A Thought: One Year Today

I took this photo the morning of 3/1/2016. It was a beautiful spring morning and I decided to take the 50-minute walk to my lab instead of taking the trolley. It was a perfect commute and I commemorated it with this picture. I put some appropriate hashtags with the image (#morningcommute #nofilterneeded #agooddaytovote) and went about my day. Now, I think of this picture as the picture-when-everything-was-still-good. It was a generic Tuesday after that  — I taught a stats lab, had office hours, enjoyed a talk at our division’s lunch lecture series, sat through a lab meeting, and probably did some reading. At some point, Jared and I went to vote in the Virginia primaries.

In the afternoon, I was supposed to work out with my friend, Peter. But, he’d had a rough day because he’d recently lost someone he cared about and so he suggested we have a drink at the local brewery instead. I’d had a few sips of beer and we’d just gotten an appetizer when Jared came rushing through the door and found us at the bar. He told me to come with him right now. I gave Peter a look, raising my eyebrows, jokingly indicating wonder-what-could-this-be. But then I saw Jared’s expression. I became confused. As he pulled me toward the door, I stopped him, all of the sudden in a panic. I asked him what happened. I think he just said again that I needed to come with him. I stopped walking and asked him again what happened. He uttered the words: “Your brother. He’s been shot. He’s gone.

Jared somehow got me outside of the brewery. He ran back to Peter to tell him we had to go. Somehow, he maneuvered me back to the apartment, just a few blocks walk away. I walked and collapsed, walked and collapsed towards home, crying over and over again “It can’t be! It can’t be!”

It’s odd how your mind plays tricks on you when you’re in shock. My thinking wasn’t making any sense. Somehow, I booked our flights, intermittently begging a god I don’t believe in for this to please not be true. Then, I thought about whether I could still go to the conference two weeks away. Little did I know I wouldn’t be able to do any kind of work for months. Then, I realized I had to pack, but I couldn’t understand what you’re supposed to pack for your brother’s funeral. I decided to stuff a suitcase full of already-worn clothes because I figured I’d worn them already, so I knew they’d at least match. Then, I threw some black items into the suitcase as well. I realized that my grandmother was sound asleep in Switzerland, and I knew I had to lock her out of her Facebook account or she’d see what had happened online. So, I did that next. I called cousins in various parts of the world and charged them with telling their branch of the family what had happened. I called a few of my closest friends — one after the other, each started to scream or plead when I told them what happened. Jared called my advisor and arranged for neighbors and friends to take care of our pets while we traveled.

Somehow, we got on a flight. Somehow, as I sat at Philly airport waiting for the connection, alternating between total shock and sobs, Jared picked up bagels in case we wanted to eat something later. But, we wouldn’t really eat for days. We arrived in Dallas, and I ran right by the officer who had been sent to get us. I don’t know where I thought I was rushing to, just that I needed to get there. She caught up with me and directed us into a private room while our luggage was found. Soon after, I arrived wherever my family was (I still have no clue where that was) and walked in thinking: “This can’t be right. They look normal.” Well, it was right. 

Next, decisions had to be made about the service. Speeches had to be written. An urn chosen. We had to help family from abroad arrive. We had a slideshow to make for the viewings. We had to attend those viewings. I remember getting, literally, hundreds of hugs at one of the viewings. Hundreds. Tight bear-hugs, one after the other, from all the officers. I was weeping, inconsolable, and it was almost as if the tears were squeezed out of me. We were driven from one thing to the next, always with the motorcade of blue lights flashing ahead and behind us. I remember the absolute outrage in the bus when someone cut off the motorcade. None of us could eat, but we drank a lot of Fireball, because that was Dave’s favorite. Finally, there was the big service at Pennington Field. As Our bus rounded the corner, leaving Marta and Dave’s house to head to the service, two little boys stood outside of a home, quietly waving American flags. The bus fell silent. That image is seared into my mind. I will never forget those boys. Just as I will never forget the agony of Dave’s Last Call, beautifully and gut-wrenchingly done by one of the dispatchers.

Next, we had to make plans for and decisions about the service at St. Patrick’s cathedral in NYC. More family traveled to NYC, then did we, with a water cannon salute bidding us goodbye from Dallas. We were taken, by motorcade, from Newark Airport to NYC, all the roads had been blocked and we were flying though an empty Lincoln tunnel before we maneuvered empty NYC streets, and we were finally greeted by dozens of NYPD officers, some in uniform others in civilian clothing, saluting us as we entered the hotel. 

 It goes on and on. I will never be able to put down all the details of what happened in those few days. I can’t even make sense of much of the timeline. 

