27 years ago I was an awkward-yet-happy freshman at Syracuse University, idealistic about so many things. I felt like Katrina from Katrina and The Waves. I walked on sunshine. The bloom was still on the rose.
I lived in an all girls dorm (with a somewhat developmentally slow girl from the Bronx who was swept up in a matter of days by Jews for Jesus.) I think we said maybe all of 100 words to each other in a year. Oh, and one time she threw up (not from drinking, mind you) and left it on the floor for a week.
My dorm was known for having the best dining hall on our side of a massive campus and people would come from other dorms to eat. Every morning I would watch as an extremely handsome, tall, wiry guy with a mustache, blew through the line carrying a rather cumbersome art porfolio. He would get his cereal and sit at a solo table. This was not a man who should have been eating alone. It made no sense. And, there was something very strong in me that said I needed to KNOW him.
Right before Christmas break, I wrote him a card, with the italicized words above (and later had it framed for his 30th birthday), walked right up to him in what I remember as a black mumu and a felt hat (I know it wasn’t a mumu but I think Darrell remembers it as being rather Maude-like), said “this is for you” and placed the card and a chocolate santa in front of him. He looked at me, stunned and grateful. The note included my dorm phone #.
When he showed up that very night, I beamed. He came with a poster that he had designed (graphic artist still to this day) and as I remember it, it was a quick and comfortable visit. He told me he was going home to his small town outside of Binghamton the next day for Christmas break and that we would get together as soon as we could when we both came back from our respective corners of New York. And then began what can only be described as a life-long friendship cram session.
For five months, every single week night I went to Darrell’s very large single dorm room (his roommate had left school and noone was ever reassigned.) Our ritual consisted of sitting across from each other at his dorm desk, lamp on the side (with a shade that Darrell sometimes stuck his head under in order to help him sneeze), a bong being passed back and forth, and chainsmoking, he Newport Lights, me, Marlboro Reds (because I used to run out of cigarettes before him, I got so used to smoking his, that Newport Lights became the only brand I could smoke.) We managed to learn each other quickly and intensely. I learned that Darrell loves orange and vanilla ice cream. I learned the weird thing about him sneezing.
He would go home to see his girlfriend at SUNY Binghamton every weekend. It only bothered me in the sense that I hated losing our momentum. It was never about having a romantic relationship. Darrell and Angela, now his wife and mother of his two children, have been together since fourth grade. She has never questioned our friendship or stopped him from visiting me for a weekend. I don’t take this lightly.
Darrell moved to Manhattan via Brooklyn, really, the only place that makes sense for him to be. Every once in a while, he’ll call me all breathless and say things like “Gayle, you should have seen this runway show. The models are like giraffes.” Or “the so and so hotel is so fucking cool. I wish you lived here so we could go have a drink.” This is in no way to slight Angela, who also likes this stuff but like me, there are things that I think are so “Darrell” that doing them with anyone else seems like a compromise.
Now Darrell and I are both middle-aged parents. I wouldn’t dream of going to NYC without seeing him for at least an hour. When this happens we just look at each other and say how fucking fabulous we look. Darrell has aged better than anyone I know. In a way that my gay, male friends don’t, Darrell can tell me how “fucking hot” I am (and that’s how he would say it, without it being a come on.) We laugh a lot and that laugh is precious to me.
Even though I would have written “Meeting Darrell” eventually, I do it now as a way to remind him how dear he is to me, on the week after his father’s death. Darrell, what you have brought to my life is invaluable and namely what that is, is light.
Now go have a cig.