Mostly Probably True Tales of Living in a Commune: Daniel

Awhile back I mentioned that I lived in what was essentially a commune (we called it “intentional community”) during college and said I’d be telling some stories about it. You may have noticed the obvious fact that I’ve since be silent on the subject – hell, almost entirely silent on any subject – since then.

The problem has been where to start – a funny story? A serious one? How much explanation should I give, and how much privacy should I keep for the people involved?

I finally figured out where to start: the end. The only story that has is both funny and serious and has an easy, definable end.

Daniel came to us during a crazy summer. Joshua, Summer and I had taken in too many people – clearly a 1:1 ratio of guest to live-in person was too much, and we were having a hard time keeping up. Daniel was a quiet, salt-and-pepper haired 50-something with a love of coffee, internet chess, and making his own simple meals. Compared to the loud and troll-y group of people we had with us at the time, Daniel was a godsend.

Right up until he started going crazy. It started with screaming and swearing at a guest – admittedly, a delusional French-speaking yodel/rap/opera artist that was convinced he’d be touring within months. Daniel only ramped up as he spent more time volunteering at the local free meals, since he’d meet someone, make them into his personal project as he spent a couple days getting very attached and proclaiming all of their virtues, and when they either got weirded out or made a mistake with drugs or alcohol, the relationship was immediately cut off.

Thus began Daniel’s “energetic” phase, which was his euphemistic label for what became increasingly obvious as bipolar disorder or a similar mental illness. As he told us more of his story, a pattern emerged: find a close group of friends, get very attached, have them suddenly turn on him, and he’d leave the area and start fresh somewhere else. As Caprica 6 would put it, it started to feel like “all of this has happened before, and will happen again,” and since such destructive cycles are hard to break, of course it did happen again.

Even though it was sad to watch Daniel repeat his mistakes, he did teach me a few things.

Daniel taught me that memory is fallible.

My favorite Daniel story is actually two stories; my version, and his. My version goes like this: the morning after a group meal, I wandered bleary-eyed into the kitchen in my robe. About a minute into starting to make breakfast, Daniel confronts me that I’d left the condiments from the meal out and he’d come home to find them rotting (it should be noted that this was not my first kitchen mess I’d left). I didn’t see them anywhere, since he’d cleaned them up, but apologized. He spent about half an hour going around in circles trying to convince me to work on my habits, but trying to get me to feel like it was my idea rather than his. As the time until my bus arrived ticked away, I finally looked down at my robe, back at him, and said “before we continue, can I at least, like, put on pants?”.

Daniel’s version is that I came into the kitchen, walked past the rotting food, made and ate my breakfast, and then he jumped in to remind me of my mistake and ask that I work on keeping common areas clean, and I made my way out of the room.

I still have no idea which one of these stories is the right one, or what blend of them is, but I’m ok with that. Memory plays tricks on you.

He also taught me that most people don’t really change that much.

I realize that sounds harsh, especially when you’re trying to help people turn their lives around. But, realistically, if you’re over 50 and been living your life a certain way for all of that time and gotten into very specific habits, especially if you’re not willing to see the cyclical nature of your life, is a couple of months living with some nice 20-30 somethings really going to help? I mean, if you get turned on by your friends once? Probably crazy friends. Twice? You have bad luck with people. Five, six, seven times? You… might want to take a look in the mirror.

And so, after about a year with us, Daniel moved on in the summer of 2011. He went back to Arizona, searching after a community he’d had there once. Josh talked to him a few times, and it didn’t sound like it was going super well, but he was kind of trying to be optimistic. I moved out of our little home at the start of 2012, and a couple days into the new year I got a call from Josh. It was the most serious I’d heard him in a long time.

“Are you sitting down?”

What? I thought. Why is he being so serious?

“I just got a call from Daniel’s mom. They found him on the side of the road. He’s.. dead.”

There was a long pause. It’d been six months since I’d actively lived with or seen Daniel and I hadn’t thought of him too much since then. He was in another state, I’d already been aware that I’d probably never see him again. But, dead?

“The initial report says it was a heart attack, but you know he was a really healthy guy, took good care of himself. I’m hoping with the autopsy they’ll find out if it was drug related, since he told those stories of trying to find spirituality in drugs. I don’t know if you pray anymore, or what you do, but if you could keep his family in your thoughts I’m sure they’d appreciate it.”

Rest in peace, Daniel. You’ll never again feel like you’ve been rejected by people you care about.

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