In Honor of David Reed Gamboa-Brandhorst
How many of you remember what it was like to be 3 years old? How many of you can remember what you did just 3 years ago? How many of you have projected 3 years into the future, thinking that 3 years was a long time away to be planning for, that far in advance? How many of you have ever imagined what it would be like if 3 years was the average life expectancy? How would you spend your time if 3 years was all that you had left to live? 4 years to graduate from high school...4 years is the norm to earn an undergraduate degree from college. What could 3 years give you? What could you give back to the world and to your country, in just 3 short years?
David Reed Gamboa-Brandhorst was born June 23, 1998. That same month, an enemy of the United States few Americans knew about, Osama bin Laden, was placed on the FBI's most wanted list. 2 months later, on August 7th, the world saw simultaneous bomb attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. 224 were killed, including 12 U.S. citizens. Worst was yet to come...
When I first learned about the 9/11 Tribute, I did not respond right away to it. The idea of blogging a memorial tribute for one of the victims of September 11th seemed too intimidating and too big of a responsibility to commit to. Plus, I had already written a bit about Ronald Gamboa in my 9/11 blogpost last year. But as summer was fast approaching, and it appeared that many bloggers were still needed to fulfill the goal of 2996 bloggers, one for each victim, I decided I did not want to see such a noble effort falter. So I contacted D.C. Roe, the orchestrator and mastermind of this monumental project. I had set my heart on blogging about Ron Gamboa, since that would make my post personal. When D.C. Roe wrote back to me that Ron was already taken, he knew of the personal nature of my request and interest in blogging on Ron. He mentioned that Ron's life partner of 13 years, David Brandhorst, was also taken; but that their 3 year old son, David, was not. I immediately sent back my reply that I would write my tribute post on David.
First, a little background on how I came to know Ron. In the mid 90's, sometime after college, I had taken a part-time job doing security work for The Gap. I traveled the district at first, helping managers train their sales staff in the area of loss prevention. In this way, I began crossing paths with Ron, who was a store manager. When I settled into the Wilshire Gap store, and took a step down to being a part-time lead cashier, I would occasionally see Ron pop in for a visit from his store. The turnover rate for the management staff is rather high. Not necessarily people being fired or quitting; just transferred around. When Ron became my new store manager, he was already familiar to me. Because I only worked Fridays and the weekends, and store managers almost always scheduled themselves for the weekends off, I really didn't see Ron very often. Just on Fridays, and sometimes on a Saturday. He was always in good spirits and smiling at his own wittiness and biting humor...his playful insults always clever, never cruel.
One of the most vivid conversations I remember having with Ron, was one day in his office, he asked me if his son was too young for gymnastics (my primary job was and is coaching at a competitive gymnastics club). I bragged about the benefits of gymnastics training, and Ron bragged about the physical prowess of his son, as only a proud father can do. He felt his son would love gymnastics, and that gymnastics might be good for his son. I told him his son wasn't too young, and that we had programs for babies as soon as they can start walking. I promised to bring him a brochure, which I eventually did, and left in his manager's folder.
I believe September 7th was the last day that I saw Ron. That would have been a Friday. I probably worked the weekend through to Sunday. If I had said goodbye to him that day, it wasn't with the foreknowledge of permanence. I wasn't scheduled to be at the Gap again until the next Friday. Tuesday, our country was reeling and in turmoil. Thursday evening I had the TV on Channel 7, the local ABC affiliate news, and the name of Ron Gamboa was mentioned and I looked up to see briefly a picture of Ron and the front of our Gap store on Wilshire and 20th Street, where a makeshift memorial was set up with an American flag wrapped around a tree and candles and cards and flowers all around it. It was then that I learned that Ron had been a passenger aboard United Airlines Flight 175, the second plane to hit the World Trade Center. Friday morning I went in angry that I was not informed about Ron's death. The managers apologized, saying no one had my current phone number to let me know. I learned that Ron had not been alone, but that he had his partner, Daniel, and their son David with him.
