Daniele Longo was the most beautiful man I have ever known. Generous, a gentle leftist with an accent — was it Tuscan? I no longer remember — that melted women’s hearts, he was a Raphaelite Christ in beard and flannel. We spent hours driving through Buffalo winter streets, Daniele piloting his Datsun around the gaping holes in the pavement. Daniele would sing Steely Dan songs or rave about that fascist President Carter.
He left for Missoula one year, and then, oddly, returned. I was glad to see him, but I didn’t understand what drew him away from his Mon-TAH-nah.
One day five of us piled into his Datsun, drove to Niagara Falls for the day. His roommate Kevin, another handsome artist; Bernadette, the love of my young life; Berna’s best friend Betsy.
I was a spectator in my own life, a leaf blown onto the river. Berna had watched me too, that winter, spent days with me until even I had to do something about it, and kissed her. My entropic heart shaped the beginning of our love and forced its end. But that day with Daniele was between the two. The Niagara River flowed yet toward the precipice.
We drove along the river toward the falls. Mute at roadside, the giant water intakes of the hydroelectric plant loomed, white monoliths a mile apart, massive and brutalist. The closer one had huge letters emblazoned on its side: “Power Authority.” We agreed that seemed redundant.
The visit to the Falls was like all the others. Six million cubic feet of water jumping the edge each minute, and I was jaded, a local boy unimpressed among the tourists. At the edge the feeling came to me again, a heedless longing to feel the drop for myself. But it passed. We clambered out on the little islands a half mile above the Falls, the current strong. One wrong step on the wet rock and then the fall, and oblivion.
We threaded our way through the maples and asphalt paths, found Daniele’s car again. Two bridges span the Niagara between the Falls and Buffalo. A broad, flat island lies between, Grand Island, five miles across. Unready for the drive home we stopped to walk the river at the island’s north end. We stood on the bank and joked. A long rock breakwall jutted out into the river, a thousand feet back toward the Falls. Suddenly restless, in need of a moment alone, I left them and walked out to its end, a carpet of birds scattering before me and regrouping as I passed. The river flowed past ominous and dark.
I remember days I spent with friends since dead, words and gestures no one knows but me, stories of which I am the sole custodian. They fill my heart sometimes ‘til I can think of little else. I remember days with friends who live still, the trivial stuff a sane man would have long forgotten, the way Berna’s hair shone against the river, Daniele asking in idle song if we were learning about the Eastern way of life. I wonder what they recall of me that I have lost. I have not spoken with Daniele in a quarter century. I miss him more, these days, than I would have thought back then. Each bond I had that day dissolved in time. I have fallen since then, and often, and sometimes the Falls themselves would have seemed a blessing. And I knew none of it that day, knew none of it, nor knew the currents I had hidden from myself. That day is lost, and the one after, and after that, beneath a palimpsest of anger, apathy, of fleeting joy. I reconstruct some details by logic, determining how they must have been, getting one detail in three just wholly wrong. They form as clouds around an image, the point from which the memory solidifies. I turned to join my friends and there she was, walking to me with a cloud of birds behind her, and she came and threw her arms around my neck, and then the fall, and oblivion.