Friday, July 28, 2006

Remembering Dave H.

There is no specific reason that I should be writing about Dave H. today, other than a post I made on Scribbler's Debris a couple of days ago. I had drawn the topic "Death of a Friend", and had written about my friend Eric. If you read that entry, then you know that Eric killed himself around Easter time. The very next year, after Easter, I learned that my friend Dave H. from college had killed himself by means of carbon monoxide poisoning in his parents' garage. It was a morbid anniversary of Eric's death, and for a few years after I wondered who would be next whenever the celebration of the sacrifice came due.

Dave H. had the kind of manic genius that you encounter in about one in a thousand people. He was constantly looking for the next extreme with which to completely engage life. Of course that would make his ultimate fate all the more ironic. I met him in undergraduate school at Pitt, and we quickly became friends. We talked about books, music, and film and chased girls together. He was in the Honor's college in the school of philosophy. It didn't seem that Dave ever slept, as he was constantly searching for the next exciting stimulus. After a period of six months (a long period in the halcyon college days), we saw less of each other due to circumstances that had nothing to do with our friendship. But whenever I ran into him, we would continue as if we had seen each other the day before.

One of the most memorable days I ever spent with him was during a trip we took together to Washington DC. It was during the first Gulf War, and there was a huge protest march. Dave had heard about van transport that we could take for ten dollars, and he asked me if I wanted to go along. It didn't take much convincing for me to decide to skip classes for the day and join him. The drive itself was memorable because the van was chock full of Lyndon Larouche drones, and we were a captive audience. A woman who must have trained to be a cult programmer tried to brainwash us for the entire four and a half hour ride. We tried to be polite in our responses as we were counting on the same van for the ride back. Dave was pretty wound up by the time we got to our nation's capital. After some time spent watching the marchers, we decided to walk around the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. All Dave could talk about was wanting to find some acid and vandalize something. By the time we were ready to meet up with the cultists for the return trip, we had a plan. This time the tables were turned, and we used everything we could come up with to deconstruct the woman programmer. It proved to be less of a challenge than expected... our harsh methods proved to be overkill... it was too easy for us to bring her to a state of tears. But we weren't much inclined to mercy. We kept at it until she broke down. For the last hour into Pittsburgh she refused to utter a word to anyone. We left her alone to weep in silence. When we stepped from the van back onto campus, she pretended that we weren't even there, and we never saw or spoke with her again.

It wasn't long after that roadtrip that Dave H. was kicked off campus for trying to light his dorm on fire. I never got the full story about why he did that, and I didn't see him for several years. Eventually he got my phone number from a mutual friend, and he came out and stayed with me in Pittsburgh. He had been staying in Philly in the interim, after a stint in the merchant marines. He was currently employed as an ambulance driver in the city. He spoke of the horrors of his job, and his dalliances with hard drugs. He never slept more than three hours at a time during the days he was visiting. He seemed excited by everything, and was newly infatuated by the music of the Doors. His favorite song was "Break on Through", and I suppose I should have seen that as portentous. But to me he wasn't much different than the Dave I had known in college. He seemed about as manic as ever. There was no reason to suspect that I would never see him again after he left. Several months before he killed himself, I groggily received a late night phone call. Dave seemed pretty stressed out, but I was half asleep and couldn't follow much of what he was saying. He told me that he would call back, but we never spoke to each other again.

News of his death hit me hard, but I didn't give much voice to my grief as I was called upon to give emotional support to one of our mutual friends. I didn't go to his funeral, but I did have a mini-wake for him as I did with Eric. Sometimes I'm reminded of him, and I wonder what he would have gone on to if he had not made his final choice.


Anonymous DeeA2Z said...

Have you considered that Dave H. may have been bipolar, and that proper diagnosis and treatment may have helped? It's obviously immaterial now.

I recall you telling me that you had gone on that road trip, although you left out the deprogramming horror ride back to P'burgh. I have to say I was disappointed by your behavior with the "programmer", because I didn't know you had such a cold and cruel streak in you. I don't know the situation, and apparently the ride to DC was signifcantly uncomfortable enough for you and Dave to plan some sort of revenge on the ride home. I'm not even going to suggest that the "programmer" didn't deserve some sort of payback. I suppose I'm disappointed that you held to the theory that "revenge is a dish best served cold". The question I asked about Dave's mental health condition at that time was in response to that ride home. I'm sorry you lost a good friend, and I'm sorry for his problems. I think that indulging his plan to "get even" with the "progammer" was not the best use of your friendship.

