Valentine's Day has always had strange connotations for me.
It is my only sister's birthday (and my birthday is Halloween... yes, really...). And for much of my early life I had a troubled relationship with her, so the day had been largely about trying to make her happy and pretty much failing ... and then eating too much chocolate in the wake of it.
Dave Nolan saved Valentine's Day for me ... by happening to have a birthday on that very day. Today.
When I first met him 27 years ago, I could not have guessed this birthday connection, or that he would become a brother to me -- the dear sibling I had never had.
In 1986, although I had no background in media, I spoke to the right people at WNYC and finagled an internship for one of their radio shows, "Kids America."
I arrived at the studio shortly before showtime where Dave, the show's engineer grinned broadly through a shaggy goatee and welcomed me warmly. He told me the basics about the show and gave me his vote of confidence when I met with the producer; I started the next day.
That summer was probably the happiest I've ever been on any job -- from making copies and running errands to helping choose the show's playlist to greeting guests, one of whom was LeVar Burton (!!!!), to learning how to mix sound and edit tape (the old fashioned way, with a reel-to-reel) -- I was in heaven!
Yes, public radio can be exciting.
Dave was my teacher, pal, my chief defender when I accidentally turned the station off the air for a full minute.
"Look," he grinned, patting my shoulder while I collapsed in uncontrollable tears, "Your problem is not that you don't know what you're doing -- it's that you know just enough to really be dangerous!! That's a good thing!" I laughed a little. "Believe me," he said, "this is one of those experiences you'll love talking about when you're older."
The summer ended and I returned to my real life as a socially awkward and isolated teen.
But my friendship with Dave continued and deepened. Through high school and college, he remained someone I could turn to for anything. He introduced me to my first live music show ... and my first hit of pot. :-) He worked the booth at the legendary Wetlands where he made a point of recording everyone who made it to that stage "because you never know who's going to hit it big!"
In the late 90s he met the love of his life, Joy, married her and had a beautiful child.
And although his family responsibilities trimmed his social time with me to only a few days a year -- dinners now and then, or birthdays, or just hanging out for a drink and shooting pool at the bar down the block -- time with him had a nourishing fullness that helped me understand what friendship was.
Nearly three years ago, Dave left us.
On his way to pick up his daughter from school, he suffered a heart attack on the subway.
I had meant to write about him shortly after, but couldn't find the words. It has taken this long to process his loss. But sometimes, kiddo, that's just how it goes.
That's what he would have said.
Love to you, Dave, wherever you are. Till we meet again.