For the past few months, I’ve been cultivating a perfectly life-like fantasy world in which today was not drawing inexorably closer. Despite the fundamental and quantifiable natures of time, April 9 was not to arrive, certainly not soon and quite possibly never. It stood so far ahead on the calendar that even a mention of it was strange and intangible, like a Hubble transmission of a galaxy 30-million light years away.
Until there Eliot and I were, standing at the curb at Sea-Tac, watching Daron go.
It’s an opportunity, one that will transform his future, a Very Good Thing. It’s also what I should’ve expected in 1999, after he prepared our first meal together — a leg of lamb crusted in muddled mint with a conversion-experience finish — and I told him that I’d been lucky to travel some and to actually eat in a handful of the world’s finest restaurants, and that he was gifted enough to helm the kitchen in any of them. And with all the ridiculous humility that was and is Daron, he replied, “Are you saying you liked the lamb? That it was alright for a first try?”
Ever since, I’ve been violently shoving him out of his professional comfort zone: on landing in Seattle I drove him to interview at the city’s newest lines-out-the-door-hot restaurant, and later, literally held his hand as a quadrillionaire Clyde Hill matron quizzed the dreadlocked giant on her silk-upholstered couch as to why she should hire him as her family’s personal chef. And that’s where my credit ends: Daron earned both jobs on his own considerable merit and limitless talent, jobs that would change his career — and the trajectory of his life — forever.
But what with babies and domesticity and the bottomless minutiae of existence, my boot had long since failed to connect with his behind. And in the meantime, Daron had taken a trip to Germany, carrying with him a cold-pack of “typical American foodstuffs” he told us weren’t readily available there. And on this same trip, Isabelle threw a small dinner party, and Daron prepared the few ingredients he’d brought, a meal so distinctly American in its symbolism and simplicity: steaks and potatoes.
By happenstance, two of the friends at their Berlin table that night were a pair of German restauranteurs — partners who’d recently opened several wildly successful eateries in the city. And before the end of the meal, they were planning another: an American-style grill, based on exactly what Daron had so serendipitously packed and prepared. And naturally, with Daron opening it as head chef.
He mulled it over for eight months, long enough for what might have been Riesling-fueled blather to rise into a nearly-completed restaurant in Mitte, Berlin’s white-hot center, a stylish grill lacking only a chef to outfit its kitchen to his specifications before opening.
And because I could not, Daron gave himself the kick in the pants, and bought a ticket to Berlin.
When I say Daron is my best friend, I utter a meager phrase in service to a catalog of experiences and emotions better suited to art: a novel, an opera, a mural of operatic scale. Where others finish one another’s sentences, we finish each others thoughts, read one another and respond with Richter accuracy. He is more an additional limb that, though once foreign, I now find myself stumbling and flailing without.
As to Eliot, who has never known a breath without the presence of her beloved “Doey,” I can’t gauge her response, save her curbside tears, and her car-seat mantra on the drive home, “Doey go, Doey bye-bye…” Yes baby, I sobbed in answer.
“It will pass quickly,” Michael says, as six months inevitably does.
But six months is this as well: the whole of a miraculous Seattle summer, Fourth of July, Nola’s first birthday, a full season of Mariners games, a Daron-shaped hole in our hearts.
Do well, my friend, greet and seize Berlin like an Allied force. And know we’ll be waiting with a Stoli and tonic in Doey’s glass.