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#18 Friends of the Heart
And a week with Dan
Hello mis amigos,
I hope the past week and a bit has been good to you, despite it feeling like a whole new edition of the “world is fucking ending”.
Were the days slow and fat and warm after the jangled hum of Christmas? I hope so.
We had a week with Dan, one of my mum’s best friends and eternally young guncle to my sister and I. He swept in on Christmas night, sending ahead of him a tangerine box of Veuve Clicquot and a bottle of Bollinger, known only to me as the preferred champagne of Patsy and Edina in Absolutely Fabulous, and therefore very fancy. And all week we ate and drank and danced and laughed and he brought with him his customary light and wisdom and piercing political commentary. And it got me thinking about the intimacy of a lifelong friend, and also the magic of Dan.
So, this week is dedicated to Dan, and those kinds of friendships.
When I was about 4, my sister pushed me into the pond in our backyard. It was a poor excuse for a pond, shallow and whiskey coloured, with hungry mottled goldfish who’d bob up to the surface throughout the day, mouth agape, aghast. I don’t remember much about falling in, perhaps the sky was mostly blue, and I was wearing a dress. Everything else about the memory was told to me by Dan, and mostly the everything else was that he was suppressing his laughter as he admonished my sister. He couldn’t help it, what’s more hilarious than one small person pushing another small person into a large brown puddle full of starved fish?
That memory sits on a spangled string of other partially recollected memories, like a half eaten candy necklace.
It’s a Saturday morning in the 90’s and we are dancing on Dan’s bed to video hits, it’s 2001 and Dan who now lives in Sydney takes us to Xert’s alien themed restaurant where we order our food through a flashy intercom (we are blown away), it’s 2006 and Dan has taken me to a Kylie Minogue concert, at the merch stand he helps me pick out a black t shirt emblazoned with gold letters that say, “I’m a show girl”. And more recently, as in last week, we are dancing around mum and dad’s pool drinking French champagne, Dan is wearing my billowing white linen dress and as he sways in the glassy light, he looks like a beautiful pool angel.
Friendships are funny, intricate, delicate things. Recently, I started re-watching Love My Way. My sister and I watched it for the first time when were teenagers, at Dan’s impassioned behest.
It is such a good show, I love the way it paints beauty in the mangled sprawl of relationships between siblings, ex partners and best friends.
Two of the main characters Frankie and Tom, live together in a little house next to the sea. They are mates, and together they spend time arguing, laughing, navigating their love lives and most importantly, raising Frankie’s young daughter Lou.
I watched the first episode with a friend a few weeks ago, and she was instantly confused, “are they together?” I shook my head, “no, they’re just friends.”
I’ve always loved friendships that that leak outside the lines. Through intimacy, affection and honesty. Friends that disagree, friends that cuddle, friends that live together (and survive it), friends that say, “I love you”.
For the better part of 1994, Dan lived with us in our rented clinker brick house on Calista Court in Elsternwick. Which is why he was there when my sister pushed me into the pond. In those days, as a 20 something single gay man, on weekend mornings and sometimes after kindergarten, he was our hapless and good-natured babysitter. He made everything fun; vacuuming, hungover Saturday mornings, kinder pick-ups. Dan always makes everything fun.
At our house, where we all lived together as babies.
Which brings us to the bit where we reflect on what makes this man so beautiful.
In a podcast I listened to years ago, there was a conversation I’ll never forget, where the two hosts talked about the perils of defining yourself in opposition to things. Finding your edges, where the world ends and you begin, by only really knowing what you don’t like, what you hate, what you think is shit.
Dan doesn’t do that. He is shaped by the things he loves, and there are so many.
In fact, he loves so variously that he is a rich tapestry of paradoxical passions. He’s a huge Richmond supporter and can talk footy for days, he is a Kylie Minogue superfan and every lyric is known to his lips. He is interested in science and politics but gets around a horoscope and a past life story, too. He loves to work; he loves to play. You can sit with him in silence, you can talk with him about anything at all. And all of it is both authentic and unabashed.
Dan can be caustically funny, some of my favourite phrases belong to him; about vain people he’ll purse his lips and say, “I love me, who do you love?”, of his Italian father and German mother he’ll quip “I play Italian and work German”, about delayed food deliveries he’ll sigh “uber minutes are like drag queen minutes.”
But he is vulnerable and gentle too, sharing his own stories as a young gay, migrant kid with weird smelling food in the hard Aussie ‘burbs. Funny, resilient, real and the human embodiment of a live, laugh, love sign, if it was less pious.
When we’re all together, the days are a rhythmic mix of samey and impulsive.
In the morning Dan makes rocket fuel strength stovetop coffee, reads the news on his iPad and exclaims over the stupidity of our government. Then he slathers on his zinc and heads off to smash out at least 8,000 steps (the extra 2,000 will happen incidentally, via dancing or wandering through boutiques) when he returns, he throws on his togs, pops a bottle of champagne and the day begins. Who knows what will happen?
Perhaps he’ll use the pool umbrella as a stripper pole while Dua Lipa croons about heartache, or maybe we’ll discuss cancel culture, or some friends will come over and a party will bloom, as people laugh and drink seltzers in the sun.
Aside from levity and light and pristine slut drops, I think the most essential thing a friend like Dan gives our family is what the kids call radical acceptance. He knows our gritty truths, our neuroses, our dynamics as bossy and greedy and selfish and zealous and affectionate. And he spends time with us anyway.
Dan has taught me, as widely adored as he is, like some sort of Six Dinner Sid of love and friendship and living, that you can’t have too many loves of your life.
Actually, you can’t have enough.
And what’s more. To relegate intimate love, to a stifling dark corner of a singular romance is a sadness for you and for the people who ache to know you. Of which there are probably many. As eerily named Daniel Webster of 1800’s American politics said about his own dear friend, “the friend of my heart, the partner of my joys, griefs, and affections.”
It’s friendships like these; rippling and stretched across years, full of laugher and honesty and change and love, that we all deserve.