Daniel Nester’s new essay “All My Friends” returns us to those confusing, sometimes sad and embarrassing years of early adulthood, when we “laugh at the absurdity of the adulthoods we were about to endure.” Nester shares touching, funny, and painfully honest memories of a departed old friend. It’s a time-traveler’s visit to a long gone world of “Wild Ex-Girlfriend[s]” “spent in Camden, smoking pot, playing R.E.M., Joni Mitchell, Prince, Flipper, the Let Them Eat Jellybeans punk compilation.”
I too attended Rutgers-Camden, where Nester was already a living legend when I arrived with on campus with my waist-length hair, skull bandanna, tattered jeans (from real work), and dirty sneakers. I lived across the river in Philadelphia, where I worked nights as a dishwasher, but whenever I was on campus, I could hear his name being spoken with reverence and excitement. He was going to be a real writer, something we rarely encountered. I never imagined at the time he’d write so beautifully about that world in which we found ourselves, about love, friendship, and the passing of time. His essay possesses the authentic ring of the true storyteller with a gift for language and an endearing weakness for emotionally nourishing nostalgia. Nester, who tells us “I am slimmer in my dreams, which I quite enjoy,” reminds us “how cast out of the garden you feel when the garden is your own creation.”
Of course he created a wonderful Spotify playlist to put on the headphones while you read. So go on!
There are days when I can’t stop thinking about friends who’ve gone. There are days when friends from decades ago walk across the street as I drive through my neighborhood. Days when familiar faces pop up from desks. Chimeras and twins shine on screens for a few seconds and vanish.
At night, I dream about flying. It’s my only recurring dream, or the only one that I can remember. I don’t soar into space in these dreams, like some Major Tom–type character. I float a few feet above power wires and trees, dip up and down with my head. In my conscious life, I’m afraid of altitudes higher than a flight of stairs. I avoid roof decks and looking down hills. According to an online dream dictionary thronged with pop-up ads, my floating dreams of “flying close to the ground” indicate “an uneasy sickness from which the dreamer will soon recover.” This reminds me that the word “nostalgia” came from the Modern Latin term for sickness over the past. For me, this sickness has meant years floating in oceanic regret, whole afternoons spent in basements looking through old photos and journals, sick over a past I never liked that much in the first place. My shrink, as if playing to an assigned script, offers that it could be a subconscious attempt to create some distance, a firewall between past and present.