Monday, April 5, 2010
My brother, David, died today.
He was 47, the last boy born to Don and Lucy Bickel. My great Uncle Scott called him Davy Crockett. Most people called him “Dave” but he was usually “David” to me. Dunno why.
We played gin rummy when we were little. I suppose he must have taught me how. We were two years apart, but only a year apart in school.
When we were little, we were home alone for a year when all our other five siblings were in school. I don’t remember anything of that year, really, or the year when I was the only one home.
But I remember the day David went to Kindergarten. He got out and I sat alone in the back of our green station wagon. It had a hideaway seat in the very back where you could (if you were little) sit face to face with a friend, knocking knees. It was the first time I remembered sitting there alone. I sat there in that little seat looking out the back window as we drove away, that red door to Shakamak Elementary School growing smaller and smaller.
When we were in high school, David, like my brother, Donnie, saw more than his fair share of time with the principal. Sometime during his senior year, the principal and David came to an understanding and David just didn’t go back. I did his GED homework for him. He had to take the tests, though I believe we talked about how to sneak me in to do it. I don’t know that he ever read any of the coursework, but he passed the finals.
David tended to hang out mostly with my brother Donnie, who was the first boy, older than David by a year; older than me by three. They were rough boys. Country boys. They hunted and fished. They hit with their fists. Donnie tormented me. David didn't. He'd even hang out and play games with me or watch cartoons until Donnie convinced him that he should be outside with him.
Neither of them shielded me like big brothers do in fairy tales. They expected me to fight my own battles. Sure, wherever I went, they were perched like gargoyles outside a stone church, but I’d have to get bloody before they’d step in to help.
Once, when I was in high school, I’d been teased unmercifully all year by a senior girl. Unlike my hotter headed brothers, I took the verbal beatings and nasty notes all year without acting out. Finally, when the confrontation came in the lunch room. I ended up punching her. The same principal who’d helped both my brothers out the high school door early because they were trouble makers threatened her with missing graduation. I think he expelled her for three days. But me? He did everything but give me a gold star. Maybe he thought it was a just reward for my patience – that girl was a total bitch and I was generally a good student – but still.
Someone asked David why he didn’t run out from shop class (it was just down the hall) and save me from the bully and her even meaner, bigger friend. He snorted, made an obscene and proud (I’m sure) reference to the outcome and said: “Didn’t sound like she needed any help from me.”
David was a good guy. But it’s fair to say that he strayed from the Path more than a little bit here and there. He kept grudges longer than wild dogs keep fleas. He could be mean. He would rather beat someone up than admit he had feelings. And if he didn’t like you, well, you would do well to just avoid him. Most of the time, he’d avoid you, too, but if you pushed him, you came away the worse for it.
God knows I would never have been able to work with David. He had high standards and he had no give in him when it came to, well, anything. I don’t think I could have lived with him either. But he once had a wife who he loved, and she knew what she was signing up for when she married him. He never got over her cheating on him. I know it’s not my issue and I’ll never know that whole story. Nor do I need to. I couldn’t help today, when word came that he was gone, but wonder what his life might have been like had he not lost that relationship.
Somewhere in there before, after or during his divorce, he lost his business. He lost the house where my grandparents had raised my dad and uncles. He lost seeing his daughters every day. He ended up with a heart condition similar to that which claimed my father. His hard living days didn’t help him recover from it, but his heart had failed him long before it physically broke apart.
And that was a horrible thing to watch. When he was in a good mood, my brother David could spin tales better than anyone I know. He’d laugh and you’d laugh with him. He kind of lived a Dukes of Hazzard lifestyle. He outran the police more than once. One time, he and his pickup truck ended up in a lake – he was one street over than where he thought he was… I’m pretty sure the cops let him go that night. He flipped another truck another night, and he and his friend just stayed in it, somehow in their drunken stupor convinced the Rapture had come and they’d been left behind so there really wasn’t any need to hurry home.
Last year, he took Jeff and me on a tour of Jasonville, pointing out houses that had been built by Bickels. Some of them, he’d helped on, working with my Grandpa and/or Dad. Some were built before we were born, and some David had done on his own. While he was rattling on about these houses, he pointed out one that was owned by our old neighbor. I told Jeff that was the guy who’d gotten married the same day we had gotten married. David had attended that wedding instead of mine, and I was still a little miffed about it. “Charlie didn’t get married that day,” David said. We argued a bit. It was the story I’d been told. “I didn’ t go to your wedding, Cheryl, because I didn’t want to go to your wedding,” he said, matter-of-factly, continuing on with his tour of the town.
I was so mad at him. I was mad at my family for lying to me about it, and I was mad that he didn’t even realize that it had royally pissed me off. The truth is that David didn’t mean to hurt my feelings – he just never felt the need to prove anything to anyone. Attending family functions meant little to him. If you weren’t smart enough to know he loved you, well, by God, maybe he should re-evaluate. I’d bet my house that he never changed his opinion of me and my need of him from my high school fight. He was my brother. If I needed him, I’d ask.
He called me a week or so ago out of the blue just to talk. He was in rare form and had me laughing for about 45 minutes. I kept asking him what was up. He’s probably called me five times in our lifetime. No joke. I called my sister to see if she knew what was up. Nothing. He called me again last Thursday. He was upset about a silly property issue and by the time we were done, he was laughing, was actually taking my advice and seemed to be back to his old self.
Then, he ignored the pain in his chest (as he’d been doing for three years) and went to some race in Tennessee. His Pacemaker shocked him seven times before the paramedics got there. Somehow he kept from going to a hospital. Sunday, he agreed to go to the hospital, but it was really too late. He complained that he didn’t want visitors, but you could see that he did. He harrumphed and claimed that his response to the doctor who inquired about why he’d neglected his health involved something akin to “Because I just don’t like any of you bastards.”
The doctor, who’d taken care of him when his heart first faltered four years ago, told us that he wasn’t sure why David hadn't died already. He said it appeared that somehow there must have been some healing of the heart despite the fact that David had ignored medical advice and meds. I was hoping he hadn’t told David that because for sure, he’d never pay attention if he got it into his head that he could truly heal himself.
Turns out he couldn’t. He didn’t. And now he’s gone. My theory is that he didn’t want to live any longer than he had to if he wasn’ t going to be able to live a decent life. And getting winded going to the mail box wasn’t how he wanted to be. I think he called me to say goodbye last week. I wasn’t smart enough to figure out what he was doing. And he didn’t know how to say it out loud. So he told me stories and said outrageous things and made me remember how much I liked him.
I’m glad I saw him Sunday. We joked a bit. I held his hand. And now I feel like I’m back in that damned station wagon, pulling away from the school.
He didn’t look back that day either.