Daniel my brother, you are older than me
Do you still feel the pain of the scars that won't heal?
Your eyes have died, but you see more than I
Daniel, you're a star in the face of the sky.
Elton John "Daniel"
Wow, I can't believe that it has been a year since Dan died from pancreatic cancer. He was one of my oldest and dearest friends. Dan and I met when I was 14 and he was almost 22, yet we hit it off immediately. Even though there were long gaps where we were out of touch with each other, whenever I needed a friend I could pick up the phone and call Dan. We would pick things up right where we left off. With the Internet and e-mail, we were better about contacting each other. I loved his e-mails with his unique brand of humor. They were real day brighteners.
When I met Dan, he worked as a directory assistance operator. He used to tell me some of the funny names that he came across in his work: a doctor named Dr. Bloodgood, a woman named Betty Broom, an orthopedic surgeon named Dr. Bones, and a gay bar/pool hall called Steelball City. Dan knew lots of good, and not so good, jokes and loved to tell them every chance he got. In fact, his last e-mail to me was a series of jokes.
One of my favorite memories of Dan had to do with how his wit defused a situation. We were driving somewhere in the San Fernando Valley. It was a summer night and the car windows were open. We were stopped at a red light. A car with a couple of 20-something men pulled up next to us. The driver looked our way and said, "You're cute. Why don't you come with me instead of him?" Most men would have seen that as a challenge and would have confronted the driver. Dan looked at the driver, bent his wrist, and said in his best imitation of a stereotypical gay man, "I think you're cute too." The driver then said, "I was talking to her." Dan said, "She's okay, but you're much better looking. Why don't we get together sometime." As I was laughing, the light turned green and the other car sped away.
But even though Dan loved jokes and humor, his life wasn't all fun and games. When he was awarded custody of his son, he took his role as a father very seriously. Dan looked up to his own father to help guide himself in raising his son. Dan was really affected by his father's death and said that his father was his biggest role model. When his mother needed assistance, he was there with her through the end of her life. There were also some unfilfilled dreams in Dan's life. He admired the police and wanted to be a policeman. In fact, he had the opportunity to go to the police academy. But he had to turn it down because he had recently gotten custody of his son and didn't want to leave him for the training period. He also never found the right woman who could give him what he needed. He and his first wife married young and the marriage didn't last. He had other relationships after his divorce, but they didn't last. One of my wishes for Dan was that he could find the same happiness with a woman that I have with my husband. But it wasn't in the cards.
Dan was a big (American) football fan and his favorite team was the Pittsburgh Steelers. His favorite college team was UCLA, which was also mine. He also cheered for the Rams and Raiders, even after they left Los Angeles. During the NFL playoffs, we would make friendly wagers on the games. The winner got bragging rights. He won most of these bets because I would pick underdog teams. He teased me about cheering for the New Orleans Saints when they were one of the worst teams in the NFL. I'd tell him,"One day the Saints will be good and you can say you knew me when I cheered for them during their bad years." It's a shame that Dan died about a month before the Saints won their first Super Bowl. This season he would probably be lamenting the fact that a 7-9 team made the playoffs while several 10-6 teams didn't. He hated the current NFL playoff system.
There were times when Dan and I could have had the opportunity to have a relationship as lovers instead of friends. But the timing didn't work out. When the timing was right for one of us, the other was in a relationship. I think it worked out better that we were good friends rather than lovers. If we were lovers and broke up, we would never have spoken with each other after the breakup. But as special friends, I had the privilege of being able to know Dan for over 35 years.
Over the last year of his life, we were getting into a period of sporadic communication with each other. Dan was having vision problems, which made it hard for him to use the computer. I thought that he might have been a bit depressed because most of his e-mails lost their usual touch of humor. He would tell me that he really had nothing to say. When his e-mails started bouncing back to me last spring, I thought that he got rid of his Internet service because he said that he hardly checked his e-mail. In August I finally got around to writing a letter and sending it. When the letter came back as "undeliverable," I went online and found out that he died earlier in the year. I then dug through my old e-mail (there's an advantage to never clearing out the inbox) and found the e-mail address of his surrogate sister Diane. Dan was an only child and Diane was the sister that he never had. He and Diane were also special friends for over 30 years. Diane told me about how Dan was sick with the flu in November and looked extremely sick at Christmas dinner at her house. Dan went into the hospital right after Christmas and died on 8 January. Diane and her husband were with Dan during his last days, so he didn't die alone. I'll always be thankful to Diane for making sure that someone was there for him in his final hours.
Whenever I'd go back to the States, I made it a point to see Dan. During one of my trips, he told me that he was honored to be my friend. But he got it wrong. I had the honor of being Dan's friend. Now when I look up at the sky on a clear night and see the stars, I think about the Elton John verse above and know that one of those stars is Dan looking down on me.