Change is in the air. The winding down begins, and snowbirds take flight. Traffic is lighter in Palm Springs, days are longer, and temperatures peak above 100 degrees. It is the end of the season, and I drift, carried forward like Proust by remembrances of things past. I have not taken up the pool float, as once was my custom, to coast beneath palm trees, serenaded by Sade's "Soldier of Love." You might say that my life is on hiatus, or that I have stepped out for intermission. Maybe I could tell you that the production has been shut down, that the play will be rewritten for later debut in a more hospitable season. Yes, that is it: The author is working on a rewrite.
In the seven weeks since the sudden death of Patrick, my partner of 23 years, I have sailed a tumultuous emotional sea while weathering a series of squalls. The most enduring, ongoing storm is one of paperwork -- of banks, hospitals, attorneys, coroners, mortuaries and insurance companies. In reassuring tones, various functionaries inform me about all the documents I must produce, advising me of the time necessary to process their paperwork -- which means nothing to me -- to completion. I have, for the most part, complied with little resistance and not raised my voice. I have resisted the occasional temptation to reach across the desk and bitch-slap them. That has not always been easy.
Friends remain incredibly kind and patient. I am touched by the tentative nature of their inquiries and the sensitivity of their communications. Everyone must adjust. They, too, are dealing with a sudden loss. Many of them have never known Patrick without Robert, or vice-versa. Acquaintances outside the inner circle of our relationship have provided me with unexpected opportunities for learning.
One person, while assuaging my grief with mementos of Patrick's work in Palm Springs, sought to trade on Patrick's professional reputation for self-serving reasons. Another individual, full of professional jealousy, created a bogus identity to spread lies about me in an attempt to sabotage my reputation with my employer. That unsuccessful effort did not surprise me. After all, I have appeared in print for over a quarter of a century, and I have never pulled my punches. But I do not lie. I cannot imagine stabbing someone in the back while hiding behind a fictitious identity. These individuals only added an extra serving of sadness to my already full plate.
Otherwise, I soldier on. At the suggestion of others, I attended a meeting of two different grief support groups for gay men. I will not be returning. The meetings were informative in the way that they illustrated coping techniques and life choices that seem ineffective. Some of those in attendance are still mourning lost partners several years after their passing. Their loneliness and isolation was overwhelming. I walked away from those meetings with compassion for their ongoing suffering and a sturdy resolve that I would not go down that road. Therein lies madness.
Patrick and I spent the bulk of our adult lives as openly gay men in San Francisco. In years when unforeseen grief and human suffering became a daily diet, we survived and supported each other. We had, each of us, already endured an unhappy childhood. But so what? It doesn't matter who you are or where you live; life will throw things at you. Some things will be horrible. You deal with it and move on.
In the mid-'80s I decided my motto in life was "keep smiling, don't look back, and don't let the door hit you in the rear end on your way out." I lived that axiom under the most adverse circumstances. But now I allow myself the luxury of reflection. It is something akin to looking back, but not precisely the same. A lifetime of past experience assists me as I ponder the situation I hope to resolve.
What is the antidote to loss? This is not a rhetorical question but one I seek to answer. I must entertain the possibilities. In my backyard the bougainvillea and hibiscus burst with color, but I have pulled the petunias from the flower bed beside the pool. Their long stems and withered brown leaves would not survive the coming months; their season has passed. The heads of the drip irrigation system now stand naked and exposed to the elements, robbed of the canopy of foliage they once nurtured. The ground around them is, for now, parched and barren. I will soon plant the lavender vinca that will thrive in the relentless heat of a desert summer.
Last week I hired a contractor to perform minor stucco repairs on the front façade of my house. He did a wonderful job. But I realize that some tiles in the swimming pool need replacement, and more than three years have passed since I last changed the water in the pool. So this is what I will do. Next Friday I will drain the swimming pool. And on Saturday I will replace the broken tiles. These are tasks for the end of the season.
Robert Julian may be seen in the final episode of Golden Gays Season 1, which airs in Canada on Friday, May 10, at 10 p.m. EDT on the Slice network. His latest book, Hollywood or Lust, is now available online in ebook or paperback format.