On February 4 I went to The City (there is only one The City) for a dentist appointment. On that wonderful Amtrak ride along the Hudson between here and New York I sometimes write on my IPhone Notes --- short poems, observations -- stuff that in the past I would have recorded in a journal. That day, on the way home I described an incident on the subway:
"As the door closed. three guys came in with a lively edginess that could mean only one thing – they were going to sing. A skinny bronze man, about my age, called out. "It's quiet in here, but not for long!" His smiling gaze slid in sly confrontation from person to person down the car, as they ducked their heads in turn and peered deeply into their devices. With unselfconscious delight the trio nailed the first note, true and clear, and then followed their jaunty gospel harmony down the aisle, waving paper bags back and forth in front of their sullen audience. I smiled and pulled out a dollar. The leader broke his song briefly but stayed in rhythm to shout, "We've got a live one!" I laughed out loud, with none of the head bobbing and smarmy grinning that would have accompanied a fumbling tiny donation during the years of my daily commute. Or worse, I would have given nothing, one more resentful rider stung into emotional withholding by the intrusion of song. But today I was the kid who first came to Manhattan out of the woods, delighted by the surprise of perfect and archaic harmonies rising in joy against a beaten audience. Something has happened to me since I've moved back upstate, something restorative. I'm a hick again."
Then, I got off the train in Hudson, and Michael told me that Daniel had died. It was a Thursday, and ordinarily I would have met Daniel that morning at DA|BA, his restaurant, to help him develop his pod cast, which turned out to be a couple of hours of conversation on food and life that he only occasionally recorded. Michael and I had been regulars at the restaurant since its opening when we would land there at 9:30 at night after tunneling up the Taconic to spend the weekend in our rented barn apartment. Daniel confessed during one of our conversations that he didn't like us in the beginning because our late arrival always meant he had to keep the restaurant open. He referred to us as the "Jesus Couple" (referencing Michael's beard and long hair). Over the years, however, we became, along with hundreds of others, his friends. The weekly conversations, studded with his enthusiasm, intelligence, humor only strengthened my affection for him.
So I'm still sad, and Hudson's Greek Chorus is still lamenting this unspeakably sorrowful death. A former waitperson from DA|BA is finally going to see a grief counselor. Relish has a scrambled egg burrito, "the DA|BA Dan", chalked up on its board. The co-owner of the Hudson River Tattoo and I got weepy a couple weeks ago, both of us still angry, still confused. "If he had talked to us," she said. "If he had just been able to talk to us." A guy at a recent political fundraiser who was one of Daniel's Cross Fit pals said. "I'm still devastated."
After four months I haven't been able to write any entries for this blog. I tried transcribing the only conversation I recorded between Daniel and me and made an attempt at a eulogistic blog entry, but everything I wrote seemed intrusive and narcissistic. I tried writing something on another local topic -- the continuing house saga, the local Democratic craziness, but nothing worked. Then, this morning, I realized that this blog "Life After New York" is done. Having spent my formative years an hour north of here, living in Hudport has never required a lot of adaptation. Our elusive house is due for delivery in about three weeks. The relationships established here – both the long and short term – and the work I do comprise the dynamic flow of my daily life. And now, with Daniel's death, the transformation is complete. His sudden loss, like that of anyone meaningful, corrals memory going forward to a specific place and time. And grief plants it into the earth. Daniel didn't just have a restaurant; he was iconic in Hudson. And an iconic figure who dies young in a small city or town leaves an entrenched wound that becomes part of the communal heartbreak for years. And since his death I'm now not only part of the community; I’m part of its heart.
So, I'll keep writing, probably another blog on something like wild flower meadows, local politics, something narcissistic. But I have finally left New York. I'm a country hick till the end who shuns the noise of the city traffic but can once again be thrilled by its song. And I'm here for good.