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Remembering David

Saturday, June 6, 2020

He was my first boyfriend. Today, June 6, is his birthday. Catapult back to 1973, when we were both 15.  Gifted, gangly, subversive, strong, musical, capable and funny as hell. My dress was by Gunne Sax and it was way too big for me, but I liked it. He brought me carnations and I picked a camellia from the neighbor's bush (this was in Richmond, VA, where I grew up). He took me to junior prom and it was one of the best nights of my brief life.

I love this awkward picture for our pose, for knowing my DOD was behind the camera,  for my granny glasses that I bought in an antique store when I finally got sick of wearing the black square frames I got in second grade, and for David's brilliant deep copper hair. He played the bull fiddle and loved folk and bluegrass and real old country music. I so wanted to be in his band, but they had some girl named Rhonda who sang better harmonies than me. I went to one practice and that was enough; I knew better than to hang around hoping. Still, the seed was planted, and I was hooked on gangly musicians for good, for better and for worse. 

Horses were his life for a long time, and he studied dressage, rode, and trained them in an intuitive, quiet, kind way long before the word "whisperer" was ever used, or overused. He was a magnificent rider. He taught me how to ride, though I'd never had a saddle and never had a horse. I rode bareback, and learned to jump that way, too. It was Virginia in the early 70's, and there were still horse farms where now there are condominiums and strip malls. I'm glad I grew up there then.

He's probably watching a horse move, noting how it leads, analyzing its stride. That intensity never failed to blow me away. When David was mad, his eyes snapped and burned with a dark flame. I know for a fact that some of his teachers were afraid of him in high school. He'd show up wearing a moth-eaten duster, a felt hat, and sundry bits of real Civil War uniform, or maybe a pinstriped vest. He had style, real vintage style. 

More than knowing all about them, he was a friend to horses, and they to him. He knew just where to scratch, and he didn't mind coming away with a jacket full of hair. Ask Sparky, his companion of the last decade. His upper lip tells the tale.  I never tired of hearing stories about Dakota, Sparky's predecessor, the wisest horse ever to connect with this wise man. I was glad I got to meet Dakota, and even though he was very old then, his gentle knowing eye stays with me.

We dropped out of touch after high school, saw each other a couple of times after we started college, then went off on our own particular lives until the day in perhaps 2003 when David was standing at the water cooler where he worked as an engineer at Rockwell Collins in Northern Virginia, and got to talking with a colleague about their high school girlfriends. "My girlfriend Julie was a good artist. I wonder what she's up to now?" So that afternoon he Googled me and I got an email from him, and off we went on a correspondence that would go on for the next 17 years.

I saved a lot of his emails because they were so funny and wise and insightful. He wrote me long stories about the horses and people in his life. He was a brilliant writer, and that's why I saved them.
I told him he should write a book, but I pretty much knew that wasn't going to happen.

David came to visit me in Ohio a couple times. Here, in September 2013, he's dipped his finger in the oil in the collection tank for our well. Tasted it. "That's good oil!" he said. That's how he was, which was not like anyone else. Worked after high school fixing Volkswagens at a downtown repair shop in Richmond; always worked on his own cars until they got computer brains and got too smart for him. Needless to say, he and my dad had a lot in common, and I know that's no accident. I wanted a guy like my dad, a guy who knew how to do things.

He gardened like a demon, kept chickens, and could cook, too, and he made a fine breakfast for me when I came to visit his "farmette" in Loudon Co. Virginia. He told me you have to buy bacon with more fat than lean or it wouldn't cook up right. And here I'd been doing just the opposite. Heh.

We went hiking with my dear friend Donna, who lives not far from David's house, and had someone take our picture.

Then David pushed my glasses down. You see the problem with him. Oh, he made me laugh!

As a high school kid, I was so thrilled to hang out with David and his family. I couldn't stay away. They had a vein of sharp humor, naughtiness and wildness that I couldn't get at home. His mom was a redhead too, beautiful, brilliant and fiery. She gave me a Webster's dictionary when I graduated high school. His dad, Bevin Alexander, is an author and well-known war historian; I remember pointing him out to Bill as he watched the History Channel. Yep, that's my first boyfriend's dad, right there, talking about war strategy on TV. His older brother Troy went off to Haverford for college and then learned how to build guitars. Troy, a brilliant guitarist, has since become a dear friend. Bevin is awesome, too, though I didn't get to know him well. And Bevin Sr. is a legend, and still going strong! In the Alexander family, I caught a whiff of what life might be beyond my ken, of the things I might aspire to.

