to contact me (via the contact page, if you don’t know my email address or phone number.)
David wanted his life to be celebrated, not mourned. Though I’m saddened by David’s passing, I raise a glass today in his honor. Good bye, my friend. You won’t be forgotten.