I’m not quite sure what made want to write this all out and put it “out there” for the world. Maybe, in a way, I’m still trying to understand what happened. Maybe, I just want the world to understand that my brother was not just a uniform. He was an amazing, beautiful, hilarious, intelligent, loving soul, and every single day, hour to hour, minute to minute, his loss lingers over everything we do. Maybe, I’m trying to figure out how to move forward. I think many of us touched by this tragedy are making it through our days, somehow, but completely unsure of how exactly we’re doing it. Finally, at least part of the reason for writing this is because I want to acknowledge the literally hundreds of people who have been there for our family over the course of the last year, and the thousands more who have sent us their thoughts and prayers every day. I learned that tragedy brings out the best and worst in people. Some friendships didn’t withstand this storm, but at the same time, total strangers have become unbelievable sources of comfort and strength. 

The moving-forward-part, though, is much harder to comprehend. I’m not sure how to do that. There’s no recipe for this. A driving force for me has been to think about how I can make an impact in a way that would make Dave proud. So, I’m thinking a lot about that. But, no matter how unclear it all still is, I think there are some lessons we can take directly from Dave. As young as he was when he was taken from us, there was a kind of wisdom to how he lived his life. We just need to look at what he did, to know what we can do too. Like him, let’s love our families. Let’s invest in our friendships. Let’s not worry too much about spending that dollar or smoking that cigar or having that drink. More than anything, let’s care for one another, and ideally, make each other smile or laugh while doing it.

Dave, I miss you beyond words. You were my best friend.

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A Thought: On Strength

People tell us that they admire our strength. Honestly, I don’t feel strong. I don’t think my parents feel strong either. Many days we’re not quite sure how we made it through. In the early weeks after Dave was killed, my mom would say that she didn’t know how she was breathing, and we all knew exactly what she meant. Now, things are a little more manageable.

I guess.

It’s so hard to put into words what life is like now.

My life looks, mostly, “normal.” I walk my dogs. I shop for food and cook. I go to the gym. I attend classes, run data analyses, teach, have meetings and write reports. So, anyone looking in would see a busy grad student. But, mostly it feels like a facade. Just underneath the surface, more often than not I’m thinking about what happened on March 1st, about how long it’s been, about missing Dave. There are constant reminders of him everywhere I look. If I see a patrol car pass, I wish I could talk to the officer – to feel closer to Dave’s experiences, to thank the officer for doing their job, to talk to someone who knows on some level what all of this means (so far, no luck — I’m much too boring for the police to pay attention to me!). When I see a bird of prey overhead, I remember how much he loved them. He could identify the exact type of bird by their outline as he watched them from below. When someone mentions their sibling, I feel a knot in my stomach. When I see something ridiculous, I hear the joke Dave would have made. Sometimes, I manage a chuckle.

Spending time with my family and people who knew and loved Dave is the time when I have permission to let what’s under the surface come to the forefront. In those moments, with those people, I can just be in that grief – however it may express itself. Instead of pushing my thoughts and feelings to the side, I can let them come and go. The best part is, everyone understands. I think that in allowing myself that time, I can work on building myself up again.

So, whatever strength I have is coming from the love and care around me. The grand gestures aren’t what makes this easier — it’s the little reminders that you’re thinking of us: the random texts to say hi and the absurd snapchats that are best forgotten soon after opening. It’s the clever, gritty jokes that remind me so much of Dave’s sense of humor. It’s getting made fun of for being a “tree-hugger” or “super-liberal” (I imagine a cape-wearing superhero). It’s the little tributes to Dave that pop up regularly on Facebook, or just new comments on old posts. I see you think of him and of us, and I know you’re sharing our burden.

So, we may not feel strong, but I guess we’re still standing, still taking one step at a time into, hopefully, brighter days ahead. We’re doing what needs to be done, and we’re doing it with you by our side. So, thank you.

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Our table in the Texas Senate chamber for the Star of Texas ceremony on 9/12/16

A Story: The Legend of Stonewall

“As promised (although somewhat delayed), here is the true story of how Dave and Mike became the stars of Stonewall for a night.

Once upon a time, there was a girl who was flirting with me.  This was a rare occurrence, so when she invited me to her birthday party at the Stonewall Inn, I of course said yes.  Well, after Jessie and my boss told me to say yes.  The appointed date arrived and the 3 of us set out after work to join the festivities already in progress.  We walked through the door and as we started upstairs to the party, who should we see but the birthday girl. And her girlfriend. 

Obviously this night was not going to go the way I’d hoped.

