Category Archives: coping with loss

emotional whoopsie-daisy …

Yesterday I was an emotional wreck: unable to think clearly, escape my sadness, talk or listen without crying, or be present for Kirk and the dogs I had to take a mental health day from work — everything — except texting Thomas and Shannon messages of still feeling survivor’s guilt. All because it was the five year anniversary of Dion’s passing.

Whoops. TODAY is the five year anniversary of 08/09/09.

Today I was outside picking tomatoes, okra, and eggplant; and tending to the latest squash and cucumber plants. I was able to actually enjoy the day today — the real anniversary — after having my breakdown yesterday.

And I thought of baby elephants … just like he told me to do when ever I am sad.

“Because who can be sad when they think of baby elephants?”

five years … a memorium

Five years has passed since Dion C Wade, my partner, lost his courageous battle.

Today I reflect on how much has changed in my life since that day and how it is so radically different. I feel guilty about that, even though I know I shouldn’t. I think about the memorial service that we held for him one month later, on September 12. A ballroom dance studio was turned into a chic event space where family and friends gathered to share their love for him and their grief for the loss of him. I recall how the service started late because we waited and waited for one person (an ex-boyfriend) to arrive who never did; how we left behind platters of catered food that we were unable to eat because of that. I remember that we had a toast at the end of the service, and that the servers popped every bottle from three cases of champagne, and two and half cases of bubbly was wasted.

I remember that the room was filled with people who loved him, lost him, and were still reeling in the fact that he was gone, how we had to do a blitz set up of the space after the last dance class and how I couldn’t wear shoes because my legs had swollen up like tree trunks from a case of edema whose cause was never determined.

I was simultaneously emotionally raw and emotionally numb. I was running on adrenaline. I was angry. I was angry at him for not taking care of his health and for ultimately leaving us all behind to wonder why. I was angry at myself for all the things I said, did, should have said, and should have done. I hated the life I was living and I was in desperate need to escape it all. I was in control, but on the brink of completely losing control of life.

Today, I remember standing in that hot room delivering his eulogy and looking out at those who came to share in the moment, feeling an amazing sense of responsibility for him and his memory. I remember when he was still in the hospital and his brother asked me, “Why are you doing all of this?” And I responded, “Because if I don’t, who will?” And that is how I felt on that day five years ago. If I didn’t do what I did for him, who would have?

I still miss him.

*     *     *     *     *

Eulogy Opening Comments

Hello. My name is Scott Pfeiffer. Thank you for being here to celebrate the life of Dion Wade. Please take a seat wherever you like.

This room is filled with so many people who loved and cared about Dion: Family, lifelong friends, work friends, new friends, Facebook friends, and maybe even some folks who just wandered in off the street. It’s so great to see you all here. I know for some, being here meant traveling a great distance. I chose this date without thinking that you would have to travel on September 11. Whoops! And for those of you who came in on a red eye … thank you. Find an ‘elbow buddy’ just in case you nod off.

I want to be sure that you all meet his parents and brother. This is Dion’s mother, Nancy Wade; his father, Bill Wade; and his brother, Travis Wade. Dion’s extended family is here, too: his cousin Nikki, her husband Mike, and their kids, Brendon and Dillon; his Aunt Jannie, Auntie Em, and Aunt Ola.

Another extended family of Dion’s is also in this room: his family and support system of friends from New York and beyond.

As far as what happens today, the most important thing is being here to celebrate Dion’s life. This is more of a “roast” than a memorial service. It’s what Dion wanted … laughter, fun, music, and stories. Everyone who wants to will have the chance to share thoughts, feelings, and stories about Dion.

I need to do a disclaimer for his immediate family. Be prepared to laugh, blush, cry, gasp, sigh, and take in what Dion’s “New York and beyond” family says about him. There are so many fun — and probably inappropriate — moments to share. This will be a great moment for you to learn about Dion because there is much to tell about the man who we loved; the boy who you raised.

So … I am going start this by sharing with you a story about Dion’s impact on my life.