Do you really think that torturing this woman was the best use of your time? Did you even bother to explore why she believed what she did? Did it never occur to you that perhaps you could have found a more constructive way to change her mind?

More importantly, why weren't you significantly concerned about your friend's manic behavior to try to keep him somewhat calm, or at least civil on the ride home? I assume there were more than just the 3 of you on this bus. Did you notice what their reaction was to your behavior? Must have been the longest ride of their lives.

Given your background in psychology I'm surprised you were so self-indulgent. Your friend was in a world of hurt, probably for a very long time. I'm not suggesting it was your job to take care of him. I'm just suggesting that if you should ever find yourself in similar circumstances that you'll recall your friend and that despite the fact that his behavior may have been entertaining, that you'll find it within yourself to step back and take a closer look at the entertainer.

For what it's worth I apologize if you think I'm trying to lay a guilt trip here. I'm really not; it's just that I truly believe we can learn from past events. Losing people you care about or love is absolutely the worst event you will ever have to live through. Learning from the past is important because if you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always gotten. If you're happy with the status quo, I suppose learning from the past is irrelevant.

4:48 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

I understand what you are sying, but I never for a moment experienced any remorse for what we did. We were certainly equal partners in what happened. I don't believe either one of us were waiting on indulgences.

The other passengers were shills of the cult. They had nothing to add, and no reaction to what we did on the way home.

I still think that Dave commited suicide on a whim, because he honestly couldn't wait to "see what was on the other side". If he was manic-depressive (quite possible), there is a chance that his final action was a result of a manic episode.

My actions are partly determined by prior experience... but equally they are affected by current contextual information, and the mood I am in at the time. I allow myself plenty of space to evolve. I have no idea how I would react in a similar situation now.

But I am certainly not vulnerable to feeling guilty over a decision I made so long ago.

11:20 PM  
Anonymous mw said...

i didn't know dave, but i know of what he had done. maybe the guilt of rape drove him to take his own life. perhaps he could not forgive himself for that act or another. it seems more likely than a whim.

11:05 AM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

I don't know anything about a rape. Maybe you could enlighten me in an e-mail??

4:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i remember commenting to you on the subject quite some time ago, and you seemed to shrug it off. regardless, see you around.

3:34 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...


I honestly can't remember hearing anything like that. You say you told me about it "some time ago", and I certainly went through a bunch of hazy years, so I guess it's possible. Nowadays I find it difficult to believe I would have once "shrugged" something like that off. At this point, I'm not sure I want to add this particular association to my memory of Dave... but in the interest of "the truth", I guess I do want to know more. Actually, I'm still trying to figure out who you are, and for some reason I am having difficulty with the initials "mw". Like I said, if you would- e-mail me with explanation.

9:08 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...


Never mind. I think I figured it out. I'll call you and talk to you about it.


9:23 PM  
Blogger thegraduate said...

i am writing about this months later, only because i have finally read the "post"(whatever it is you computer swell people call it). there seems much 'to do' about all of this. when, in fact, the original post was quite appropriate. perhaps, therapeutic for the writer. hopefully so.
regardless, it's rather alarming to read comments by misinformed individuals. yes, i know we live in a "free speech" society. however, given the sensitive nature of the subject, and the sheer fact that i knew the subject of the post intimately, i think it is bullshit to judge.
the subject was emotionally fragile. manic-depressives, (and, yes, that was the case), often are. he was also kind, eccentric, frustrating and frustrated(!), extremely inquisitive, and most of all, a person who really couldn't deal with the confines of society. who could blame him?!
for the record, i believe it was a whim. an unfortunate one for those who had the rare chance to actually "know" him. the rare few he let in.
for saying all that,
i never saw so many people at a funeral. for someone who felt so alone. and, he was.
he was the first person i met at school. and he came up to me and said. "hey, let's get out of here".
and THAT was "his deal".

3:47 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home