But, we were already there and there was no way to make a graceful exit so soon.  In an effort to salvage the night, we racked our brains trying to think of who we could get to come out with us.  The rest of the platoon had undoubtedly gone home already, but almost immediately two names sprang to mind: Hofer and Sarro.  Regardless of the fact that it was after midnight, and they weren’t even working that day, there was no question in any of our minds that they would be together and they would come out with us.  Sure enough, when Jessie sent her text, it was met with a yes and a request for an address.

Shortly thereafter, Dave and Mike fought their way through the crowd and found us.  The first question they asked was: “So, what kind of place is this?”  Upon learning that it was a gay bar, they shrugged and ordered a drink. 

They then commenced to dance with each other and every girl around them. 

At one point, there was a girl standing behind Dave.  He and Mike would stroke her hair, and when she turned around, they would give her the best innocent look they could muster.  Finally, the girl’s girlfriend caught them.  I cringed inside, afraid that she was going to try to start a fight, but the boys turned on the charm and soon enough they were all best friends.  Unfortunately, someone who shall remain nameless spilled (deliberately poured) a drink on someone else, so she departed in haste, but the rest of us stayed until the wee hours, having a grand old time.  The next day, we were all the worse for wear but those of us who were there will still swear that it was one of the legendary nights out “when four-bys were fun.”

I wish I had a picture of that night with Dave and Mike in it, but I can’t find one.  Maybe it’s for the best that there’s no evidence of the shenanigans.”

~ Kerry, NYPD

A Story: End of Watch

“There was one day where I was sitting alone with Dave. He found this the perfect time  to question me about my worries in regards to making the move to Texas. “What’s your biggest fear about moving here?” I told him that in the NYPD Mike always had a partner and although Euless seems like a safe area, I just didn’t love the idea of him being alone. Dave instantly laughed. He said: “You think Mike will ever be alone? He’s MY partner, kiddddd! I always have his back. If that’s your biggest fear you’re fine. I’d die for him and that’s the truth.”

Fast forward a few months, Mike and Dave constantly reminded us of the movie End of Watch. “This movie is so completely like us” they’d say. Both Marta and I never laughed and said: “That’s not funny because one gets killed in the end.”

If you’ve never seen the End of Watch, I’d suggest keeping it that way. It is heartbreaking, but a true depiction of what police officers go through. In the movie, tragically, the officers were ambushed, leaving one officer to watch his partner get killed, which now more than ever hits home.

In the end, during David’s final moments, he was with Mike, Ed, and Mo and Dave did exactly what he had promised me he would do. He saved Mike’s life and there are no words to describe how thankful I am for what he did. He truly honored their brotherhood and will be honored as a hero forever in my eyes.

~ Stefanie O., Friend

A Story: Pretty woMAN

“Throughout my life, David has been one of the most present friends I’ve ever had.  I’ve known him since middle school and he has consistently kept in touch and reached out to me to connect with him.

In middle school and high school, David was that friend with the awesome apartment that invited me over pretty much every other weekend.  We were a bit awkward together, but found solace bonding over Dragon Ball Z and playing video games.  He always sat me down to play games with him… where he pretty much wrecked me every time.  That set the tone of our friendship. We hung out in loud places such as bars with friends and one on one gaming together or just chatting at his place.  We stayed in touch, when I was in college.  Whenever I was back home, I always took time off to chill with David.  In Seattle, we kept in touch over Xbox Live and the occasional call.   And back in New York, I was always with Dave until he left to Texas.

After high school, I had my heart broken by a crush that broke up with me, which lasted a good time even into college.  David took it upon himself to get me back into dating.  His method was simple, get me as drunk as he could possibly get me, point to someone and push me into that person. Sometimes, he’d even tell that person some fake story about me!  I would awkwardly fumble through whatever situation he put me in. 

I always had a lot of fun hanging out with him.  He always pushed me. He’d tell me to just talk to people and get comfortable.  He even took it upon himself to get a friend to “pretty woman” me and clean me up for dating after he left for Texas!  He helped me break out of my comfort zone, and I appreciated it and was always down to hang with him and act stupid.”

~ Greg T., Friend

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A break from snowmobiling on Mooselookmeguntic Lake in Rangeley, Maine

A Story: Making Moves

“It took a few months, but I am so lucky that Dave convinced us to move to Texas. I met Dave 3 years ago and Dave went from being a character (“my partner”) that I only heard about to a amazing friend of my own. I have so many memories from the past 7 months that I will cherish an entire lifetime. I figured I’d share the day we moved to Texas.

