He wanted to write the way he wanted to write — funny and overstuffed and nonlinear and strange. The teachers were all "hardass realists." That was the first problem. Problem two was Wallace. "I think I was kind of a prick," he said. "I was just unteachable. I had that look - 'If there were any justice, I'd be teaching this class' - that makes you want to slap a student." One of these stories, "Here and There," went on to win a 1989 O. Henry Prize after it was published in a literary magazine. When he turned it in to his professor, he received a chilly noise back: "I hope this isn't representative of the work you're hoping to do for us. We'd hate to lose you."
He worked at a health club in Auburndale, Massachusetts. "Very chichi," he said. "They called me something other than a towel boy, but I was in effect a towel boy. I'm sitting there, and who should walk up but Michael Ryan. Now, Michael Ryan had received a Whiting Writer's Award the same year I had. So I see this guy that I'd been up on the fucking rostrum with, having Eudora Welty give us this prize."
That summer, David began to phase out the Nardil. His doctors began prescribing other medications, none of which seemed to help. "They could find nothing," his mother says softly. "Nothing." In September, David asked [sister] Amy to forgo her annual fall-break visit. He wasn't up to it. By October, his symptoms had become bad enough to send him to the hospital. His parents didn't know what to do. "I started worrying about that," Sally says, "but then it seemed OK." He began to drop weight. By that fall, he looked like a college kid again: longish hair, eyes intense, as if he had just stepped out of an Amherst classroom.
"He was just desperate," his mother says. "He was afraid it wasn't ever going to work. He was suffering. We just kept holding him, saying if he could just hang on, it would straighten. He was very brave for a very long time." Wallace and his parents would get up at six in the morning and walk the dogs. They watched DVDs of The Wire, talked. Sally cooked David's favorite dishes, heavy comfort foods - pot pies, casseroles, strawberries in cream. "We kept telling him we were so glad he was alive," his mother recalls. "But my feeling is, even then, he was leaving the planet. He just couldn't take it." One afternoon before they left, David was very upset. His mother sat on the floor besides him: "I just rubbed his arm. He said he was glad I was his mom. I told him it was an honor."