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The Personal Essay: The day the sky fell

AUGUST 24, 2017 – 33.53N, 110.57W, and 44 years.

Dad’s friend Claude D’Amour, who knew something about small planes, said it was icing. Wings glaze, lift slips away, and the aircraft no longer flies. And on that day in the Arizona mountains, the inability to climb was the same thing as falling. The ridge line was the last high point between them and home, but they were simply too low.

Getting killed by ice flying over a desert – even at 13 – David would have recognized the irony and mocked the absurdity, because he was wicked smart and loved practical jokes. Neither of us would have used the word “wicked,” though. He came from Long Island and I was from Canada, and the bizarre nature of discourse in Manchester, N.H., was equally baffling to the two new kids there. Perhaps that’s why we became friends. That and our mutual delight in watching Rabbi Klein turn red with fury when we goofed off during Hebrew class. That and David’s amazing older sister, who I hoped would be around when I hung out at his house after school.

David and his dad went missing for months and Rabbi Klein would visit his mom and sisters. He would sit on their living room couch, kind and patient, far from the raving maniac who taught our bar mitzvah class. He was a Hungarian Jew, a survivor of the Budapest Holocaust, and he knew too much about suffering without purpose, suffering that defied explanation.
When school ended that early summer with David yet unfound, I was asked to empty his junior high locker and return his books. I gathered his possessions from the metal space and walked through the school, delivering my dead friend’s books. Our math teacher, the formidable Mrs. Algrin, started to cry and I did, too.

After hearing the rabbi’s eulogy, I knew he loved David, even though no one in our class took more delight in tormenting him. Rabbi Klein had seen too many Jewish boys die, and losing even one more left him on the precipice of despair. Yet the rabbi never strayed from his duty in comforting the grieving Badlers, perhaps because he knew even this misery could be borne, and that survival alone was enough.

Forty-four years and a spot on a map, a civil air patrol footnote, an accident report accounting, two souls on board, both lost to the mountain, two coordinates where hikers on innocent ascent confronted the wreckage of flight suddenly interrupted, two lives cast upon the stone.

Forty-four years passed and I no longer speculate upon who or what David might have become. It is enough for me to know that he had fallen to rest at that place. Certain, fixed in time, fixed in my memory.

Howard Wiseman writes from Sharon.

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Leo Wiedersheim August 25, 2017, 4:16 am

    Forever fixed in your memory – and now in mine. Well done Howard.

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