A graduation without a graduate is a bittersweet thing*

It was easier to stay silent than to write this, and I don’t know how far I’ll get.

I haven’t written many stories lately because I made it a rule way back in June that the next thing I wrote about would be to ask if TCC would consider awarding David Lowe his degree posthumously.  

David Lowe was my student at TCC in 2006 and again in 2009-10; he was a Vietnam Vet and an avid outdoorsman and disability activist, but the one thing he really wanted to accomplish in life was to complete his degree so that he could get a job helping other Veterans.  

I’ve done this before, and TCC said yes -- the story became Marvin’s Book: The Story of a Professor and a Promise.   The money from Marvin’s Book (at least $100 a month) was promised to TCC to create a scholarship – The Hero Scholarship -- for David Lowe to return to school. 

David’s chronic health issues kept him from completing a single semester back, but he was pleased that other student Veterans have received – and continue to receive - help in his name.

A graduation without a graduate is a bittersweet thing, almost overwhelming to imagine, but to let David’s story go untold would be sadder still.







The Last Time I Saw David - Part 1

(from 6/23/18)

The last time I saw David Lowe was on his birthday, the year we threw him a birthday party during a weekly dinner at Veterans Village.  

David’s friends brought him cake and showered him with the things he would need for the apartment he was about to move into: towels, dishes, bath rugs, giftcards, kitchen essentials.  He packed them in his truck for safe keeping and drove off into the night.


That was not the last time I saw David. 

Months after his birthday he moved into an accessible apartment, and faced a long tangle of frustrations with things air conditioning, cable/wi-fi, and if I were to go back through his posts I could name a few more for you, but I’m not ready to go back through there. Please. Not yet.

The last time I saw David was the day that I gave $5 and a lucky rock to a stranger I met in Tallahassee Mall while waiting for Zack and a friend who were watching a movie.

  Looking back on it I can’t even believe I wrote a story in a circle around what happened that day: I found out that David had fallen in the shower probably due to a tiny air pocket in one of his prosthetic leg. 

The entire story you are about to read occurred between the time I found out David was in the hospital with a broken back, and when I went to see David later that afternoon.

Note: I cannot even believe I wrote about a water bottle, and also that same water bottle is still in my life, thank you very much.

I have a new water bottle in my life. It is a gorgeous silver bowling pin shaped creation of some space aged amazeballs stuff, and it has become my constant companion.  I love how it keeps my water so cold that ice doesn’t melt overnight.  I take it running with me and imagine holding it up like an Olympic torch (restraint prevailed).   I shake it to add crushed ice percussion accents to good songs.   It is my constant companion and I am THANKFUL I brought it with me to my adventure one particular Wednesday in July because this mall  I take my son and his friend to is dead. Empty. Like there are three stores – bras, candles, lucky rocks – and none of them interest me (today).

There’s a department store filled with fashions so freakishly southern with swirly pink dresses and glittery white tops I can’t even get too close. Just can’t. 

So I mall walk for a few minutes, and only a few, because the mall used to be much bigger and now where there should be a wing that includes that Barnes and Nobles where I had my first book signing, but there is instead a glass wall. Awesome.  

After three trips around this empty sad place I can’t take it so I go get a book from my car and find a prime place to sit. I decide on a bench that is at the top of an awkward place where the mall splits into three levels but none of the escalators work.   

Over the next hour I pretend to read but actually mostly watch people hesitate fearfully at the un-moving escalators.  They just don’t know what to do – treat the escalator like stairs? Just take the stairs? Which is the UP side when none of them are moving? There are no instructions but every single person finds their way up and down off to where they are going. 

So I’m sitting there peacefully  when a man walks up behind me in this very empty mall with very empty benches everywhere and asks if he can sit on my bench with me.  He is  bald, very sweaty, and gives me a smile that shows only one tooth.  His shoes are flattened from walking, he looks weary.    I scoot over.  

What am I going to do? Say no?  Who would I be then?  I am very aware my purse is across me because it always is, and then I move my water bottle over and hold it in my right hand upside down imagining it is a club, knowing full well I would never hit any creature of God with a water bottle olympic torch.  

He introduces himself. He is Darren. I am Melissa. He offers a fist to fist bump. I we fist bump. He mops his sweating forehead and asks me if I’m from around here. I am.  Do I know if there is a YMCA? I do. It isn’t close.  He shakes his head.

He then tells me his sister is wiring money and can I lend him some? Maybe we can get back up later? 

No way he thinks this will work. No way. But still. I tell him what’s up I tell him my son is at the movies with a girl, with all my cash. But he can have my change. 

He smiles. While I dig in my tiny round purse I direct his attention to the people standing confused in front of the escalator.  He joins my game.

We laugh at people, not at them, because that would be mean but still, no doubt, at them. 

I dig at least $5.00 in change from the middle of my purse then realize one is a Cuban dollar and I take it back.  

We talk about Cuba.  We talk about America. We talk about the weather and Donald Trump. 

 Then I find a lucky rock in my purse– the sky blue almost gray one that represents freedom – and I gave him that too.  

We talk about freedom. Freedom from. Freedom to. 

We keep talking and I find about $3.00 more in change and at that point he’s laughing and telling me he’s going to have a huge sandwich for lunch. He can’t remember the place, though, but it has 2 for $5 sandwiches with roast beef. Arby’s. Yes. Arby’s.  He’s downright excited and I’m excited for him. Go Darren Go. 

 Rested, and now having relieved me of all my money and rocks, he declared himself ready to go.

  I wished him well. Off he went towards the women’s bathroom and stood in front of it.  

Then he walked back and asked where the men’s room is and I pointed the other way.

Why didn’t you stop me? he asked.

Because FREEDOM I answered and we laughed loudly, confusing the people standing by the escalator not knowing what to do.  

After the movie ended, I bought Zack and his friend the impressive expensive mall pick your mix-in ice cream, told them I need to go see David Lowe in the hospital, and dropped them at home. 

I then drove through Zaxby’s and picked up the things David said he was craving: a saucy fried sandwich thing on buttery thick bread, a the mound of fries and a huge sugary soda.

I didn’t bring him a lucky rock, and he was kind enough to not mention it.