This is very hard to type...
I cannot tell you how painful it is to see so many images over and over again of that second plane hitting the South Tower. That was the moment we all knew it was no accident, and that we Americans were under attack. And for me, any images of that 2nd plane is an image of the moment of murder of Ron, Daniel, and David. It never fails to water my eyes or choke up my voice when I see an image still. The videos can do it too, but there's something about a picture, where it's frozen in time exploding into the Tower that is difficult to stare at without my eyes welling up.
There was a national noonday prayer that first Friday after 9/11, and our store closed its doors shortly before 12pm. I raged inside as we sat around the Memorial outside the store, before we all headed across the street to a local church to bow our heads in national mourning. There I sat, sulked, and smouldered.
I don't handle grief too well, in terms of "letting it out". I'm the kind that bottles it all in and withdraws from others. I skipped the Memorial Service for Ron, Daniel, and David. I knew family members would be there, but I just couldn't bring myself to go (I'm sorry Jeannie). When the Gap Company held a candlelight vigil behind the store, including burying a time capsule in honor of Ron, I reluctantly went, but was mostly withdrawn in my own private grief, aloof and unfriendly.
Well, so that's a little background on the personal nature of why I am deeply proud and honored to be able to celebrate the memory of Ron and Daniel's 3 year old son, David.
Here is what one commenter who knew David wrote at a September 11 Victims site on Sept 13, 2002:
I want ot tell all of you a little somthing about David. My son has had manny surgerys on his feet and gets tired from time to time. David and my son went to the zoo just 2 months before his death. My son was so excited to be with his best little friend David however would get tired from time to time and had to stop and rest. Being that it was David's first time at our Zoo in Seattle I am sure he wanted to take it all in as fast as he could. But as my son would cry that he had to stop and rest and tell his little friend David to go on and he will catch with him. David refused and sat by My 3 years old side and held his hand for what seemed like minutes.What three year old does that???? It is simple and clear to me......a little angel names David. May god bless him and his papa and daddy. We miss you all so much. One small child has changed my babys life and tought him that people will except him the way he is.Another comment on the same site, by Kevin, writes on 3/24/2003:
I took my two small children to a Los Angeles park today for a birthday party. While there, I saw a boulder with a plaque. The plaque explained that the park was dedicated to David Reed Gamboa Brandhorst, who lived nearby and played there often. David would have been about the same age as my son is now. Another boy was sitting on the boulder. He asked his dad what the plaque was for, and the father began to explain, "Well, you remember when those buildings were knocked down?..." It was the kind of talk I've had with my son many times since September 11th.
So David, you are missed and remembered and being met anew every day. A beautiful park is bears your name. And your story will bring home September 11th to other children for decades to come.
Rest in peace.
Since I had pretty much lost contact with all of my old Gap associates who knew Ron, and with so little time to do the fingerwork of tracking people down through myspace (*blech* and *shudder*), I did manage to Google and successfully make contact with one of Ron's sisters, Jeannie Gamboa Merwin. She is my primary source of knowledge on David. Without her help, there would have been precious little concrete information on David.
August 1st was when I signed on to this project; and August 3rd was when I made contact with David's aunt, by e-mail. So I had about a month to write up my post. It pretty much came down to the wire here. Jeannie admitted that this was more difficult than she had thought it would be and I feared I was being intrusive and opening wounds. But she proved gracious enough in answering a series of questions I posed to her 5 days ago. I thought about paraphrasing and reiterating; but I think it would be better to listen to her in her own words. Here it is:
So sorry about the lateness of my reply, but I guess it is harder than I thought it would be. Talking about the events brings everything so close to the surface and all the media attention makes it hard to ignore. To be honest with you, that is the best way I have found to get me through these years without my brother, pure avoidance of the subject of 9/11. I love to talk about Ronald, Dan and David and we remenisce about them often, but the thought of the awful things they went through that day makes me physically ill. I'll do my best to answer your questions:
1. How David came to be adopted and into Ron and Daniel's life.
Ron and Dan adopted David from a relative of Dan's sister's husband. They brought her to California to give birth.
