On February 11 2012, just shy of his 25th birthday my friend Daniel was found floating at the foot of the George Washington Bridge in the early morning hours.
I had run into Daniel just two days before, walking with friends on Eighth Avenue. We stopped to say hello and exchanged a few words about Fashion Week. He seemed a bit distant and out of sorts, but I didn't think much of it. I just felt his energy was off. I thought, Maybe he was high. When we said goodbye, he told me he loved me and gave me a peck on the lips.
The next day, I was feeling depressed and thought about calling Daniel, but I didn’t want to bother him with my feelings of loneliness. Our relationship was complex.
We met back in 2009. Daniel was 23 years old, and I was 10 years older than he. We always had a strong connection and went on a few dates, but due to the age difference we didn’t take it any further. I loved Daniel as a friend, romantically, and almost as my child at times. He looked up to me and I tried my best to help guide him.
When I got home from work that day, still feeling down, I looked out my bedroom window and thought about Daniel. I said to myself, “He is never going to grow old.”
I cried myself to sleep that night. The next morning, his roommate and best friend called to tell me Daniel had died. The next few days were a living nightmare, not knowing what exactly happened or why. I talked to friends trying to piece together a timeline of the events that took place before he was found on that cold morning. A part of myself died as well, my worst nightmare to become reality. Daniel represented love and now he was gone. Being a romantic, I had thought maybe in the future things would be different for us, but my strange premonition proved otherwise.
As the months passed I went into a deep depression, often breaking into tears in the most random places, in the grocery store or on the train coming home from work. People must have thought I was crazy. I filled my apartment with his pictures, developed a friendship with his family, and tried to be there for them as I was for him. It took a long time to heal those wounds and to even start thinking about opening my heart again.
How could I go to a bar and talk to strangers who didn’t know a thing about me? Who could understand my pain or even want to? While I didn't feel like I could talk about Daniel on a date, how could I also not share my truth? I didn’t even feel like meeting anyone new — I couldn't risk the thought of the relationship falling apart and suffering yet another heartbreak.
So what did I do? I fell in love with one of his friends because we understood each other and walked down the same path; we would heal one another. Daniel brought us together, I told myself. I figured it would heal us both. The truth was, however, that I was still in a deep depression and making poor decisions. I needed to truly find myself. So I did that by letting go.
I'm finally in a place where I am at peace. I'm single, and I'm OK with that. Daniel will always be part of me, and I will still celebrate his birthday every year with cake and a candle. Whoever I allow to be in my life will need to accept that. Do I go to bars and pick up guys or randomly date men on Tinder? No! I'm working on myself and getting myself ready for a good guy. I'm keeping busy with work, began to take acting classes. I'm enjoying self-discovery.
I no longer have the desire to chase the things that do not serve me. I've finally learned to love myself, and that was a gift from my dear friend Daniel. I am thankful for him because he shaped the man I am today.
DAMON GONZALEZ is the business manager for Bon Appetit and an occasional commentator on TMZ Live. Follow him on Twitter @TheyCallMeDaymz.