Danny had told me that he and a couple of friends were going to Burning Man that year for the first time to celebrate their birthdays. For treatment, the VA mailed him 1,000 pills of Vicodin (actually generic Hydrocodone) each month, whether he finished the previous prescription or not.
My brother Steve had called the VA and asked them to stop giving Bill the drugs. Steve, who had once studied to be an actuary, later noted, “Someone in the military probably ran the numbers and figured out it was cheaper to send the drugs so these guys overdose or kill themselves.” As a child, Bill had lived in a firestorm of rage.
I didn’t have a single date during this year, and vacillated between convincing myself that when my home was ready, the right man would arrive, and trying to accept that romance, sex, and love might be over for me — but I’d have a beautiful house.
I had been at the farmer’s market, so I invited him for brunch and he arrived carrying an armload of sunflowers. Glad for the interruption.” While we ate, he admired my house. “But I’m researching an installation of oysters on my hull to help clean the bay and . Over brunch, we talked about his dad’s death and about our siblings, my troubled older brother, and the distance he had from his.
“Glad I caught you here, and you aren’t out diving with sharks or gathering seaweed,” he said. “You seemed so sad and so beautiful that day I met you,” he said. Turned out it was me making her unhappy.” We agreed that he — that we both — deserved happiness. Cautious about being a rebound, I discussed him later on with girlfriends. “Right after my parents divorced,” she said, “my dad married the love of his life — his high school sweetheart.” A friend who knew Danny well counseled me.
But I had big hopes for Danny and me at Burning Man. Out on the Playa, exhausted and exhilarated, without the tethers of daily responsibilities, we’d come together as our rawest selves. *** The Playa at night is a hallucination, a dream, an open-ended LED-lit adventure filled with a flame-shooting octopus and neon shark art cars darting by. He hadn’t seemed heartbroken at all by the breakup — just very inconvenienced. I rode my bike out to the Temple and wrote a letter to my brother, promising to stay close with his wife and kids. My parents had married young and had five children in seven years. I tucked the letters into the Forgiveness Box at the Temple.
Danny convinced my Aunt Kaye to dance for possibly the first time in her life, under a huge sculpture of a woman, naked and incredibly sad and powerful under the dark desert sky. “Then lift up your balls.” I marveled at his wholeheartedness. And I wrote one of forgiveness to myself for not being a better sister to him. That night, we passed the Burning of the Man ceremony while dancing on top of art cars.
He relayed his struggle finding a place to live after his longtime partner and mother of his children asked him to move out. “I think his relationship has been over for a long time.
There’s a chance you might get your heart broken, but he’s worth the risk.” Danny himself had described their attempt at marriage counseling.
“You’re turning me into a whore-man,” he said as he pulled on his socks one night. He acknowledged they were unhappy, but as he had put it, “You suffer for the family unit.” I had argued, “Who is better off for that? A stranger saw me crying and approached me on the dance floor and held me as my tears ran down his bare chest.
” Had we not been going to Burning Man that summer, I probably wouldn’t have pursued the relationship, as his life didn’t seem to have room for me. “It’s strange, but I’m not angry at her,” he answered. When he moved on, another man stopped, and I cried and cried in his arms.
Growing up with him, it seemed as if I always had my arm in front of my face, blocking near-constant incoming blows.
Even as an adult, I was a little afraid of him, and my relationship with Bill was mainly through my connection with his wife and children, who I adored.
Danny and I and saw each other a few times before Burning Man. “I’m meant to live at Pepperidge Farm, Massachusetts.” I didn’t have a single date during this year, and vacillated between convincing myself that when my home was ready, the right man would arrive, and trying to accept that romance, sex, and love might be over for me. He found out that he had to take care of the kids that weekend. “She’s told me tons of times to date someone else.” “This is bound to trigger something,” I said.