This is the 14th installment in a series of blog posts chronicling life with my partner, Robert, who died of AIDS March 21, 2002. Read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here, Part 4 here, Part 5 here, Part 6 here, Part 7 here, Part 8 here, Part 9 here, Part 10 here, Part 11 here, Part 12 here and Part 13 here.
Inside the house on Milbank Road, Charlie yelled out orders to all who could hear him. Robert's dad was dying of cancer. Tootie did the best she could with Charlie, but they never really got along all that well to begin with, so overtures of kindness from her were born out of duty and obedience to her husband, not out of pure love. She did things for her kids because she loved them, but doing things for Charlie was different. Nevertheless, according to her, Charlie's cruelty had not broken her down. Instead, it had made her stronger and more resilient.
Before we left for San Francisco, she told Robert that the crows remained on the cable line out in the side yard. Her spiritual belief was that they were suspended in a place somewhere between Heaven and Earth. She watched them constantly, and they were watching her. Their presence gave her comfort.
Robert returned from San Francisco with a new attitude. He made the trip not merely for enjoyment and relaxation but to find something he had lost along the way. He couldn't really tell you what he was missing. There was just a feeling that things were not settled, and he wanted his life to fall into place and make sense to him, as it always had. The typical tourist would probably tell you that San Francisco is one of those nice places to visit with great restaurants and beautiful scenery. However, to a gay man with a limited number of days on this planet, it was the pilgrimage to the Promised Land. Robert was captivated not only by the obvious eye candy but by the lights of the city at night, the solitude of Alcatraz Island and the heavy foot traffic at all hours. Energy was everywhere, and he seemed to be able to channel it for his own use. He was able to move without pain and weakness.
The last night we were in San Francisco, Robert had an unexpected encounter. We were crossing an intersection in the Castro on foot when an older fellow called his name: "Robert, is that you? It's Ray."
Robert recognized his housemate from the early 1980s immediately: "Ray, what the hell?! I didn't know you lived here. When was the last time I saw you? Fifteen years ago?"
The reunion moved from the street to a small, nondescript bar that smelled like coconuts and pineapples. As Ray stirred the maraschino cherry in his ginger ale, he rattled off a list of people they knew in common. This one is living in L.A, that one is dead. Not knowing who they were talking about, I sat for as long as I could stay awake and then excused myself to get some fresh air.
A few minutes later, Robert emerged from the bar and announced, "I need to make another trip to San Fran, so we'll go home tomorrow, and then I'll come back in a couple of weeks. I want to spend some more time with Ray."
On the way back to the hotel, I mentioned to Robert what a coincidence it was that he ran into Ray.
"Coincidence?" he replied. "That was no coincidence."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
He just smiled at me and told me that we'd talk about it later.
It took all day to return to Virginia from the West Coast, so we went to bed immediately when we got home. A few hours later the intercom I had hooked up between our two rooms beeped, followed by the sound of Robert's voice.
"Gary, come here!" he said.
"What?" I replied. "It's 2 a.m."
"There's something I want to share with you," he said. "Just shut up and get in here!"
I went into Robert's room telling him that I wasn't in the mood for "pillow talk."
"Jesus was here on my bed," he told me. "We talked. No kidding."
"What did he look like?" I asked.
Robert just stared at me. Finally, after an uncomfortable pause, he said, "You don't believe me. It doesn't matter. But since you don't believe me, I'm not going to tell you what he said. You can go back to bed." Robert then turned his back to me and got under the covers. "Oh, wait a minute," he said. "I forgot to say my prayers." He knelt by the side of his bed.
There were more visits from Jesus in the days and weeks to come. It always happened in those lonely hours of the night when Robert was alone with his thoughts. Were these visits merely hallucinations resulting from the insidious disease chipping away at his brain, or were they manifestations of his faith that our souls go on forever? In Robert's case, I believe it was the latter. Someday, when the time is right, I'll reach deep into my soul like he did. Maybe then I will have all the answers.
Tootie talked more about the crows in her side yard. When she called to tell us that Charlie was about to "pass," I wondered if she would see a new crow the next morning. Sure enough, she did. Charlie died that night, a couple of hours after Robert arrived to say a final goodbye to his dad.
To be continued...
Follow Gary Nelson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/morrobayborn