“Be free old buddy,” were the only words I could manage. You deserved something more eloquent; something to capture a bit more of the beauty, wonder and yes – suffering of your life. I was too numb to manage more than a few words. Hope you understand.
Today we start home to Iowa. You came home after all those years. We talked about why, often over the last few months. Your mother needed you, but it was more than that. Were you looking for the safety and comfort of childhood? Perhaps all of us do this as we grow older. Perhaps all of us wonder who will take care of us, love us and put us to bed. I know I do. There are times when the fear of being old and alone gnaws at me with sharp teeth in the night. I feel I am supposed to die like people in the movies die – peaceful, in bed, surrounded by adoring children and grandchildren. This did not happen for you. Your final companions were me – a friend of a year or two, a former fiancé and her husband. We were the ones who watched. Brenda was the one who cried and held your hand. Your son was far away in prison. Some will look at your deathbed scene and say it is God’s fair and just judgment for a life of sin – that if you had been a better person your death would have been more like the movie version. I am not one of those. I was there and watched as you adjusted from living a life high in the hills of West Hollywood to living in assisted housing in Iowa City. I saw you still struggling with drugs. But I also saw you help a young boy learn how to ride his bike. I listened as you shared hours of stories about your life. I heard nothing that would make me want to cause you suffering in your final hours. I heard nothing that would make me want to bring you pain. I heard the voice of a fellow human being.
As Barry and I stood on the pier watching the silvery web of your ashes, you gave me one final gift. Just as the final sparkle faded Barry said, “Dale, I love you for what you did today…”Barry and I are closer friends because of you Steven. We bowled a game at the bowling alley in Pismo beach. We ate a bowl of the world’s second best clam chowder (the line at the home of the world’s best was too long). So today, like yesterday, I must say thank you Steven. Thank you for sharing a bit of your life with me. Thank you for letting me be your friend in the final days. Your death was not like a movie script. I doubt if my end will be like that either. But perhaps, just perhaps, if I’m not too much of an asshole, life will spare me a friend or two at the end. Maybe they will watch my ashes sail over the ocean. They might even bowl a few games in my honor. If they do, I hope they have the patience to wait in line for the world’s best clam chowder. The world’s second best clam chowder tasted suspiciously like Campbell’s.