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Monday, March 14, 2005

Another voice from the past ...

She was his first love. She was fourteen and he in his mid-teens. Rick and Kris were in LRY (Liberal Religious Youth) together and forged a friendship that spanned the years. It had apparently been about ten years since her last happy birthday call, so she was unaware that he had died while she was otherwise involved with her work, marriage, and family. He adored her and always mentioned their re-connections as they occurred.

His birthday was March 11th, always a dark day for me and impossible to dismiss or re-direct myself away from the recurring pain of his loss. It was on that day that Kris called and learned from David that Rick was gone. She was shocked! She since called me. I could hear the pain in her voice -- regret that she'd allowed so much time to elapse without ...

Two days ago we talked by phone and she later sent a long email that described their early innocent relationship and I am so grateful. Since he was only 16, I'm not sure that he had yet begun to understand or accept his homosexuality. He was undoubtedly in the early stages of gender confusion and would not come to terms with his true sexual identity for several years. He came out to me when he was 21 and entering into his first real same-sex relationship.

He eventually partnered with his soulmate, Gordon, with whom he would share his life in a monogamous "marriage" for 19 uninterrupted years of torment and pain; they were co-dependent alcoholics. They died about a year apart a few years ago. I wonder -- had they survived -- if today's judgement by the California courts making same-sex marriages legal might have saved them? Being same-sex, of different races, and members of a despised minority on both scores, would it have been different now?

I remember the day that Gordon died while Rick was at work. He'd been suffering from lung cancer. Rick came to my office (two blocks from their apartment) after calling to break the news. He'd called me earlier that morning to ask if I'd look in on Gordon -- if I had the time -- since "...he didn't look terribly well." We went to his place together and arrived just as the coroner was picking up Gordon's body. I'd called Gordon's physician when I couldn't reach him by phone - and was afraid to enter the apartment if, indeed, he'd died. It was awful! We then entered a nightmare when Rick called Maine to let Gordon's family know of the death . They slammed the phone down in his face! They refused to accept responsibility for the disposal of the body (we were not asking this) but also refused to release the remains to us for burial. It was dreadful!

It would be 30 days before the Coroner's office would release the body to us. Rick knew for all that time that Gordon was lying on a cold marble slab in Martinez. The law required that period before his remains could be declared abandoned, then and only then could we have him cremated and his ashes scattered as he'd wished. Rick had no legal status through which to claim the body. He never really recovered from the pain of that experience and was dead after a year from an endless drinking binge -- cirrhosis of the liver. His was a thinly-veiled suicide. He had no wish to live.

I do not know what difference it would have made to anyone that these two lovers be allowed to live out their lives as they wished -- together in law as well as in fact. I never knew Gordon's history except that he'd been married and fathered two children when very young; kids whom he loved deeply but had lost contact with. His drinking surely was in response to the guilt, the heartbreak that his gender confusion created for them all. There was his mother, a former wife, and brother and sister-in-law somewhere in Maine, but no one responded to our messages. Rick and I gathered up the few personal possessions Gordon left behind and mailed them off for his children -- in the event that they ever felt forgiving. To my knowledge those items were never returned, so maybe ... .

How much easier it would have been on that family if, as with Rick and I, he'd been able to "come out" to them at an early age. Rick was not forced to bend to societal demands for compliance with love across gender that his body could not feel. Gordon "ran away from home" to San Francisco, much later in his life -- and left a trail of tears behind him. Both their lives ended prematurely -- after the excruciating pain of rejection by a society unwilling to allow them to define themselves according to their birthright -- as gay men.

How dare we!

Kris and I will meet soon and we'll share stories and caring and I'll have the rare opportunity to get a glimpse of Rick's earliest and closest loving relationship with a girl. I suspect that she was the only girl in his life, ever. She meant a great deal to him, and the cost of following the dictates of his confused heart must have been high.

Our phone conversation was effected deeply by the fact that he's been dead for me now for several years. For Kris he died only two days ago. The loss was freshened for me through her pain. But the pain is now bittersweet as I remember how awful it was for him, and of how valiantly he tried to comply with custom and tradition, and how much self-hatred there was in both these good men.

I think of all those couples who've survived to celebrate this day, and wish them all love and peace into all the tomorrows.

Suppose Rick had suppressed his homosexuality -- that that first innocent boy/girl love had blossomed into maturity -- and at some late date, after a child or two, he'd found the lie impossible to contain? They parted with a strong friendship intact, she went on to a productive life and marriage. Were he alive today, they would have shared birthday wishes as in the past, and he would have called to tell me happily that he'd heard from Kris .. and I would have felt his delight.

How much more painful it must have been for Gordon ...?

How deeply I miss them both... .

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