Monday, June 14, 2010

And We're Done

Dave was a bastard.

He was brilliant, but had a quick mind and a quicker temper. He did not suffer fools, gladly or otherwise, and had little patience for people who were slower on the uptake than he was, or for people who he thought were lazy, either intellectually or physically. A fierce intellect in a tempestuous man. Many people loathed him, several feared him, not many liked him.

But he liked me, and somewhere underneath that writhing mob of demons he wrestled daily, I saw somebody I could connect to. I did the analysis for a couple of his projects and spent occasional weekends working on papers with him at his cabin in the White Mountains. For all his failings--and it would take a separate blog with its own server to catalog them all--he was unfailingly generous with me, unfailingly kind and nurturing with my son. We fished, he cooked, we talked, I learned how to be rigorous in thinking about archaeology.

About nine years ago, after an adult lifetime spent alienating colleagues and screaming, drunk, at underlings in the field, he hit bottom. It wasn't hard enough to either kill him or render him amnesiac, but, as he put it, the inter-ocular impact was fairly high, so--with the help of our boss, who is the finest human on the planet--he started to work on getting his shit together.

And in doing so, he gave me the courage to get my own shit together.

He got serious about finishing the cabin, so I lugged tools up over the Rim and hammered floorboards into place and stained paneling and raked cinders. We fished. He cooked. He delighted in my son. He started finishing projects that had languished for years, and started making amends with people he had insulted and abused in the years when the drink and the hot temper and the unbalanced brain chemistry had the upper hand. He wanted to know what I was working on, and was excited to collaborate on new research with a colleague who not two years ago was ready to shoot him on sight. He was slowly turning things around.

But all the years of booze and cigarettes won out in the end. The last five years brought multiple heart surgeries, each leaving him more debilitated than the last. I visited him in the hospital and found a hollowed-out shell with a rat's nest for hair and the sunken, glittering eyes you see in daguerrotypes of Civil War soldiers. He had lived for field archaeology and walking his dog in the woods, but his now-trembling legs and failing eyes kept him from all but largely ceremonial trips out to stumble around Las Capas, where he no longer terrified the workers but instead mostly left them wondering who that shaky old man was. Two weeks ago he went under for a final time to correct a kink in his gut. He went septic and then he went comatose. He finally died last night. He was 61 years old. He leaves behind no family except a Rottweiler named Lovey.

Dave was a bastard. But he was my bastard, and he loved me unconditionally and believed in me when I didn't believe in myself.

Rest well.

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