The world, his two children, his brothers and dad, his many friends and I lost David on April 30, 2020, to pancreatitis. A bad way to go for a fine, fine man. Loss on loss, and it's taken me this long to pull it together to write a little tribute to my dear friend David on what would have been his 62nd birthday. I can't begin to capture his fire and wit, but I was crazy about that red-haired boy, and I'll always hold him in my heart. Though I couldn't visit him when he got critically ill, thanks to the sorry state of the world now, I got a chance to talk with him, to thank him for his friendship, to tell him all the things he'd been right about. "I'm tired now, Julie, and I'm done with talking, but you can tell me one more story."

I dreamed something up, listening to him breathe. It was a pretty good story. Then I told him I loved him, and I got to hear him say it, too, and for that I'll always be grateful.


Julie, what a beautiful tribute you have shared with us. Thank you.

If anyone writes better tributes to individuals than you do Julie I don't know who it could possibly be.
Just beautiful!

I am so terribly sorry for your loss, but what a beautiful heartfelt tribute you have written. Thanks for sharing this.

I am so sorry for your loss. I am also very happy you were able to talk to him and share your love for one another before it was too late.

Such a beautiful heartfelt tribute to a long-time friend. That last phone call brought tears to my eyes. Tell me one more story, yes. Thank you for writing this down.

Well, I'm just sitting here crying now. For David, for you, for all who knew and loved him, for the world right now, and for the gift of your words during this crappy, crappy time. Love you, sister. XO

What a beautiful tribute for a lifelong friend. So very sorry for your loss during this terrible time in history. 62 years young--too soon to be gone.

A beautiful, heart-felt tribute. I'm guessing there are many of us who can relate to still holding dear a first love or boy/girlfriend. It's heartwarming to know you stayed connected and that your friendship survived all these years. Thanks for sharing.

So many losses for you to endure. I am glad you have good memories to hold dear, but the loss still hurts, I know.

David sounds like an incredible person and you were so lucky to have him in your life. I am sorry for you loss - what a couple of years you have had. I must admit, I smiled at the reference to Gunne Sax. I had one of those prom dresses too, but had long forgotten about the company. Sending hugs.

So, so bittersweet. You made ME fall in love with him, mostly with the horses and dressage! So many things I want to ask, to say. But not my business or my place. I can only mourn his loss with you. But this did make me think of that sandy-haired naturalist boyfriend of Phoebe's....

What an achingly sweet tribute to your first boyfriend. The older we get, the more we experience loss and are diminished by it BUT also enriched because we can remember. And we do.
I think constantly of some of the men and boys in my life. My first boyfriend--years gone due to Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam. My first lover--it's a whole story for some time, maybe never but not now. The one man I might had "run away" with...
Our losses make us realize and cherish what rich encounters we have had.
I don't long to go back...but, oh, to see them again!

How wonderful that you got to say I love you one more and last time. Or is it really the last? Be strong and rejoice on your beautiful memories.


Just what was it, Julie, about "our men" and their pancreas problems? This seems almost epidemic any more.

Susan Stout, still counting bluebirds in MT

Thank you for a beautiful heartfelt tribute. Too, too many losses for you in such a brief period of time. Your gifts of enduring and sharing and appreciating are immense. Thank you.

What a beautiful connection to have in this world. He sounds like a once in a lifetime kind of person, of the best sort.

Beautiful tribute and memories. I wish I had gotten to know you more back in Highschool, Julie. So happy for you to have those fond memories and sad for the loss of a good man. I remember David and Marshal Bond being absolutely hilarious in band. Good times.

Fine, sweet tribute.

Julie, I am so, so sorry for your loss, and the loss to our world. What a wonderful person he was.

I'm so sorry for the loss of your friend. He sounds like the most amazing person and the world is a little dimmer for his loss.

Och, I'm in tears. Your ability to love is incredible.

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