Whenever I want to write about Dan—apart from maybe the one obligatory and valedictory post—I worry that I’m leaving myself open to charges of solipsism, or at any rate a slight self-obsession and wallowing in it all. It’s all too easy to turn someone else’s minor misfortune into a story about yourself, but the problem is that when you discuss their death, all you ever really refer is lots of the other selves that surrounded them when they were alive. The hub is missing, and you can only really discuss how the spokes feel about it.
Over the past eight or nine months I’ve come to terms with the fact that he’s gone. Given how little I saw him—and how horribly, gutwrenchingly guilty I have felt about that, and how irrelevant was the fact that he was abroad for so long, how little a dent does that make in the heavy armour of guilt!—you would think that I wouldn’t really miss him all that much. But he’s been in my thoughts more than when he was merely absented by the breadth of the Atlantic, in my dreams at least once, and several times I’ve even felt him at my elbow, or expected him to walk into the room.
Last Thursday I was gearing myself up for a slightly emotional long weekend, firstly of my parents arriving, then of a long-awaited university reunion (different set of friends, so Dan was far from my thoughts) when a letter arrived from his… well, his widow, I suppose. It was both a little reminder that she was still thinking of us, far away, but also notification of a small bequest from his estate.
Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever been bequeathed anything. I received something from my Grandma, long after she’d died. By then it had been filtered, like so many of her gifts when alive, through the complex animal that is my huge family, ultimately to be delivered unto me by my mother. So that had felt more like one of those antiquated financial transactions one reads about in Wodehouse novels than anything wholly personal. It’s worth saying that her kindness did enable me to purchase the laptop I wrote my DPhil thesis on, though, so the lovingly beneficent effect she had on my life could long succeed her own passing.
But a bequest from a friend feels at first absurd. It makes you want to take them gently by the upper arm, steer them into a corner and suggest that they just stand you a few drinks instead, for you both to share over a long, boozy afternoon. And the feeling you get when you remember that you just can’t do that with them any more is so keen and sharp that it makes you want to bawl and howl. You feel yourself shift sideways, into an alternative universe of your own making where you can do it. You sit there stunned, and try to pretend that nothing has ever happened, none of it.
So that was the start of my long weekend at home, only half an hour before my parents arrived. I don’t think they noticed, though, as they’ve worked out not to pay attention to my moods these days. Certainly by Saturday all I had left was a residual pensiveness, that was easily lifted, or passed off as preoccupation. But holding the letter in my hands every now and again made me wonder whether there was any way of spending even a modest sum so that it could be about Dan again, and not about me. About the hub and not a spoke.
I don’t know if that’s ever really possible, but to that end I’ve resolved to spend at least part of what Dan has left me on a copy of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau’s recording of the song cycle Die Schöne Müllerin. Dan always had unnervingly catholic tastes in music, and Schubert was only some of what he listened to when we shared a flat at college. Since hearing some of it again at his memorial service last year, I’ve frankly been stalked by Schubert, especially his Das Wandern and Die Liebe Farbe. Indeed, since I began writing this blogpost the former has already been on the radio once while I’ve been getting dressed in the morning. I’ve grown to enjoy the cycle’s beauty and simplicity, and it makes me smile more often these days than sobering me up or bringing me up short. So I’ll buy it, and think of Dan as I listen to it, and about how he might have been right all along.
But no matter how hard I try, I can’t bring myself to purchase another of his favourites: Chris de Burgh’s Patricia the Stripper. Guilt will only get you so far, Daniel; and besides, it’s not all about you. Not if it ends up about Patricia as well.