2. A bit about Ron and Daniel, as a background for David.
Ron and Dan had been together for 13 years at the time of their
They first met in Hoboken, NJ where they lived until Dan was
transferred to the Los Angeles branch of Price/Waterhouse Coopers where he was an attorney and Ron relocated there with his company, the Gap where he was a store manager. They first had a home in Century City, until they had David and then moved into a bigger home in Hollywood Hills. Dan traveled alot for work and Ron was in charge of running the household. They had a Filipino nanny to help care for David when they were both at work. They were both very family oriented. Every year, even before David was born, we would all go on ski trips together and we'd spend every Thanksgiving and Christmas together, even though we all lived so far apart. Ron, Dan and David attended Catholic mass together as a family every Sunday, even though Dan was not officially Catholic. Dan was like a brother to me. I even named my only son after him and Dan was my son's Godfather. David called Ron "Daddy" and Dan was called "Papa". Ron phoned our mother almost every day just to say hi and to see how she was doing. They were very close and he was her only son. Our father was diagnosed with Colon cancer in June 2001 and Ron came home to Kentucky each month to see him. When we were cleaning out their house, I found 4 more airplane tickets to Kentucky, one each for the next 4 months.
3. Your first memory of David
My sister and I were lucky enough to be visiting them in LA when David was born. We were at the hospital and met the birth mother while she was in labor, and we all went out to dinner a few days after she gave birth. We first saw David in the nursery when he was just a few hours old, and we were there when they brought David home for the first time. David was so beautiful, yet such a big baby! His birth mother was very tall and his birth father was even taller. His hair was blond and his eyes so blue, totally opposite from his Filipino Daddy. They needed a little help taking care of a newborn, as my sister and I already had children of our own. But they were natural fathers and were so excited to finally have him home.
4. Your impressions of the relationship between the 3
Ron and Dan doted on David. He was the world to them, especially to my brother. Ron was always so good with his neice and nephews, so he was a terrific dad. In fact that's why they were in Boston again. They were there 2 weeks before and David loved it so much that he wanted to go back.
His Daddy and Papa loved him so much that they gave him what he wanted and took him back to Boston...
5. David's personality. What he was like; what he liked and disliked.
His favorite things: David was a sweet little boy. Actually, not so little. He towered over his older cousins, but was so loving and gentle. He loved to eat vegetables (my brother was very health conscious) especially tomatos and carrots. At his cousin Nicholas' birthday party, he chose cherry tomatos over cake and ice cream. But when Ron wasn't looking, David would sneak into his grandmother's bedroom and take a few potato chips and he'd tell her "Don't tell Daddy."
6. Any photos/video clips you'd be willing to share.
Will send ASAP. [Jeannie was gracious enough to send two beautiful photos that just brought tears to my eyes and heart- the one above of David sitting on the porch with his toy; and the one below at the end, of him kissing Daddy. I am eternally grateful to Jeannie for her trust in sharing personal photos with me. There have been precious little on the internet.- Wordsmith]
7. Any fond memories of David: The last time I saw David was at Aspen. We had met them there for a ski trip in March 2001. It was his first time skiing and we watched him go down the bunny slope over and over again. He really liked it. After dinner that night, he pulled on me and asked me to sit with him and watch "Toy Story". He was so lovable and cuddly.
8. Anything you'd like to say/add about all 3 of them. Your final
conversation, when you first heard the tragic news, etc.
The last time I talked to my brother was about 2 weeks before he died. He called me on the phone to ask me a question about an old movie. We did that alot, qoute lines from old movies and sing lines from old songs, and when one of us couldn't remember the lyrics or who sang it or what movie it was, we would call the other to find out. It was a quick conversation: "Jeannie, what was the name of the movie with Audrey Hepburn and Humprey Bogart that they just remade?" "Sabrina", I answered. Ron said, "That's it. Thanks. Talk to you later. Bye."
