"I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; It is melted within me." Psalm 22:14
Occasionally, life will blow you away. We adapt to the little gusts and zephyrs which buffet us around in the usual course of daily activity, the bursts that knock off a hat or raise a skirt. Inconvenient, perhaps even amusing in the right circumstances, but nothing beyond what a functional person is able to contend with. Then out of nowhere the howl and rush blindside us as the grand invisible knocks us off our feet into crumpled wrecks. The power of the wind is that you can see what it does, but you can’t see it.
A young man died on Sunday. A traffic collision ended another life too soon, for no good reason. He wasn’t a celebrity or business superstar, nor a man of political ambition or even religious piety; he was a man adrift in a world full of them. As most, his note came in the lives he touched and the love he possessed. For most of us, that must be enough.
His name was Dustin Scott Haywood. He was 31, he was my nephew and, more importantly, he was my friend. I knew him all of his 31 years, distantly, as my family is nuclear (but only after the explosion and all is distributed far and wide). I met him in Sacramento/Fair Oaks when he was a baby and watched him grow in and around there and Santa Rosa, California, when I and my family would visit my folks for occasions from Los Angeles.
He was 2 years older than my son, several younger than my daughters. Dustin and his younger brother, Nick, played with my son, Errol, and they spent much of their childhoods growing up together. As Dustin grew, he found a special affinity for me as did I for him; he was fascinated by my weirdness but likely more so by my joy of living. He took an interest in piano upon seeing the fun I had with it, showed me what he’d learned when we’d see each other.
When I had the occasion to speak with his father regarding the atrocities of 9/11, Dustin saw the logic with which I presented my perspective, as did his father (who willingly bypassed the obvious in favor of the comforting). In his distrust of authority another of our bonds was formed. In the disdain of my sister and her husband for my negative influence upon him we found a mutual amusement as well – how I, who spoke to Dustin maybe 3 times a year, could have a stronger influence than his parents who he lived and worked with daily for years says much, I suppose, about all of us in his regard.
He was smart, quick-witted, but undisciplined as are most men at that age these days (undisciplined, not smart or quick-witted), and hungry for meaning. His dad is fairly conservative and very nationalist/capitalist, a flyer in the military before getting into real estate. Dustin, tall and very slight, was not of a military mind, nor was my son, which is a good thing considering what our military was getting into when they were coming of age. This is an influence I will gladly accept responsibility for: my mother, his mother and my brother all pushed for my son to join the military because he didn’t have a job. Dustin was likewise pushed by his parents.
This was around 2002. Just after we invaded Afghanistan, just before we invaded Iraq and all the rest. I repudiated my family for suggesting to my son and my nephew that they should join the military “To make men out them.” I took issue with this and do so still because that is exactly the opposite of what the military does.
What is a boy? Someone so immature that you must dress him, feed him, make him clean up after himself, tell him what to do and most importantly make all his decisions for him. That describes parenting and the military nicely. Parenting has virtue because you spend all your time trying to keep your kids from being killed or killing anyone else. The military is just about the killing.
Afterward, the young inductee, discharged back into the wild, still has to find a place to live, a car to drive, a job, a life – but now with the added benefit of having been trained to shut up, follow orders to the letter, view oneself as the lowest scum of the Earth, yet still superior to everyone else, and especially being expected to kill the competition with no qualm. Like college students, most probably end up back at home after their stint, at least until they end up on the streets as more of our social castaways.
This is a man? Shut-up, do as you’re told, follow orders, kill your fellows because it is the only way to win!? This is socially seen as our pinnacle of desirability – don’t forget, hire a vet. Because like a good saddle horse, a vet is broken; he will obey command. Those who reject such thinking are outcasts, marginalized, targeted. It happened to me. It happened to Dustin.
