The Remembrance Project: David Hayes

Download Audio

David Hayes died January 20, 2015, in Boston. He was 58 years old. Mr. Hayes worried about others and himself a great deal, and felt safest in the world when he locked his door, turned the radio to WBZ News, and kept 24/7 watch on events throughout a city, state, and country, which were, to his mind, inescapably dangerous.

For years, he suffered — really suffered — from devastating worries that were not factually accurate. Witchcraft was involved, sometimes voodoo, and a lifetime of largely unpleasant experience with the psychiatric world that began in adolescence. By then, he was already carrying table knives for protection. “A lot of people think I should take meds and nothing else,” Mr. Hayes said. “But I try to ignore the hecklers.”

Some of his fears were based in truth. When he declared that zombies had hexed him because of his race, in the great scheme of history — growing up black, in Boston, in the sixties — this was the case.

He believed himself a doomed man, but was also a courageous one. He tried to protect others around him. He gave away cigarettes and money, the two small, straightforward pleasures he could have kept. And he gave away the knowledge in his unforgetting mind. He knew the date of Margaret Thatcher’s death, the precise timeline of Malcolm X’s life, the words of Ralph Ellison and Claude Brown, and every tune from the seventies.

His day program had to call an end to Trivial Pursuit tournaments, because no one could beat his run. When you needed to list the four flavors of filling in the old chocolate Sky Bar, he was your only man.

The irony of Mr. Hayes’ life was that he knew so many facts, but did not believe an essential one — that he was safe. “Thanks, thanks,” he would say hurriedly, when meeting with someone trying to reassure him. “Thank you, thanks a lot for seeing me, are we done now?”

The tides of a busy world carry people out and people in without pausing. Someone moves away, someone dies, and a crowd rushes in to fill the void. There is no end to it, and in this productivity-driven era, it’s not always natural to set aside time to remember.

But Mr. Hayes, who spent much of his worried, generous life hoping to go unnoticed, must not be forgotten.

Did you know David Hayes? Share your memories in the comments section.


More from The Remembrance Project

Listen Live