Daniel pauses by the door, getting on his coat. "As much as I am capable of it, I will miss you."
From most people, this declaration would be weak tea. From our reptilian Daniel, this was borderline effusive emotion. He told us then that it might be a year before he made it up here again, but he would "For the food... and the hang-outs."
"Kest can always drop you off with us to babysit," I said.
"Yeah," added Amber, "and weíll chain you up in the studio so you can never leave us again."
We went out for Mexican food. I felt somewhere else, withdrawing from too much of a medicine that I like at a lower dose, but which makes me anxious and obsessive closer to a normally prescribed dose. It has been maybe three weeks that this built and I wondered if I werenít going crazy, but the chemical was leaving my system tonight, half of a half dose, but I still wasnít fully present.
I didnít want to be this way for Daniel, though I doubt he could tell. For all the issues this had caused me, I have been very good at keeping a normal face turned outward. It was like having a fantastic mask that allowed me to interact more easily in the world, but which was lined with hair so I was always distracted by the itch.
I donít want to be distracted now and cannot really afford this. When we returned to the apartment, it wasnít strange, this finality. Until he made his remark about missing us, it was okay. We watched videos and chatted about murky politics. It was normal, not one of the last times we would see him as a resident of this state. I wouldnít have had it otherwise, Amber and I weepy and fixated on what will happen in a few days at his party.
I donít want to be a coward about his leaving, because a part of me just wants to prematurely detach, but he has been one of the most important people in my life. Both of us deserve better than the artifice that I am willing to let him go.
There is no fight, only an acknowledgment of what is best for him, which is certainly not staying here when he has a life with Kest to allow to blossom further.
Daniel is not dying. He is only going away without the idea that he can never return for long. He will be a tourist then, someone who looks to our daily lives with nostalgia and unfamiliarity. He will grow away from us, toward people he hasnít before met and experiences he has yet to have.
The next day, we thought that we might help him move furniture into the truck of one of Kestís friends, but Kest and this friend got in too late and were just tucking into dinner when I called. I have work the next day and Daniel says he really doesnít need us that much. I knew that this might happen and wonder if my agreeing not to show up wasnít a sort of detachment. I want to not miss a moment with him, but I cannot be there for only an hour before leaving again. That isnít useful to either of us.
Driving to Kingston the following day for his going-away party, I say, "I think there is a 25% chance I am going to break down crying. Last week at this time, it would be closer to 90%."
We arrive to Pakt only minutes early. Already, six people are gathered there, Daniel and Kest in the far corner. Two people sit between Daniel and me, though the distance feels vast. Soon, I will be five and a half hours away from him. Why canít I be at his side tonight? But I cannot very well ask other people to move out of the way to sate my desire to be close to him. They, too, are losing a friend.
(Not as much as I am, however. He is my best friend in the world, aside from Amber, and they should immediately and implicitly yield to my claim on him.)
The sign on the door states that Pakt is closed for a private affair. When I breach the door, Eryn, the proprietress of Pakt, almost warns me away, then seems to realize that I am someone who should be there.
She volunteered to host this going away party, such as it is, because there is certainly nowhere else it could happen. The restaurant would not ordinarily be open right now, so she is not losing business. However, as she serves us a salad that seems more like a main course (it is composed of corn and sausage and, as someone puts it, venison frosting; it is not salad as one might expect it) followed by a sumptuous cassoulet, all washed down by a strawberry and tea-infused vodka cocktail and a dozen bottles of good wine, this is no cheap affair. I do not recall when I have had so fine a meal anywhere.
I know some of the people there, the staff of Duo (Shawna and Juan) and Eryn, primarily. I am soon introduced Shawnaís boyfriend and an affable IT guy named Gregory, who is seated beside me. I do not exactly know his relationship with Daniel -- the rest are here in connection with feeding epicurean tastes -- but it seems tacky to ask. Later, an older man named Nils joins us whom I believe has a hand in this restaurant.
We all instantly fall to familiar conversations on strange Netflix documentaries about sex dolls and musical pornography. We only obliquely allude to Danielís leaving, to the reason behind this party. Shawnaís boyfriend asks why he is leaving. Daniel says that Kest has an immovable anvil and forge while he has nothing really attaching him here, but, looking at Kest, clarifies that this is not really the reason.
I brought my camera, but I do not feel the opportunity to use it. This is a moment I want to be in, not merely one that I want to record with distance. The act of getting the camera out would turn this into a performance. We would not be bantering back and forth as the wine bottles empty, but being recorded for posterity. I can resist being a photographic observer for now, even if I cannot help repeating things in my head that I might remember them for detailing later.
We fall to playing Cards Against Humanity, something of a default among strangers of a certain moral bend and interest. It is a distraction, one I do not think we need, but I am not about to veto it. It is Danielís party and we shall do what he wishes. It gives us entertainment and a means for further communication once our plates are either empty or packed away (I ate everything put in front of my because, as I said, it was unbelievably delicious and because eating made the coming emptiness feel less). I havenít been to this caliber of party in a while, but it seems to have its own motion, fueled by the alcohol. They could doubtlessly talk well into the night, though I couldnít. I have work tomorrow, Amber has class. As much as we want to spend as much time as possible with Daniel, we have a hard time limit (which I nevertheless push back another half hour, both because I am enjoying the night and I do not want to bring this to its end).
Other people stay around the table, their Cards Against Humanity in this hands and on the table. I envy that they will get to spend more of this night with Daniel, that they will get more of him in this experience, but I cannot do anything about it. Eventually, there would be a last person and, I hope, tearful goodbyes because Daniel is worth being missed enough to provoke tears.
I expect to be the one crying now, but I hug Daniel and make some weak joke so I donít have to say goodbye. "You had better come back," I warn him.
"I will," he says.
I point at my leftovers in the aluminum dish Eryn provided. "Because we have food here. They donít have any of that in Maryland. Youíll starve."
"You can just keep that in the freezer for me."
"Yes, this will be like the top tier of a wedding cake."
When I turn to Amber, I see that she is opening weeping and give her a hug.
"Itís sad," she peeps.
Kest had been waiting in the periphery to make her goodbyes, but the sight of Amberís tears seems to warn her away from anything too close.
"You can always drop him off for us," I say to Kest before she goes too far.
She laughs a bit as a imagine some precocious woodland creature might.
On the drive back, when I question why she is crying and I am not, Amber credits this to the several glasses of alcohol she enjoyed with dinner, though of course Danielís leaving is the primary impetus. Our tears continue, with occasional abating, while we brush our teeth and get into bed. I hug her more tightly against me because we more so only have one another now.
I think that this will find me in waves, since it has not found me with proper force now - even if I have found and fought against it in a hundred tiny ways since I understood that Daniel and Kest were engaged and what would result. I will think to go to a movie or concert, a burlesque show or a hike to ruins, and Daniel wonít be there. Right now, holding Amber, it feels as though no one else will be there, but I canít really imagine that is right. On the other hand, whispers a familiar voice in my ear, whoever might be there, whoever we meet or rediscover, whoever else catches an invite from us in the months and years to come wonít be his match. They will be their own animals, with their own sets of rules and growing history. I cannot imagine that we will be alone, but we wonít have him. Daniel is unique in all the world or the missing wouldnít seem so deep.
Soon in Xenology: Faces. New friends.