It’s April 28th again. Another year past and now Tommy has been gone for three years. I thought about going out to Parrish to put some flowers on his grave but other life chores intervened. I don’t think he minds. He was never one for fuss and ceremony and ritual unless it involved children and socializing them into the mysteries of the grown up world. Valentines? Anniversaries? Forget about it – he had no patience for the Hallmark holidays. I once made the mistake of bringing him roses at work on our anniversary. He was not amused and let me know just what he thought of that gesture and my lack of imagination for executing it in no uncertain terms. But, if a child or group of children of his acquaintance had something special that needed celebrating, he was all over that. While packing up the house this last year and moving, I found his stash of all purpose child gifts. They’re being used appropriately over time.
Tommy and I didn’t talk about death much. I think there were two reasons for that. The first was the shadow of Steve that hung over our lives. As Steve was dead, he was both omnipresent and unknowable to Tommy. They never met (well – I did figure out later that Tommy had probably waited on Steve and I at the Eastwood Olive Garden a couple of times after we first moved to Birmingham but neither Tommy or I had any real memories of it). Talk of death with Tommy would, of course, rope Steve into the conversation and that was a subject best left in the past. The second was that Tommy had far too much living to do and way to many plans to let a little nuisance such as death get in his way. Even during that last hospitalization, he was working on wig designs and plots for his summer shows and trying to figure out how to go back to school again for yet another degree (he was interested in seminary with an eye on a concentration in church music and hymnody. I found a few sketches for an idea for a musical setting of the Latin Mass in his papers. That would have been an interesting – and massive project). The one time I remember asking Tommy about what he would want in terms of arrangements should he die, he looked at me and said ‘You’ll have to figure it out, I won’t be here’ and went back to whatever he was working on.
Tommy’s relatively quick decline and unexpected death was very different from my experience with Steve. With Steve, we had roughly two years from the time we learned he was seriously ill with his pulmonary fibrosis until his death. We both knew it was coming, made some basic arrangements and then, basically never revisited the subject until it actually happened. There was no need. We lived our lives around his living, not his dying and those two years were some of the best times we had in our thirteen years together. Steve let go of the rat race of trying to be successful and make money and buried himself in his art and his garden and his love of the little things in life and was pretty much at peace, possibly for the first time in his life. He had not had an easy existence as a younger man. He came out as a gay man in high school at age fourteen. That’s not an uncommon story these days, but that was 1962 and his attitude from the beginning was to defy the world and anyone in it who would not accept him for exactly who he was. He spent his 20s and 30s in Los Angeles, part of the avant garde set around West Hollywood and Studio City, where he knew everyone and went to all the parties of the demimonde in the late 60s and 70s. He had all sorts of stories. The 80s and HIV destroyed his life and decimated his social circle and friendships, causing him to flee North to the Sacramento area to become his mother’s caregiver after she was diagnosed with cancer and where we met.
Between the two of them, I had nearly thirty years of partnership/marriage whatever term you want to use for it. I wrote a sermon a few years back, before the Obergefell decision, on the word marriage as applied to gay couples and how our inexact language uses a single word in law for two radically different constructs -a civil contract that defines a family unit in the eyes of the state and a sacred covenant that defines a union in the eyes of a church. The pro gay marriage forces were fighting for the contract. The anti gay marriage forces were fighting to protect the covenant. They’re still talking at each other rather than to each other so I don’t believe for a moment that this particular war is at an end. I miss the coupled state, having been out of it now for three years, but I don’t know if I want to do the work necessary to get back in to one.
Keeping a gay male relationship alive and solid is difficult. There aren’t a lot of supports and foundations for it within either gay culture or straight culture. One believes that you should be free to find the next hot thing, the other believes that you’re intruding on sacred ground in some sort of burlesque. This requires two men in union with each other to have to pour enormous resources in terms of emotional energy into the relationship and to be willing to make sacrifices to their socialized roles for the good of the unit. It’s very hard. I have nothing but admiration for my friends who have managed to do it over the years because I know just how much work they have to do behind closed doors and nothing but sympathy for my other friends who can’t overcome all of the obstacles and make it work over time. I’m never going to say never in regards to a potential third husband, but I have no plans to start looking in the near future. There’s a number of hoops any potential candidate would have to jump through and I know I’m not going to just settle to have someone in my life. Maybe I’m a victim of Mona’s Law from Tales of the City as defined by Armistead Maupin – you can have a hot lover, a hot job, and a hot apartment but you can’t have all three at once. I’ve got the job and housing covered so the third might be asking a little too much of the universe at the moment. If I do find someone, going back to Mouse and Tales of the City, I just would like someone with whom I could buy a Christmas tree.
Sleep well, both Steve and Tommy, and know that I am forever richer and better for having been yours.