I was at work in Philadelphia when it happened. There was a tv in the waiting area and someone told me about the first crash. I was busy so I didn't think much of it and then someone said that another one crashed and it was a passenger plane from Boston. I called Ron at his home in LA because I knew that Dan travelled so much for work. The nanny answered and said he was not home yet. They were on the way back from Boston. My heart sank and I almost fainted. She said not to worry, they always flew on United and they thought the plane was American Airlines. I said ok and to tell him to call me as soon as they got home. Then I tried his and Dan's cell phones and I kept getting busy signals. I called United to find out if any other flights from Boston had landed safely and they couldn't tell me anything. I called my Mom and sisters but they couldn't reach him either. And it was not like him to not be able to reach. In fact, he would always be the first one to call us. By that afternoon, me and my family were packed in the car and on the way to Kentucky. We still hadn't heard anything from Ron, and by then we knew that it was a United plane that hit the second tower. In wasn't confirmed until 8pm that night that they were on that plane. The next few days were a blur. By November 2001, I had sold my house and business in Philadelphia to move back home to Kentucky to be with my parents and family.
Life will never be the same without Ron, Dan, and David. We miss them so dearly and the pain never ends. We haven't been on a ski trip since Aspen, and the holidays still are sad. They will never be forgotten, and we thank you for honoring David this year and for remembering my brother in the past and future.
Ron, Daniel, and David were 3 fellow Americans who lost their lives on September 11th, 2001, out of 2,996 victims. I thank everyone who has taken the time to read this, to honor their memories; to know that the world was robbed of 3 beautiful souls, one of which had only known the joys of life for 3 years on this earth. In that 3 years, David was blessed and nurtured with a stable, loving family environment; and in kind, he blessed and enriched the lives of his fathers, and everyone who came in contact with him. Even today, 5 years after his passing, he continues to affect lives. Our lives. I hope celebrating the story of his short life on my blog will have affected your life. His memory will always and forever be, engraved upon my heart. God bless Ron, Daniel, and David Gamboa-Brandhorst. God keep their families in grace. Thanks to DC Roe for making sure that the memories of our fellow Americans are remembered and honored.
Jeannie: Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
I do not see posts up yet, but Daniel and Ronald are to be honored by the following:
Daniel R. Brandhorst is honored by VegasQueen (I have tried Googling, but cannot locate VegasQueen; I have written to DC Roe about the problem). Ronald Gamboa is honored by John Williford
UPDATE (09-15-06): I've been moved by the comments I've read for this post. Some brought tears to my eyes all over again. My thanks to everyone for honoring the memories of David, Ron, and Daniel. I'd like to make mention of a couple of blog posts I found that are noteworthy:
The Saddest Tribute by Jenna. She links to my post and identifies with David's biological mother; she ponders the emotional guilt and grief that a firstmom might feel in having given a child up for adoption, then having that child's life end so abruptly and tragically. It is a very emotionally charged post, Jenna being a firstmother herself.
A recent commenter from Los Angeles, Circuit Mouse, links to my tribute and had written his own observations of 9/11 and remembrance of the California victims; Daniel, Ron, and David in particular. I found this passage fitting to add to this tribute post to the memory of David. Circuit Mouse visits the section of the park renamed the David Reed Gamboa-Brandhorst Children's Garden:
There are flowers adorning the boulder by the playground in West Hollywood Park that serves as a monument to David Reed Gamboa Brandhorst and his parents, Ronald Gamboa and Daniel Brandhorst. For all its simplicity, the boulder with a brass plaque is possibly the most fitting and eloquent monument to 9/11 that I have yet to see. The last words at the bottom of the plaque are familiar ones of David's at the playground, frequently pleading, "Just five more minutes, Daddy."