A few weeks ago I found out a very close friend of mine passed on. Died in Palm Springs. He was alone and died of a heart attack from over exerting himself and flight. I found out from his personal assistant, who sent a very professional and detached email to a seemingly random group of people, passing on condolences and a tidbit of data about a memorial service. It almost read like spam. I was able to inform his boyfriend and lover of a few years. In the email it noted, "heartfelt sympathy goes out to his wife."
For this post, I'm leaving out his name. He was an amazing guy, old, pushing 67. He was waiting for heart surgery. He was a paper goods salesman, probably the most boring job in the world. However, he made it exciting. He traveled a lot. I'm leaving out his name because he was a private person. He's by no means a celebrity, so the name really doesn't matter, yet the circumstances do. He touched many lives.
I'm somehow trying to communicate, being unaware of how death works in our world or the modern gay community, what it's like, to be unconnected to friends or family because of sexuality.
My departed friend had recently come out of the closet -- a few years ago actually. He fought with his sexuality for a very long time. He took a wife to please his family and tradition, he faithfully raised two men, and he was dutiful and in the divorce left his wife far more then he should have. He didn't talk too much about their relationship, yet from his low voice, when he retold some events and from my own experiences with the closet, secrets slowly hold one back, erode and bring sadness. He was finally able to come out and at 60-plus was a teenager again and full of life, finally realizing he could live the life he wanted to and always aspired for. The past few years he played catch up, and crammed more experiences than he needed to, overexerting himself and making many happy.
With much joy, he paraded around Hell's Kitchen, watching the cute boys in short shorts go by. That's how we met, at a bar -- bonding over the interesting process of printing beer bottle labels and caddy conversation. It was not hard to love him as a person; he was a great supporter of people and loved being there for his friends. Generous to a fault, not just financially but spiritually, he loved throwing dinner parties and being with his friends, there was an abundance of people in his life. He corralled people into seeing the opening night of my play and immediately bought half the house a month out. I'm forever gratefully to him. A great collector and connector of people, he enjoyed inviting people to dinner and listening to their stories.
I was hoping to blog at Huffington Post about something frivolous and fun, something not so harrowing and believed confined to the past.
When I got the email, the world first stopped. I cried a bit at my desk, trying to fight back my tears and contorted face. Then I left for a walk. That's when I started calling people, to find out if they knew. I had the phone numbers to a few friends. I called his lover instantly and found out that the family hadn't reached him -- he didn't know. His voice went from cheerful to distraught in a matter of moments. His world changing quickly, just like mine had.
I also called my deceased friend's voicemail, heard his familiar voice and was quickly informed that the mailbox was full. I realize that grieving is no longer covered in the gay handbook.
The departed once told me about his first gay experiences, when he was very young, cruising and discovering the joy of being alive in his own skin and feeling happy with a man, yet detached at the same time. He was unable to be himself until very recently; I think that accounted for much of his love of life and joy.
Even though he seemed constantly happy, I can't help but wonder how much of a toll being in the closet had on him and how much happier he could have been just being himself.
One day, at a cocktail party, when I inquired about his health he stated, "I just have to decide how much longer I have to live." Then he turned away. I'll never forget that moment among all the other happy ones we've shared. I decided to call him more often and am happy I had a chance to get closer to him.
It seems odd, to not have a central way of informing people, that everyone is in shock, that people are so slightly connected, to transverse two worlds so smoothly and seamlessly, to always smile yet say little, to be among so many people yet still be alone. Someone I called just recently loudly wondered "if his family was unaware of his New York social life." At they funeral, I could see they were and that they were out of touch "with that part of his life."
As the debate over gay marriage rages, I simply know, that not everyone this wonderful sweet man touched will find out about his passing and properly honor his life and mourn him. Somehow his death is also a story of the struggle to be equal; his worlds seem to have been divided by necessity and design for such a long time, it became second nature and almost impossible to reverse.
I was at the funeral and heard the speeches, saw his many worlds come together and try to digest the loss. The church was austere and the service quick. There was a priest that spoke little and friends that memorialized his wonderful sense of joy. I seemed to clearly see how neatly segmented his life was. How little and how much I knew about him. At the memorial lunch following, someone passed around a picture of my friend as an awkward lanky young man. He was wearing the same plaid pants that will be popular this season. I realized at that moment how much and how little had changed.
His rush to play catch-up, his rush to help a friend throw a party in Palm Springs, his seemingly unconscious vow to never miss one more moment of life, seems to have done him in at the end.
It's moments like this, when the petty things in life wash away and reveal the importance of living life, that the small stuff doesn't seem to matter, and the petty squabbles we face over rights seem pointless, and finding someone to love and loving them when they're around, is paramount. He touched many lives; he brought many happy moments to many people. I learned so much by knowing him.