I will recount the bullet points of a complex relationship: Dustin worked in real estate with his dad, made some money, had a house. He allowed a female friend to stay with him, with her own room, in his house. She went wacky and became menacing so he had her move out. Then one day, while he was alone in the house, in the shower, Dustin heard someone breaking in. He threw on some pants and grabbed a shotgun. He found his former roomy and some fellow in the house and insisted they leave. After a heated exchange, they left. Dustin was arrested. Spent years enjoying the benefits of the legal system. Had to pay the intruder who broke into his house $15,000.00 - court ordered - to avoid ass-rape prison.
For holding a gun in his house.
This vexed Dustin, as well as several of us. I learned long ago that when they get you, money is the only thing that ungets you. Dustin learned too. So he lost his house, moved into his parent’s rental condo. Then they decided to sell that. Or give it to his brother. The last time I saw him, mid-last year, he and a friend had come down for a job interview and stayed at my place. He was downbeat about his living circumstance but still positive about future endeavors. He had plans.
In February he texted that he and a friend would be coming down and I let him know what he always knew: he was welcome any time. That went on hold. Then, early March, he texted me again, said he was into something that he could only talk to me about because I would understand. I told him I was all eyes and he told me he would tell me soon.
Then Sunday came the call.
Grief is as the sea – Distant: vast, impenetrable but still and calm. Close: it washes over us in waves until we are consumed. Battered we gasp for breath and clutch for something solid to moor us, coming away with only sand. The death of a love becomes like a dream, it doesn’t seem real in the midst of seeming all too real. Waiting for the wake-up that puts everything back right, the wake-up that never comes. And the dream/nightmare becomes our new reality.
When the call came, I knew instantly by the sound of my ex’s voice. That horrid sensation triggered only by a single word uttered across a phone connection that sends your body into distress mode, “What happened?” Before she could answer I thought, “It’s my Mom. Don’t let it be Errol.” When she said it was Dustin, I was stunned. Not Dustin. He’s the only one in the family that likes me. I love Dustin. As she told me what she knew, I became awash, gasping for air, sinking deeper and deeper into despair. I love Dustin.
And like that, he was gone.
Dustin understood the evils of capital but he enjoyed its benefits as well. He, like so many people young and old, found the pursuit of it empty and meaningless, a lifetime spent running in place on a treadmill that increases speed the longer you run. He had agrarian aspirations of which I dissuaded him, having farmed in my youth. He was at one point ready to put off to Fiji and areas contiguous to build a commune/resort for a charismatic leader and I dissuaded him in that as well. I wonder now if I should have.
He saw that we had taken our paradise, which we so clamor for, and turned it into the jungle that we are so proud of climbing out of. This troubled him as it does any compassionate person and I felt his idealism turning into cynicism; he was becoming a man. The marketplace is occasionally generous to those who willingly play the game, but to we who mock convention it is a cruel mistress, offering the promise of delights never delivered.
Dustin could act the part but his heart wasn’t in it. This we shared in common as well. He had strayed from the path. He had seen what most cannot (and not owing to incapacity so much as unwillingness). Some of this I may have showed him, most he found on his own. Inquisitive minds inquire. I know he felt alone and it breaks my heart he didn’t continue our discourse.
That I didn’t.
Some, it seems, breeze through life or get blown through it (in both positive and negative connotations) while others stake a more fixed place. While I have spent annoying amounts of time around most of my other family members, Dustin always seemed in transit, moving some direction or another in that common search for sense in all this. I enjoyed our time immeasurably but rarely got more than a day here and there to enjoy his company. I am very touched he found me interesting enough to want to socialize with.
As with all friends lost, I thought I would have more opportunities.
My dad told me that if by the end of your life you can count your true friends on one hand, you’ve done okay, had a good life. At the end of his life, I was one of maybe two on his hand. I’m glad that I could be after all we went through together. I know that at the end Dustin counted me on his hand[s] and I am honored to have been there as well.
Sadly, at my end I will have one less on mine.
Rest in peace my Friend.