HERE’S A STORY, AND IT’S TRUE…
DANIEL DIED TODAY
This morning, January 24th 2017, I was sitting on the front porch of the homeless shelter, ground zero of the United Smokers Front doing what the United Smokers do best – smoking a cigarette. What began as a solo act (the USF moves a little slow in the ante meridiem) transitioned – as certain as death and taxes – into what a social psychologist would call a dyad; half comprised by myself, half a to-remain-anonymous co-vacationer.
She was down – had been down, for reasons to remain private, and yet seemed impossibly still more depressed; a hunch in the shoulders, an unenthusiastic looseness in her facial muscles, an avaricious enthusiasm for her green-striped, hand-rolled cigarette. We of the USF know the signs well.
“Daniel died today,” she said. I had no idea who Daniel was. In my experience the distraught narrator was a sweet woman prone to non sequitur, harmless tangents; I myself am prone, particularly in the morning, to missing specific names of family, friends, and foes. For a moment I assumed – as one with a mental health diagnosis tends to learn to do – the fault was mine. She had mentioned Daniel before, surely – her son? brother? I wasn’t sure. I’ve found it’s best at times like these to be honest with an apology in your back pocket.
“Who is Daniel?” I asked, immediately thinking Who was Daniel? would have been more grammatically correct.
“He cleaned with me. Worked,” she explained, collapsing into a chair with the same inverse crescendo in both her motion and timbre. The narrator cleans houses by trade; by way of black irony she had been fighting for ownership of her own for months only to lose it yesterday, forever.
“He was hit by a car.” Impossible, surely, that she’s lighting a second cigarette already. It can’t have been more than sixty seconds. Maybe she was almost done with the first one when she came out, I thought – but there is NO SMOKING inside the shelter; yet the thought fades as: “He was riding his bike and got hit by a seventeen year old.”
So this wasn’t good for anyone.
And then something strange – a cycling fire circle of neurons, maybe, if that’s how memories are stored – explodes onto my consciousness. Daniel… hit by car… riding his bike…
She’s still talking: “He was such a nice guy. He had an accident when he was young and lost his peripheral vision…”
Yeah bro, I have no peripheral vision…
“…crashed a lot…”
I crash pretty much every day…
“…always had cuts on his legs…”
Nah I’m okay man, just fell off my bike again…
“…but was one of the best cleaners I’ve ever worked with.”
Oh, I clean houses, man.
And I realize – I know Daniel. I don’t just know him; I know him. Because he was my next door neighbor for a year. This past year.
Right before I moved into this homeless shelter.
As she narrates, I can do nothing but think of the recordings I’ve taken of my many porch-talks with Daniel – holy shit I have his voice right here – of the way he was nearly always positive and completely always a bit off – should I listen to them – of how he once rode his beat-to-shit bike to New York City and back, five hours by car each way…
And now, on the USF porch of the shelter, a relative stranger is relating a wet-eyed biopic of literally my most recent porch-conversationalist partner.
And now, writing about it here, I feel the temptation to make it about me; more, maybe, the temptation to do so with ignorance of the very act. So often even close relations seem like secondary characters in the narrative that is MY LIFE, of which I am at once the comedic/tragic hero, prophet, and profiteer. I could spin this a number of ways: A skeptical approach to coincidence or a mystical approach to coincidence; wax poetic or wane empirical; express or repress how it affected my affect, forgetting my affect isn’t the protagonist in this obituary.
Daniel died today. Instant coma, obligatory life-flight, dead.
I have never seen a so physically tortured and mentally plagued person so consistently smile and so long endure the day-to-day; as a cleaner of houses he would never own, as a rider of bikes he would always break, though never quite so badly as he would break himself. I saw him limping more than I saw him whole, and never whole without a few pieces missing. Yet he smiled, laughed and joked with me month-in and month-out, deriving pleasure from greasing a gear or finding a new chain, coming and going at all hours, for long hours, ostensibly a human being who had lost his purpose and would never do something like cure cancer or invent a trendy doodad. And I, always from the rear of my skull watching myself speak to him with a tone of intellectual superiority during these months of conversations – I, having in my palm recordings of him I had taken with the plans to use him as an exemplar of truly debilitating illness – I realized:
Daniel died today.
I won’t allow that.
I can’t even begin to calculate the odds of even finding out about his death; I can’t begin to calculate the odds I would have thought of him again, had I not run into my co-vacationer at that time, on this day, in this place; I believe in both fate and free will, in both fatalism and brownian motion; in being both governor and governed, by both government and God; and I for-real subscribe to the philosophy of being as indecisive as possible on the latter…
And that’s me making it about me.
So – I’m not sure if this is an appropriate eulogy, or remembrance, or wake, or if any of those make-the-living-feel-better things make any sense at all in the first place. All I really want to say is this:
Thank you, Daniel.