David was in Portugal, one year out of school when he was attacked by three men, knocked unconscious, stabbed and then thrown over a cliff. Several hundred metres down the road, the campervan he was cleaning was ransacked, set alight and thrown over as well. While the campervan made it to the bottom, David landed on a ledge where he lay unconscious for the rest of that day. The fall had broken his spine and completely shattered his jaw.
It was cold and dark when David finally awoke. He was in an enormous amount of pain and disoriented but he could see the distant lights of fishing boats out over the ocean. He tried to call out for help but the damage to his jaw and the crashing waves below made his attempts futile. He spent the remainder of the night drifting in and out of consciousness.
As the sun came up the next morning, David was able to take in his situation. He had landed on a small ledge forty metres from the top. Ten metres below him the waves crashed into the rock face. The bottom half of his face had been crushed. He had stab wounds in his torso and judging by his clothes he had lost a lot of blood. Most painful though was his back, and while he could move his legs and arms, the pain was excruciating when he tried. David decided he would lie there and wait for help. Day turned into night and the fishing boat lights far out to sea began to twinkle again.
David didn't sleep much that night, it was cold and he was in an enormous amount of pain. As the sun came up the next morning he could still see the fishing boats out on the horizon. No one had found him and he began to suspect that no one was looking. He knew he needed to take matters into his own hands if he was to survive and figured he had two choices. The first was to climb down to the ocean below and take on the crashing waves as he tried to swim out to the boats. The second was to climb back up the cliff. Climbing up felt like the safest of the two options and so early that morning he began the ascent. Progress was slow and painful, but he pushed on and sometime around midnight that evening he finally reached the top. The climb had taken him nearly twenty hours. Miraculously, he had rescued himself.
David and I go back over a decade, yet I had already known him for two years before he told me this story. And it was only because of a passing comment about a campervan that I was able to pry it out of him. It wasn’t because he didn’t know what went into telling a great tale, he had a wonderful talent for that, it was simply that he never embedded himself into the centre of anything. Consequently, this story wasn’t in his repertoire.
I loved this story. It spoke to me of the resilience of the human spirit and while it left him in a lifetime of pain and a cycle of depression and unemployment, it also showed him at a very early age how deep he could dig. I used to think this was a gift not many of us get to experience. David wasn’t so sure about that and the last few months has changed my mind as well.
If you have bought a bottle of Goodwill Wine, chances are that David put your order together. He loved his job. It gave him a sense of purpose and like the stories that he told, doing something for charity removed him from the central focus. Working in the warehouse wasn’t about him and this suited him down to the ground. I watched him grow over this time and develop a deeper sense of empathy than I previously knew him to have. He was my mate and he wanted to do a good job for me, so in November when he began to get a new pain high up in his back, he shrugged it off and continued to work.
David came down from Newcastle to start work in our warehouse in 2017. He had been unemployed for a very long time but was excited for the opportunity. He needed somewhere to stay, I had a spare room and so he moved into my little rental where he quickly became a fixture. I enjoyed his company, we both liked gardening and unlike me, he was an incredible cook. He had a deep passion for birds and somehow brought many into our garden. He knew what each one was and could sit for hours watching them. He also had a wonderful way of connecting with children and he quickly won my daughter’s heart. She loved him and would often ask what would happen to him if I ever bought a house. It was really important to her that we get one with an extra room for David.
For all of November I could hear him groaning in his sleep from the room next door. It was unsettling, made even moreso by the fact that he wouldn't acknowledge the pain in his waking life. Clearly something wasn’t right and despite my constant harassment, he refused to go for help. December came around and David would turn up to work just long enough to ensure that the wines went out, and then he would literally collapse. I couldn’t stand to watch it and so I told him he couldn't keep turning up to work if he wasn’t prepared to go and see a doctor. We both knew he needed help but something was stopping him from seeking it. I think a life of pain had hardened him and he was going to push through it, just as he had in the past.
David stayed in his bed for much of December and every day I would come home from work and berate him for not going to hospital. It was frustrating and began to strain our friendship. Many times I would coax him out of his room so I could drive him, only to find him back in bed with the promise that he would go tomorrow. Finally, one afternoon in early January he went.
I got a call from him that night to tell me that he had stage four pancreatic cancer. He’d more than likely had it for a number of years but it had now spread to most of the organs in his body and the doctors had told him that he wouldn’t make it to Easter. It was only the second time that I had ever heard him cry. I told him that I loved him and I would see him through.
David wanted to die at home and a small handful of us helped keep him out of hospital for the next four months. It was a terrible thing to watch and a far worse thing for him to go through, but true to form he never once complained about the pain or felt sorry for himself.
David passed away on Monday morning. This has been a difficult time and I’m sorry if my thank you notes have been short or not as personal as I would have liked and some of your emails have gone unanswered. I am however very grateful to have had some amazing people step up to help get your wines out and help me care for my friend.
David was a good man with a huge heart. He was very humble and private but if he let you into his world he gave you everything he had. He loved nature and he loved his friends and battled with the same demons that we all face. He knew how to dig deep yet I’m sure he found untapped reserves he didn’t know existed as he fought this brutal disease. I no longer think it is a blessing to know this about yourself.
His was a life cut short. I feel David had so much more to offer that will now go unrealized and I am deeply sorry for that, but I’m also grateful for everything he gave. I loved watching him grow as a person as he worked for the first time with real purpose, and I was excited about bringing him on this journey with me. Despite my daughter’s plans, David wanted to own his own house and to finally be comfortable. It wasn’t too much to ask for and I am really sad he will never realise that dream. I’m going to miss him terribly. I already do.