Honestly, I’m still in a little bit of shock. Less than a week ago, one of my best friends of all-time left us. It was so out of the blue. Bruce was a couple of years younger than me and always seemed to be in good health. It’s so, so surreal that he’s gone. My heart is broken.
I‘m hurting, but I cannot imagine what this is like for Bruce’s wife and two young boys. Crystal was the love of his life. His boys no longer have their daddy. It’s just wrong. And then there are his parents. I can’t imagine losing your son. I don’t want to imagine. Again, it’s just all wrong.
Over the last six days, I’ve grieved a lot. I’ve not full-on cried yet, but I’ve had tears in my eyes on multiple occasions. During work meetings earlier this week, it was all I could do to stay focused on my incredible teammates as we handled our tasks together. And yet while I’ve been sad, I’ve also smiled a lot.
One of our mutual friends sent me a text earlier this week with the following quote: “da dink dink dink.” I know that means nothing to all but a very few people. But to a select group of friends, it ought to bring a smile when they think of Bruce. It takes me back to the first time I heard him utter those “words.” WCW Starrcade ‘98. Bruce’s living room. And every time some wrestler got knocked out of the ring or took some kind of tumble, Bruce chimed in with “da dink dink dink.” It was one of those silly little things that made us laugh every damned time.
Pro wrestling was a huge connection point for Bruce and me. It’s what drew us together in the first place. I remember the first time he and I began to hang out was at a church youth group function. We must have started talking about wrestling, because before long we were inventing a new backbreaker move (which would be called “Thunder Road”) out on the church grounds. We attended one of our youth group functions as a tag-team with his brother and with Bruce acting as our mouthy manager. We were, as my Mom would say, “ate up with it.” Those were fun times.
Whenever we would goof off with wrestling moves, one of the main dynamics was his “slightness” and my not-so-slightness. He was 5’9” and weighed just above a buck fifty. I was 6’1” and outweighed him by well over 100 pounds. And yet, when we wanted to act like a tag team, we acted like The Hart Foundation (look it up, kids). However, he always wanted to be Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart (the huge powerhouse of the team) and I always wanted to be Bret “Hitman” Hart (the smaller, quicker guy). Neither one of us, apparently, knew how to stay in our proverbial lanes.
All that wrestling stuff led to us making our own wrestling videos. Four volumes came to be over the years, chronicling the incredible rivalry between “Lightning” Bruce Dallke and Ed Thunder over the ever-prestigious championship belt (made of cardboard, construction paper, wood, or whatever else we could find). There was much silliness, smiling, and unrivaled wrestling action (tongue firmly planted in mouth).
One of my other favorite memories of Bruce was our trip to Minnesota from Virginia back in 1995. We drove up to my old college to see some of my friends before they graduated. We didn’t intend to, but we ended up driving straight through to Bloomington. We had a great time, but toward the end of the trip, I began running out of money. Bruce became my sugar daddy and even bought us both matching University of Minnesota basketball jerseys (one of which he would use in one of our wrestling videos when he was The Minnesota Mauler). He was so patient with my foolishness.
When it was time to head back home, we learned that it was much easier to drive straight through on the adrenaline we gained from the excitement of reaching our destination. That adrenaline was non-existent on the way home. We were tired by the time we got to Chicago and ended up stopping at the Indiana-Michigan border for the night. We were worn down. The next day, we stopped somewhere in Pennsylvania for some McD’s. Bruce was in the habit of giving me the pickles from his burgers since he didn’t like them. Well, tensions must have been high, because when we were sitting in the car eating, I asked him for his pickles and he strongly declared, “No,” got out of the car, and literally threw the pickles in the garbage. I think he put up with a lot of crap from me.
Back in early 1999, I was living in Poplar Branch, North Carolina with my parents and I was terribly lonely and depressed. Bruce was a pillar for me those days and we were together virtually whenever we had free time. One evening, he attended a church service with me at a small Pentecostal church in Grandy. There was a special speaker that night: a lady who was prophesying all over the place. Everybody was going up front and everybody was going down (“slain in the Spirit”). Well, time passed, and it seemed virtually everyone in the auditorium had gone up except for Bruce and me. The lady looked right us and invited us to come down, so we did. There we were, attached at the hip as per usual, going up to experience whatever was going to happen.
I remember two things happening when we went up there: Bruce going down like a box of rocks and the lady telling me that I was going to move. I told her that I knew that already (I was planning on moving back to Minnesota) but she said “No, you’re going to move again.” As it turned out, she was right on multiple levels, but most immediately… my van blew out its transmission three hours into my move back north. I came back to my parents’ home with my tail between my legs. Here’s where Bruce comes in…
He and I talked and decided I would move in with him in his one-bedroom apartment. Right… a one-bedroom apartment. So, where was I going to sleep? In his hallway. Yeah, we were young and not very wise. We made all the preparation and erected my bed in that hallway. I didn’t even last through one night. In my depression and emotional disarray, I got up and went driving around town. The next day, I told Bruce I needed to back out of the deal. I don’t know what kind of bind I put him in, but I’m sure it wasn’t painless. And yet, he patiently and lovingly walked with me through that super weird period in my life and remained my friend despite my flakiness.
Eventually, I did in fact move back to Minnesota and then to Wisconsin in 2005. Obviously, I didn’t get to see Bruce very often. He was in my wedding in 2001, but then shortly thereafter, he and Crystal found each other and started their new life in West Virginia. After that, I only got to see him a few times, but those times were sweet. And, honestly, they were sweet because of how sweet that guy was.
Bruce Dallke was one of the most loyal and patient friends I’ve ever had. Yes, he called me a “clown” on occasion (although I likely deserved that designation every single time). But, man, he was such an amazing friend. I don’t understand all there is to know about heaven and what happens after we die, but I sure hope Bruce is sipping on some Dr. Pepper, listening to some Galactic Cowboys, and running the ropes with Eddy Guerrero.