I met Dan when I was 22 and he was 66, and it didn’t take long for either of us to realize that, as far as we were concerned, we’d be together for as many years as were given to us. I thought at the time, “Well, 66… Maybe we’ll get twenty years together.” Twenty was my hope, though it turned out to be two and eight months.

For those too young to remember, people used to have dedicated devices in their homes called “answering machines” for recording what we now call voicemail messages. They recorded to media called “cassette tapes”, and when a tape was full, you could re-record over its contents or swap it out for a new cassette. I had one of these machines when I was going to college and renting the basement of some classmates’ home.

It must have been sometime around 2000 when I opened a box full of old cassettes and found among various tapes of music a bunch of tapes from the answering machine. Curious, I popped them into a player, and eventually came to a message from Dan, then another and another. I remember sitting and crying for an hour when his long-silent voice came out of the speakers, then hungrily gulping down every memory the tapes could revive.

I eventually had all my audio and video tapes digitized, and planned to collect and combine the messages from Dan. According to the timestamps on the files, I must have extracted his messages from the tape files in 2009. With all the business of the last few years, that’s as far as I got.

Last week, I went to the PrimeTimers gathering which is held in Oklahoma City each Labor Day, the first time I’d been there in ten years. I surprised and caught up with many old friends, and among the new friends I made were a wonderful couple from Phoenix. As I got to know their story, I heard that they’d been together almost eighteen years, and I was blindsided by a fact which had slowly crept up on me unawares, year after year. However the time managed to slip by, it meant that next year would have been the end of those twenty years I’d wanted with Dan.

It felt so good to see two guys who had started out at about the same time and about the same ages as Dan and myself and had been able to share the time together that we weren’t able to have. I spent the weekend wondering what it would have been like if Dan had been there with me, there on the other side of the bed, sitting and enjoying the shows with me, meeting friends we’d known together for years, sitting by me on the plane and walking beside me through the airport on our way home. What would he look like now, how would we have changed over the years, what memories would we share?

It’s been such a long time since I’ve really thought about Dan, while I was living with Glenn, then caring for him, then grieving him. Since Glenn’s death, Dan’s come back into my mind a lot more, and been welcome there. Last weekend, he rushed back with the full overwhelming force of all that he’ll always mean to me. I had a few oddly comforting breakdowns at the hotel, then wept until I shook all the way from Oklahoma to Chicago. It was marvelous and cathartic, and joyously reassuring to know that all those feelings are still there, as strong as ever. I looked at the BWI departures for a few final “What if”s, then found my gate for Pittsburgh.

When I came home, I pulled up Dan’s messages, and decided to finish working on them while the memories are still running so keenly. The first message is from October 25th, 1993, when Dan called me the day after our first date, and they run through the time when I was moving in with him and he was helping me check my outgoing message giving my new number at his place. In between is everything from the marvelously mundane (“We have a jar of pasta sauce after all, don’t worry about it.”) to poignant remarks from times when we were working through problems I wish I could remember, all the ups, downs, ins, and outs of our first year together.

The file I’m sharing here is slightly redacted. There are just a couple of more-than-suggestive messages on the tapes which Dan would have been happy to share with “family”, but not with family. The rest he would have let stand as a testament to our too-brief life and love. I know they can’t mean as much to anyone else as to us, but I hope you enjoy hearing them and that they rekindle your faith in similar happiness you’ve found or will find someday.

Click here to listen (100MB, 45 minutes):

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