Dave Hayes’s Last Hurrah

by Jesse Fask
Dave Hayes wavered about moving to California because so many of his friends are in Baltimore. Now he’s never coming back.

Somewhere in Alabama, a car crash ended the life of one of Baltimore’s best people. Red skin and white eyebrows. Twenty-five years old.

Dave Hayes he was. And his friends loved him so much that they made up a song about him that had only two words repeated over and over again, his first and last name, and he would get all embarrassed when they sang it and crinkle his white eyebrows and hide, but they would keep singing not to embarrass him but because they loved him.

Dave was born and raised here in Baltimore and during his final few months here finally said that he loved this town. He lived most of his life in Northeast Baltimore up by Gittings and Loch Raven. I met him on the first day of high school. He was all pasty-faced and zit-covered, quiet and shy. We ate lunch together in the cafeteria and I cheated off him in German class.

I spent three weeks in Heidelberg, Germany with him and others on a City College high school exchange program. We were 16 years old, drinking legally, flirting with blonde German girls, relaxing on the shores of the Neckar River in a beautiful park, eating bakery rolls and playing basketball.

On the basketball court is where we became aware of the Dave Hayes Defense. You never wanted him guarding you because then you wouldn’t score. The Dave Hayes Defense became a symbol for all things good, all things Dave. It was a hustling, aggressive style, but he never fouled. He was just in your face all over you—and it wasn’t so much that he wanted to win so bad. He just loved to play and hang out with his boys.

And in this, his first summer back in Baltimore in years, he was always trying to organize basketball games, and I guess now I wished I had played more.

Heidelberg, though, was when we were all the happiest, or at least it seemed that way. None of us were happy teenagers, but those three weeks in Germany were like paradise for all of us. I don’t even like traveling to Europe so much, or even traveling in general, because no trip lives up to that one. Dave even tried to go back to Heidelberg years later, and it was not the same.

Dave Hayes was never judgmental. If ever I did something controversial in high school, he was one person I felt I could talk to, and he would listen and be supportive. We e-mailed throughout college, from his lonely days in Ithaca to his happy days at Saint Mary’s College.

He came back to Baltimore last November. But there was this tentative plan to move to California. He wavered for a while, thinking about staying here. The biggest reason was that his friends were here.

Dave and I were two of the more emotional ones of the group. When one of us had girl problems we’d talk, go out drinking and looking for new girls together. I remember the first time my heart was broken in high school. We tried this and we were both so painfully shy that we couldn’t approach anyone.

This year he came back with his romantic life a little in disarray, and we went out and were much more successful. Women loved Dave Hayes. He was so strong and quiet, but so sensitive and caring at the same time. Going out on the town with him was always fun, whether we were successful with the opposite sex or not. He’d have a few beers and smile and it was a good night.

But most important to Dave always seemed to be his friends. That’s part of why it’s so hard for all of us now.

I was reading obituaries this summer in New England, and they were so impersonal. They said where the person worked for 50 years and who their spouse was and where they were born, and how old they were when they died. None of them were twenty-five.

I went to visit Dave at Ocean City once. Every summer he saved lives on the beaches on a daily basis. I saw him run in and save some teenage girls from the undertow, grabbing them in with his muscled sun-burnt arms. The guy was a genuine hero.

The girls all asked to have their picture taken with him, and he agreed so reluctantly. Four skinny high school girls in bikinis posed with their arms around Dave. A couple of them may have owed Dave their lives, but he was just polite and modest. It was just part of his job. He never bragged about it. He just do his job and got promoted to a higher-up lifeguard position and kept saving lives—and coming back home with red skin and white eyebrows.

We threw a party for him on Saturday night, because he’d decided to move to California and was leaving on Monday. Some of his college friends came up from Montgomery County and we all took him out around Fells Point.

The night was dubbed “Dave Hayes’s Last Hurrah.” He was off to California. The thing was, he was supposed to come back.

That night, back at our place, he sat down next to me on the couch, holding a framed picture of him with my roommate Nick, his best friend. He was just staring at it, talking about what a great picture it was.

We talked about all the beautiful women there must be in San Diego, and how we should all come out and visit him, and he gave his regular and email addresses to Nick.

We were all so sad that he was leaving Baltimore. But he said the lease was only for nine months and he could always come back if he didn’t like it. I mean, he had talked to us at bars that summer about wanting to settle down here eventually.

I got home from work last night at around quarter to eleven. I walked in to see Nick looking like he’d aged ten years and Chris, my other roommate, all zombied out. I walked right in and they mumbled to me and they looked wrong. Nick was supposed to have a date that night, but he was just sitting there and there’s no way it was because of a girl. He looked senile and distant and sad. Chris looked confused and tongue-tied.

Nick told me to sit down.

I was of course absolutely not prepared. I heard, “Dave Hayes was killed in a car accident.”

The details filtered in slowly. In Alabama. They were going to New Orleans. Not wearing a seatbelt. The other two were fine. The driver fell asleep. Alabama. Dave Hayes is dead.

I wanted to think of some wise quote that Dave once told me that would sum up his life and end this piece, but he didn’t really make quotes like that. There’s no one way to sum him up.

I haven’t talked to too many people about it yet. It’s only been about 12 hours since I found out. But I never met a nicer guy than Dave and there’s no one I can think of who less deserved such a cruel fate.

All I can think to say is that it’s not fair.

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This story was published on September 5, 2001.