We walked out of the airport and there was Dave. Standing outside his car waving to us with the biggest smile on his face. He embraced Mike and I and said: “Welcome to the good life!” He was right. Mike and I scheduled our car and furniture to be delivered all in the same day as we moved.  As we got into Dave’s car I saw two red bulls, one for Mike and one for me, a huge bottle of wine for me and a humidor for Mike. Considering Dave loved cigars, whether Mike liked them or not, he better start! And, he did! 

He brought us to to pick up Mike’s car and then followed us to our apartment. Instead of doing whatever he needed to do, he sat outside and waited for us to finish our hour-long paperwork. He did a walk-through of our apartment. And, after all this he took us to lunch, paid as a “welcome to Texas”meal (which of course included sangria!). 

He then brought us to Total Wine and back to the apartment. Now, you’d think after a full day of helping us, Dave would go home.  No, not Dave. He carried couches, beds, televisions, and so many boxes into our apartment. Finally he turned to Mike and I and said: “Stop! You have time to unpack. You need to enjoy your time here!” So, we went to the pool. We drank beers, and the boys smoked cigars. 

Dave was Mike’s best friend, but did not know me or owe me anything. Through the next few months Dave spent at least three days a week at our apartment. Each time, taking the to get to know me. His friendship with Mike is something I will always cherish. And to me, he became a brother.”

~ Stefanie O., Friend

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A Story: My Dear Friend Dave

Two Years ago, I got on a plane and took a vacation to visit my cousin Ed and his wife Michelle who had recently moved down to Dallas, Texas. In that short weekend I met a wonderful group of people. One in particular stood out to me. Dave.

On that trip to Texas, I had my first glass of moonshine, my first shot of fireball because there was no saying no to Dave. I learned that very quickly.

Having loved Texas so much I planned to go back in a few months during the summer to look at apartments and a potential job opportunity.

Again, I was lucky enough to spend two weeks down there with this special group of people. My cousin and his wife welcomed me in as did their friends.

I remember Dave for a good chunk of my two weeks there, telling me that I would be crazy not to move down here.

Eventually a couple of months later, I decided I would move down to Texas, try it out and just take a risk. After my big move, the first time I saw Dave his words were “I told you that you’d be back.” He was right.

After having lost my mother in 2013, I also lost some friendships, true friendships. I felt people didn’t know how to be around me, didn’t know what to say, and pitied me. This group of people in Texas just got me. Having had shared with them in different settings the story about my mom, they all just understood. They didn’t pity me, they didn’t look at me differently when they found out and they knew how to keep me smiling and busy.

A good amount of my time down there in Texas was spent with Dave and Marta. They welcomed me with open arms; they constantly included me and invited me to go out with them. I never felt uncomfortable or out of place or like I was third wheeling.

I always looked forward to getting a text from Dave. Some consisted of…

“Sangria. Our place. 4:00.”

“Village Burger Bar. Be there”

“Poolside Sunday fun day. Meet us at the pool”

I also always looked forward to going to Ed and Michelle’s after work. At the time I did not have a washer and dryer so I did wash at Ed and Michelle’s every Thursday. Just about every Thursday I walked in to the house to find Ed and Dave just hanging out. Just about every time they were drunk, half naked, or poolside, fireside, and passing out on the couch.

My favorite story had to be when I arrived at Ed’s house around 5:30. I can see them sitting by the fire-pit as I walked through the door. I walked in and was welcomed by Ed with a “What’s uppp Teacherrrr?” and from Dave with a “What’s up kiddddddddd? Want some fireball?”

We got on the topic of the word “BAE”. A new word everyone was using to refer to their significant other. Ed and Dave having never head of that term asked me what it meant. I first asked them to guess. You can only imagine the guesses that came out of their drunken mouths.

“balls, and ass eater” is just one example.

I eventually told them it meant “before anyone/thing else”

They found this comical and extremely stupid. They  started asking each other if they wanted to be their BAE’s. The next five minutes consisted of Ed and Dave looking all googly-eyed at each other, sticking their tongues out, licking their cups and being weird. Telling each other how much they loved each other. This was nothing new to me, I always enjoyed watching this and decided to film it. It is a video I watch back frequently.

Then….

Drunk Ed asked Drunk Dave to make him a glass of scotch. There happened to be just a little bit of scotch left. Dave did as he was asked and brought drunk Ed his drink. Drunk Ed was NOT happy. Drunk Ed was insistent that drunk Dave spiked the glass with fireball. As an eye witness, drunk Dave did not spike the drink. Drunk Ed went to make a new drink only to find that there was NO MORE SCOTCH! Drunk Ed went on a rant and Ed was not having this. Dave felt bad and said he would go to Total Wine to get him a new bottle.

