It's funny how quietly integral a person can become to one's world: sometimes seemingly overnight, sometimes more along the lines of a glacier, incrementally becoming a part of the ground upon which one walks.
I first met Dan while visiting my brother in San Diego back in February of 2003. Eventually he found his way back to New York and at some point offered (via Nathan, who had also found his way back to New York) to stay at my apartment and cat-sit during one of my trips west.
Somehow over the course of a few years this became routine. I would buy plane tickets and then frantically email Dan in the hopes he'd be available to look after Novita-love or more recently the Llama-monster, which he magically inevitably was. Then I would try to treat him to dinner and he would try to say no and we would have a rather awkward exchange and then eventually he would accept.
It took years before we began to think of each other as friends in our own right, and even then for a long time it was always mediated through Nathan. But then somehow Dan joined one of my weekly dinners with Nick, and then somehow he started joining us regularly, and then somehow we had developed a little trio. And then our weekly dinners expanded to include Evan and then sometimes Sarah, and there you have it. (I know I've written about this many times before and yet it still takes me by surprise, this act of being a part of such a circle, of creating a routine that almost needs no planning, no intention, that just is.)
He's been talking about leaving New York City for so long that even now, on the eve of the eve of his departure, there is a part of me that can't quite grasp the concept. He has become like the air, intrinsically important and yet so constant as to go almost unnoticed; at first peripheral and now at the core of things, of some of the people most important to me.
He's been talking about leaving but a part of me assumed it wouldn't happen, and now I find myself feeling bereft in ways I had not anticipated. I will miss the most reliable and wonderful cat-sitter ever, of course yes, but also his interest in seemingly everything, his vast book collection, wry smile, choppy hair, and the fact that he always laughs at my stories (and remembers them).
We're having one last weekly dinner tomorrow evening, one last hurrah. Nick and Dan and I will meet at five and head on down to 1020 for a couple drinks while we wait for Evan to make it up from Chelsea. (Dan, despite his tea-totaling ways, has always been patient and, I like to think, perhaps amused with the rest of us liking to put a few away.) Then we will walk down to Awash for gluttonous gorging on a huge platter of vegan Ethiopian food (and may they, fingers crossed, actually have the much coveted carrot & green bean dish that is so elusive and so delicious). Then we will walk over to Central Park West and catch our respective trains: Nick heading south and off home to Brooklyn; Evan and myself heading north to our nook in the Heights; and Dan, well, usually he just goes walking for a bit.
He's been staying with us on and off since the first of the month and has been generous beyond reason with his cast-me-offs (books and CDs and kitchen supplies and a bookshelf and an only slightly worse-for-wear Aeron chair). I keep hoping that he will come back to the northeast some day, and have promised that these cast-offs are merely on loan, however short-term or long-term that may be.
Dan has had a set of my keys for years now, the better to come and go around my departure and arrival dates during his weeks of cat-sitting. This has also been useful these last weeks as he moved stuff out of his place and into mine, and then during his days of staying here. A part of me wants to ask for them back (he will no longer need them, and what with my mother arriving in three days time, I'd like to have a set to offer her), but a part of me wants to ensure he's never without them. Where I am, I want him to know, will always be home to him.
This, in the end, is one of the reasons I am so reluctant to leave New York, one of my deeply-rooted reasons for staying: people so often seem to come back.