I woke up crying again today. In my last dream before waking, someone had found him, I’d asked someone to get in touch with him and they’d found him and given him my message. All I remember about the dream is those two things, and the letter. He’d sent me a letter by way of that go-between in the dream. It was 2 pages on 81/2 by 11 paper, and I’d recognized his handwriting, pointy and rounded and sloping and widely spaced, bad penmanship, cheap white paper. I don’t remember what it said, but I recognized his handwriting and woke up crying.
It only happened twice, this morning and the morning of October 19, 1984. On that morning, my alarm clock was set to a radio station, and I woke hearing that a second-rate television actor named Jon-Erik Hexum had accidentally shot himself during a delay in filming, and had died. I didn’t know why I was crying – this guy wasn’t a favorite actor, he was one of those beefcake guys, not my type at all; he was nothing to me. I turned on the TV and started seeing pictures of him on the news, and he looked like Dan. I hadn’t seen Dan in 16 years, 3 months and 28 days. (I’m just doing the math now; I finally did all of the math this morning).
In 1968, Dan and I were living together in Philadelphia. It was my first year “on my own.” He was going to art school and playing guitar in a rock band that modeled itself on Cream, and I had my first job at the bank. Every Saturday, I panicked and made him hide all his stuff because I was afraid my parents might “drop in” unexpectedly from Harrisburg (they never did). He wanted to get married and I didn’t. He’d gotten his draft notice, the date to show up for his physical (I still have it in a box of old letters), and he’d been doing things to make himself sick, to run himself down so he’d be 4F.
One day, a Friday in June, he came to the apartment for lunch while I was at work and found my journal open on the dining table. I’d written that Dan wanted to get married and I didn’t, but maybe I should do it anyway because I did love him and he probably wouldn’t live very long so it wouldn’t be a lifelong commitment. He didn’t show up after work and school that day. I spent the evening and most of the night looking out the window, thinking I would see him turning the corner and headed toward the building. I started calling his friends the next day and through the weekend and sporadically for a while after that, but none of them could or would tell me anything.
And summer goes, falls to the sidewalk like string and brown paper,
Winter blows up from the river, there’s no on to take her to the sea.
Joni Mitchell, “Marcie”
We listened to that song for the first time together, and it made me cry and I didn’t understand why, because it hadn’t happened yet. For a long time I cried every time I was alone, so I changed my habits for a while and arranged it so that I was almost never alone. I got into all kinds of trouble trying to get over him. I compared every other man to him and they all came out lacking. I still needed men, but I sought out the ones who were least like Dan – preferably skinny dark-haired brown-eyed guys, preferably with some kind of accent, preferably left-brained types. After a few years one of his friends told me he’d joined the Merchant Marine and was living in Amsterdam, or Brooklyn, or both.
It didn’t ruin my life by a long shot, but the period after Dan disappeared was the last time I ever cried for myself, except for October of 1984 and this morning. I cry about cruelty to animals and children, and all the cats and dogs that I’ve know who have died, and can be manipulated into crying at the end of movies or books, but I don’t cry for myself.
In October of 1984 I woke up crying about the death of an actor in whose face I subconsciously recognized Dan. I was in the middle of a relationship, living in New York by then, but I started to be haunted by Dan. I started to dream about him. I dreamt he came back to me and we lived happily ever after. I dreamt he was homeless and his face was grimy and his hair was clumpy and I found him in the street and brought him back to my apartment and gave him a bath. It took all the courage I had to bring him back there and not be afraid of him. In the dream. I dreamt that he used an old rusted hubcap and yellowed piano keys to make me a carousel. The only picture I had was a watercolor I’d done one Saturday morning when we’d sat on opposite sides of the big dining table and painted each other. (I still had that painting in 1984 but I don’t have it now.) I started trying to draw him. I tried to draw him for a couple of years in pencil, pastels and watercolors but never got it right.
I always looked for his name in phonebooks when I was in a different city (this was before the internet).
My Haunted by Dan period lasted roughly from October of 1984 to some time in 1986. There were other men, and long-term relationships before and after that period and I really did get over him, completely.
Earlier this year, I did a Facebook search for another old boyfriend, and was referred by Facebook to the web, and referred by the web to the Social Security Death Master File. If you have a birth date, you can look someone up in the Social Security Death Master File. Bobby, the guy I was looking for on Facebook, had died in 2006, the year I retired and moved to Connecticut. I thought about Dan. Put in the month, April; put in the day, 13 and there he was. Dan had died in Februrary of 1985. He would have turned 36 in two months.
In April of 1985, I went to Amsterdam to meet my Iranian “old boyfriend” A, who’d gone back to Iran three months before the Shah was overthrown. A had been “trapped” in Iran for 6 years but was allowed out to represent a company that had been owned by General Electric but “confiscated” after the “revolution” (sorry about the too-long sentence and all the quotes) at the international court in Den Hague. A called me in New York and asked me to meet him the next week in Amsterdam. I got the time off work on short notice, my then current boyfriend M was so confident that he gave $500 in extra spending money, and I met A at Schipol. It turned out that M was right; I was over A and dumped him after two days and spent the rest of my week wandering Amsterdam alone and seeing Dan everywhere, especially in the district called Jordaan. I didn’t know it then, but Dan had been dead for two months.
I was born the first year of the baby boom, and it was assumed we would all get married, but when I thought about marriage, it was always in the context of my “first marriage” and I knew it would end in divorce. Times changed, and I never did have to get married. I didn’t live the life that I fantasized about (where I was either an artist or a writer), but I didn’t have to live the life I dreaded – wife, homemaker, mother, valium, alcohol, and then divorce.
This year, when I found Dan in the Social Security Death Master File, he had been dead for 28 years. This morning, when I saw his handwriting in a dream, I woke up crying.