UD‘s first boyfriend – and the person she refers to on this blog as her ‘thesdan playmate, has died. He was fifty-seven.
It was sudden, “a shock to us all,” his mother Rita just said to me on the phone.
He’d been out kayaking – he loved to kayak, and wanted to live, someday, on one of the islands off Washington State. He felt, he said to his companion on the water, “strange.” They went back to the dock, and David lay down and died.
He had a history of coronary heart disease; he’d had a stent put in.
We met in Mrs Washer’s tenth grade Latin class at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, Maryland. We shared, like many kids at WJ, the same ‘thesdan demographics: Jewish, children of federal government scientists.
He didn’t look anything like his well-known sister, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. She talks about this in her book A Dialogue on Love:
We are good-looking.
All Mediterranean, all with fine brown frames
and those sparkling, or
eyes of chocolate
— all but a dorkily fat, pink, boneless middle child; one of my worst nicknames is “Marshmallow.”
Soulful, extravagant-lashed / eyes of chocolate says it. There’s a photograph of David in our high school yearbook in which he’s tutoring a student. The camera, tight on his face, captures his chocolate eyes trained with enormous soulful attention on the student.
His mother, his sister, David – all teachers.
UD was a protected conventional suburban kid, David a hyper-confident bizarro. He went to New York City most weekends, for shadowy hipster reasons… Something to do with an insanely brilliant lover up there whose mother had been Lord Buckley’s lover… A woman who used words like cathexis…
David didn’t care what anyone thought of him… We exchanged notes every day in class – crazy notes, precursors of our crazy Gchats. These notes were ironic, literary, obscene, hilarious, juvenile. We grew up, but our notes never grew up.
Although I came from a pretty cultured home, real intellectual awakening for me started with David. He was at the time an absurdly precocious Straussian; he also met once a week with a scholar of the Talmud. Neither of these particular things interested me. I was interested in David’s intellectual energy, his mental and erotic brashness, his social insolence, his outrageous openness to anything that might be exciting and provocative and difficult and enigmatic and bizarre and entirely not what other people thought worth noticing.
We had a long tortured love affair which ended in his leaving me for a woman he’d met at Telluride, the summer school at Cornell for really smart high school students. (For some reason, I have in my bookcase the madly scribbled all over paperback of The Waste Land he studied from that summer.) Wounded, I spent years angry at him. But he reappeared in my life at some point, wanting friendship.
He wrote me long letters from his exotic solo world travels. I remember in particular a photo of him in India, looking sallow. He’d gotten hepatitis.
He studied history in the honors program at the University of Maryland, and then got an MA in Comparative History at Brandeis. I read his thesis, on infanticide.
And then he went traveling the world again.
Eventually he landed in Seoul, and took a job teaching English at a university there. For twenty years he used Korea as a home base from which to explore much of Asia.
He wasn’t madly in love with Korea, but he was a born expatriate, loving the feeling of always being strange, at odds… Loving too the daily observation of intricate other realities… He wanted to be an outsider. He wanted to be permanently somewhat ill at ease, a stranger at a strange angle to the world.
When he fell in love and married, and when his Korean wife wanted to move to the United States, he did so reluctantly. As she pursued her medical education, David stayed home and raised their son, lovingly teaching this highly intelligent child all manner of things, training his soulful attention on him alone.
David wrote, in a Gchat last year:
I keep promising to take Noam to a really good limestone cave… I REALLY want to give him some rich experiences… I mean, I think I’ve done a splendid job of kindling his excitement about books and what they offer, but there is so much more to life.
Indeed while David, like his sister, was a thoroughgoing intellectual, he was also a gourmet, a kayaker, a knowledgeable lover of jazz, and a fine guitarist.
I never saw him relax. His intensity, his endless observation and analysis of every person, place, and idea he encountered, his complex and to some extent punishing self-consciousness, meant that his life would be at once effervescent and exhausting. He once startled me, in a Gchat, by saying that death seemed to him a rather tantalizing opportunity to rest.
Pictures of David when young can be found here.