There was no way drunk Dave was driving to his favorite spot so I offered to take him. He refused to go in my “toy car” as he called it so he allowed me to drive his car.

“Woah slowdown”

“Watch out”

“Goooo”

“Be careful with my car”

“Watch the bump”

“Go faster”

“You’re driving on the floor lights, don’t you hear it?”

Let’s just say I never drove Dave’s car again……..

Because drunk Ed and drunk Dave weren’t drunk enough, Dave bought a bottle of fireball and a giant bottle of scotch to make up for drunk Ed accusing him of spiking his drink.

This ordeal of drunken stupidness continued as more friends started to show up. The boys had planned on going to “the spot” at the Shops at Legacy. They told me I should come and have a drink with all them. I was in my sweats and had no desire to be at a bar. So I offered to drop them off. As they all got out of the car Dave and Ed looked and me and Dave said , “You better go home, change and come meet us.”

As I was driving home I decided I would go home, change, and meet them, as per Dave’s request. We’ll just say it was an interesting night of watching drunken 30 year olds at the bar.

There are countless days and nights that I was able to spend with Dave. Some comical like the story above and some just low key nights. Dave always welcomed me to their apartment, always included me when his friends came to town for the weekend. He tried to set me up with a number of his friends because all he truly wanted was for people to be happy. He looked out for me like a little sister. Most importantly he always kept me laughing hysterically and smiling when I was hurting inside.

Dave was a good guy. He was genuine, selfless, beautiful, funny, kind, generous, happy, intelligent, silly and a friend. There aren’t many people I called a friend after the passing of my mom. But to me, even in just the two and a half years I knew Dave, he was a good friend.

My time in Texas came to an end, I was missing my family in New York and decided to move back and just take it a year at a time. When I told Dave and Marta, they were sad. I spent a lot of time with them before I left. We spent a day balcony and pool hopping, drinking Sangria and just laughing. A lot of the conversation consisted of Dave saying , “You are crazy to move back.” “You are going to go home, be miserable and come back. Just wait, you’ll see.” “Don’t leave, don’t go back to New York.”

My Dear Friend Dave,

You are a beautiful human.

I thank you for your friendship.

I thank you for being you.

I thank you for the laughter.

I thank you for the memories.

I thank you for looking out for me.

I thank you for your service, for your ultimate sacrifice. You are my hero.

When I close my eyes I can summon back your smile and laughter in my mind.

You will live on in my heart.

~ Allissa P., Friend

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A Tribute: Three Months Gone (and a Slideshow)

Today marks three months since Dave was killed. How surreal. In this time, I can honestly say that I have done nothing but think about him and the circumstances of his death. It makes me feel like I’m a bit in a time-warp, like everything just happened. But then, in a way, that makes sense. His being gone means a complete restructuring of everything I thought I knew about what my life would be like. I may have had many possible versions for my life when I thought about what the future might bring, but fundamentally, he was part of all of those versions. I say this as Dave’s sister, and I know it’s even more acute for Marta. The most heart-breaking thought, to me, is that when I eventually have children, they won’t know Dave. Someone who was so, so, so important to me, will simply be a collection of stories to them.

I thought it fitting to post the slideshow that Lucas Funeral Homes put together for Dave’s viewing. If you have 10 minutes, and are somewhere private (because: tears), watch it.

David was a son, a fiancee, a brother, a grandson, an uncle, a cousin, a best friend to so, so many, and the funniest dang person any of us knew. If love alone could have kept him safe, he would be with us still.

A Story: Random Bits

This is part 7 of a longer note I received from Bryan R. about the Dave’s “humorously paradoxical lifestyle” as Bryan so nicely put it. For related posts see: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4; Part 5; Part 6.

I’m not sure I have ever met a man as pale as Dave.  I’m not even sure I’ve seen nor heard of his feet touching the sand on a beach.  Yet somehow Texas stole his heart.  “Dude, it’s sick.  The complex I live in has a giant pool and chairs to sit on and get your tan on.”

Dave drove slower than the elderly, yet that didn’t stop him from buying a speedy Volkswagen sports car.  “Bro, this thing flies.  Turbo speed is the best.”

He had a habit of pinching his male-friend’s chests, just to annoy them.  God forbid anyone ever try returning the favor.  “ooWWWW!” That drawn-out, over-exaggerated yell, with a, “Dude stop, you’re being annoying!”

~Bryan R., NYPD