There are no guarantees
The areas David moved through on foot in the last hours of his life must have seemed as uninhabitable, vast and threatening to him as wilderness and untouched nature would feel to an urban dweller.
The City of Industry is a Southern California working-class melting pot. Sitting near the confluence of San Bernardino, Orange and Los Angeles counties, the place is about as imaginative-looking as the name suggests, "City" being a rather sneering euphemism for the sleepy warehouses, wholesale lumber yards and wide cracked cement parking lots that mark the landscape. Even the cement basin washes, which often run parallel to the highways, are cynically called 'rivers.' The signs along Valley Boulevard are more likely to be in Spanish than in English and just as likely to be Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese or Mandarin. The street is dotted with closet-sized taquerias advertising mariscos, Burger Kings, topless bars and auto dismantlers.
But the area where David died is barren. It is a quarter mile-long straight stretch of train tracks between two curves that arc around corners out of view.
"It was a long time between when he left the clinic at 6 a.m. and when he was hit by the train," reflects Sam Orr. "He didn't just walk out of the place and step in front of a train. He spent the whole day presumably either thinking about it or on some other plan like leaving town. Anyway, he was clearly despairing in various ways. Some of it was outward -- about the world in general -- but I think most of it was about himself."
Last week on April 7, the anniversary of the disappearance, David's family gathered on the grounds of the LA County Cemetery to place a marker in his memory. The groundskeeper had dug a small hole and they put some personal mementos into the ground and placed over them a simple marker: David Samuel Orr, 1964-1988.
When they can, David's family tries to think of the positive aspects of his life and how much he put into his 24 years. His mother remembers, "Before he started disappearing, he was full of reverence for life, warm-hearted, loved discovering things and was very enthusiastic. David was a really beautiful kid. But he knew he was going down into this hole."
Sam offers, "Some things are inhumane in the way society works. Especially when you're not expecting something like this to happen to you. But the mental health system really did fail us in serious ways. I think psychiatry itself is culpable in a lot of ways."
He adds he's not particularly looking for closure either. "I don't have a religious outlook. Philosophically I don't believe in an afterlife, so I don't have the luxury of believing he's gone on to a better place and all the rest of that. I'm not able to believe that kind of thing. So I kind of enjoy having him reside in my feelings and in the back of my brain. I like it. So, if closure means I don't think about him any more, then I'm not interested in that."
Susan continues, "I believe it was an act of strength on his part to get out of that place because he was not getting better... I'm sorry I didn't get even more of the blessing of the time I had with him. I guess it comes with losing people, but there are times when I can't believe that I'm living through this. There's no way I can make sense of it. But I love being able to talk about what went on here. I dream a lot, but none of my dreams about David are ever nightmares."
David's sister Katie -- who formerly ran the Weintraub Thomas Gallery in Sacramento -- acknowledges that her family strained under the burden of trying to carry on a normal existence during the 10 years of David's absence. But learning that he was dead all along has been difficult as well.
"The hardest, hardest part of someone dying is that they're not there physically for you to express your love. You can't see them getting your love." She mentions her two daughters, whom David adored and doted on even when his sickness was most profound. "There are no guarantees. You have to be in the moment and enjoy them in the moment."
Susan also says, "David truly believed life and death were of a piece. Death was a part of life. This was something he observed in the wild, which took away some of the fear of death for him."
Susan and Katie agree that one thing that makes where David is buried a little more palatable is that it would have suited him. The mountains are visible and so is a basketball hoop. And they agree that the way he was buried was perfectly in line, on a philosophical level, with his values: to be returned to the earth, merged with a diverse selection of humanity, nameless.