Partners in Wanderlust
It is sad to begin a new year to learn of the death of a dear friend. In a sense the death was not that much of a surprise given the fact that my friend was 86 years old. After all, anyone who lives past 80 is certainly fortunate to be enjoying a long life. However, I still don't believe I was prepared to learn that my friend was no longer living.
I had known David since 1985 and we lived together shortly after for a number of years before he decided to leave Connecticut and take our RV to wander the country. I could have gone with David, but I chose not to. While one part of me was attracted to adventure, the other part of me -- the one very close to my family -- decided I could not live away from my three adult children. So, in a sense I lived a compromised life. Every year, I would fly to visit David wherever he was living at the time. I would spend a couple of weeks with him, sometimes a month. That was the way I got to see parts of the country.
Since David was living in the RV, it became a very economical way for me to travel. I went to Florida, New Mexico, Arizona, Florida and even up to Alaska, a state that David loved so much he decided to live there for more than a year. When I visited him, I understood
why. I felt as if I were on another planet to observe the incredible glaciers and tundra of Denali Park.
After Alaska, David decided to travel to Mexico, a country he loved so much that he decided to make it his permanent home. He lived there more than 10 years and I visited him about seven times. Each time I visited, he would map out places for me to see and become my personal tour guide. These were the places that he had seen on his own, so when I came he was already familiar with them. A couple of times I flew into Mexico City where we would spend a few days and then take the bus to Oaxaca, the last place that David lived. In a sense his love for Oaxaca surprised me because it is within the interior of Mexico, far from any water.
David loved the water. He was an experienced sailor and for many years lived on his 49-foot wooden ketch, which he moored in the waters off the shore near the Shore and Country Club where he was a member. For many years he headed his own company, Color Lab first located on the Post Road near Stew Leonard's and then in the 50 Washington St. building in South Norwalk.
While there was a considerable difference in our ages, our personalities and interests in life brought us together. My daughter says we had the same moon sign; Sagittarius. She says that explains the restlessness and wanderlust David and I both have exhibited. Only, I move from place to place within Connecticut, David moved from state to state in this country and even from state to state in Mexico until he became drawn to the great history, architecture and art in Oaxaca.
Most of all, he loved the Mexicans and their great love of family. This, however, is quite ironic considering that David literally turned his back on his own three children and died hardly ever seeing them, his six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Yet, he would often tell me how he admired my own close-knit family and my relationships with my children and my mother, who he also loved.
David was a masterful photo finisher and photographer and it was his great love and expertise in photography that became a very strong component to my own life. I learned a great deal about photography from David and I am a great admirer of the great photographers of the world. I also learned a great deal about art. Together we visited many museums and to this day it is difficult for me to visit a museum without David at my side quietly telling me about the artist. He knew a lot about the great composers of the world, too.
David's death, not only the loss, but the fact that I will never be able to see or talk with him again is a sadness that I carry with me now as I continue to carry the loss of my parents. It is an interesting experience to lose a loved one. Their deaths make you realize how much they literally remain part of your life; in a way their spirit inhabits your soul and together you move forward experiencing life with a part of them along in you.
Learning about David's death followed a few weeks of my thinking about David and even dreaming about him. He did not e-mail much, except to respond to my emails. He would tell me everything was fine. In his last e-mail a few months ago, he told me he had moved from where he had lived in a little mountain village in San Felipe to downtown Oaxaca because his health was failing and he wanted to be in walking distance to the Zocalo, the city's center
His daughter told me a cut on his leg from a few years ago never healed properly and his body developed an infection, which was complicated by other ills.
The last time I saw David was a few years ago when he came to the United States to visit his son and daughter. In between visits with them, he stayed with me a few days in Connecticut. We had a wonderful time. I drove him around the new area where I live now and I drove him to see the former house I lived in that he had never seen.
We walked the beach along Long Island Sound and had lunch at the Griswold Inn in Essex, where once he had moored his boat. He even accompanied me to a talk by Al Franken that I was covering for the local newspaper. I bought him a copy of Franken's book and he stood on line to get it autographed. We took MetroNorth to the city, where David had his own photo lab for many years. He appeared overwhelmed by the crowds in Times Square and couldn't wait to get away from the throngs of people. We took a taxi to Ground Zero and lower Manhattan where he hadn't been in years. Then, I drove him to Ogunquit, Maine where his daughter was to pick him up. That was the last time I saw David, standing alone in the parking lot. He was going to walk to the beach and I had to drive to babysit for my grandchild. Once again, I was torn between my love for David and my commitment to family.
Each time I left David from one of my many trips to visit him, I came home very sad and wondered if I was making the right decision to go about my own life and not to follow the path of another's. I have many regrets but also I truly feel I can take a part of David with me along my own journey and make it that much richer.
One interesting aside here, throughout our lives together David would often talk about Paris, where he lived and worked in the late 40s. During that period he did a lot of photography in Paris. His memories fascinated me and I yearned to see Paris. A few years ago, he e-mailed me to tell me he had finally returned to Paris alone. I was disappointed that we didn't do the trip together. He felt he needed to return alone to the city.
Last spring I had an opportunity to visit Paris and I understood what David was talking about. My visit was too brief and I am making plans to visit Paris this June with a girlfriend from kindergarten, yes kindergarten. She was an art history major at Barnard and will be an excellent tour guide in Paris. David would be pleased.
Rita Papazian is a freelance writer who has covered Norwalk extensively.