The person I write about here died before his time, at 48. We were 30 years apart and friends for a couple of decades, blowing away the theory that intergenerational friendships don't work.
Arch and I met when we were volunteers in a gay health clinic in downtown Manhattan. I suggested that we work together on a newsletter for the clinic -- he the designer, me the editor. He agreed, and we collaborated on quarterly newsletters for four or five years. The work led to going for dinner and discovering that we were both theater fans. Dozens of times we met at the Hourglass Cafe on West 46th St, walked to a play or musical, and afterward reviewed what we'd seen. If we disagreed on something, I had to admit that his review was usually more on point than mine. Okay, writers don't always win.
Even when Arch met and began to live in Park Slope with another man, our theater dates continued, since (lucky for me) his partner, Will, wasn't a theater fan.
A graphic designer and head of his own design studio, Arch developed a list of well-known clients in business and the arts who -- even the surly ones -- he handled with skill and care. He never seemed discouraged if his initial presentation was turned down. As a friend, he designed some of my book covers and party invitations, showed up if I needed a photo taken. Always out of friendship. No surprise when I learned that in a large Catholic family he was the favorite -- and sole gay son.
Arch taught part-time in a prestigious art school in New York. While facing a class in 2008, he suffered a seizure and blurred vision and that led to the discovery of tumors in his brain and surgery -- and a second surgery -- in the same summer. For some time he continued working, undergoing radiation and chemotherapy. He sported a stylish cap to hide his hair loss.
In time the disease took over, and Arch suffered a stroke which left his left side paralyzed. After hospital stays, he eventually was admitted to a hospice in Brooklyn. When I went to visit, I rolled the chaise onto which he was moved to the bright sunroom and helped feed him small spoonfuls of food. In time his speech faded, even the thumb up and smile vanished, he ate less and spent more time asleep. My visits turned into trying one-way conversations and holding his hand.
Arch's stay went on longer than some expected. Will's goal was to keep him alive as long as possible. As for me, feelings collided in my head. Though he escaped the ashen look of some cancer patients, Arch's real life was in the past; of the vital man i'd known for years, nothing remained. Maybe I was cruel, but I prayed that the Lord would do His job and take my friend. That happened, peacefully, in August 2009. Will arranged a private funeral and a month later a large memorial service, low key and just what Arch would have wanted. I was asked to speak, and glad to do so. Will followed Arch's request to be cremated, and he brought the ashes for burial in Puerto Rico, close to the apartment they owned, near the beach outside San Juan.
Arch's business continues today under a new name and the guidance of the woman who was his friend and near partner. But it's hard to fathom that four-and-a-half years have gone by since his death. Arch provided the friendship on which you hate to draw a curtain; I've kept out a few photos, one of us together at a book signing party. With an unquenchable thirst for work and enjoyment, Arch left a legacy of not just how to die but how to live, and a lot of people knew it. He was the pal you meet once or twice in a lifetime, or never, the person you always look forward to seeing, with whom you never have a bad time. He should have lived many more decades. I just hope he knew how much he was appreciated.
He didn't ask to be remembered this way. Asking would have been unnecessary.
Arch's story is told more fully in Stanley Ely's new book, Life Up Close, a Memoir, out this month from Dog Ear Publishers in paperback and ebook.