Eulogy

We met at a bar (believe it or not) in the middle of a March snowstorm. We had both been making googoly eyes at each other all night and we finally talked outside at closing. I lived on 43rd and he lived on 46th and we walked the 20 blocks together back to our neighborhood. During that walk we talked about where we grew up, our family, how long we’ve been in New York, what we did for work, and things like that. The conversation flowed freely, we laughed, and at one point, I said something about how romantic the walk was and he just looked at me, did his little sexy smile, and said “Yeah. It is romantic.”

And then yadda, yadda, yadda, we had breakfast together the next day and talked even more. I phoned my cousin, Shannon, and told her I met this great guy and I think he’s major relationship material. It was like a bunch of butterflies in my heart when I thought of him.

A few days later, we went on our first ‘real’ date. I walked to his house and he was waiting downstairs. He always waited downstairs. I think we were together two years before he let me up to his apartment. As we walked, we asked each other where to go to dinner and we both responded, “I don’t know; where do you want to go?” I said, “There’s something you need to know about me. I don’t eat seafood or mushrooms.” He responded, “Me neither.”

I thought to myself, “This is it. This is the guy!”

That date turned into several dates and soon it was clear that we were ‘together’. He was spending nights at my house and weekends at my house; I started introducing him to my friends. We would cook, go out, or just hang out. He would walk my dog, Victor. WHAT?! He would walk my dog?!

“This is it! This is the guy!”

Although … he would call Victor “The Giant White Rodent” and tell him that he was going to take him the glue factory. But he loved this dog and Victor loved him.

Dion was so stylish. I loved when he’d come over directly from work so I could see what outfit he wore. Always a sport coat and a pocket square. Always the third piece — those in retail should know what this means. And always some kind of cap. There was always Dion in his jaunty cap. I don’t know how many blue with white stripes shirts he owned, but it was a lot! He referred to his outfits as his “costumes.”

His personal style was impeccable. Talk about polish! You would never know that this guy cleaned his shower maybe every three months, ordered meals in most of the time when at home, and rarely cut his toenails. His “day off wardrobe” was very different; beat up t-shirts (some of which I think he had when he lived in Farmington), jeans (always a little tight to show off the package), and cowboy boots. You knew he was dressing for himself, but he was also dressing for others to say, “Mmmm …. Hot!”

Our first two years together were filled with dinners out, cocktails, hosting TONS of dinner parties and other celebrations, and picnics in Central Park with the gang. Dion was in charge of decorations and flower arrangements and I was in charge of cooking.

He loved to travel and loved everything about airports and air travel. He and Stephen flew on the Concorde before she was retired. He traveled to Russia, Greece, the UK, Italy, Germany, Chile, France, Costa Rica, and Mexico to name a few.

Each fall we would drive to Vermont to see the fall foliage. On the way, we would stop in Saratoga and stay at the Saratoga Inn. One time we sat in the bar and chatted up the bartender. After a few cocktails, Dion had her and the other couples in the bar in stitches – he owned the bar that night. He had the bartender invent this cocktail with banana liqueur, which we all drank and were all equally disgusted by. Dion had this way of pulling people into his realm. He could just smile and laugh and capture their attention. From there it was ‘anything goes’ but Dion knew how to be the life of the party.

He loved art and architecture and interior design. He put his talent to work designing window displays for Brooks Brothers. This creative outlet was enjoyable to him, especially because he got to work alongside his best friends, Thomas and Marie. This creative side was expressed in everything he did, from furnishing his apartment, to decorating for parties, arranging flowers, helping others decorate, and hanging pictures for those who just moved into new apartments.

His cousin Nikki and her then fiancé Mike came to town to get married. We decided to surprise them with a wedding dinner. We told them to come over for a quick bite to eat; you know pizza and a movie kind of thing. Well … they had no idea what was in store for them. We planned a fantastic dinner and Dion decorated the apartment and table to look just perfect – blue, sliver, and white was the theme. I made a three-layer cake and topped it with a little bride and groom. While I was frosting the cake, the doorman buzzed to tell us they were on their way up, but I had run out of frosting and the very bottom of the cake was light on frosting. I was freaking out, but Dion calmly had of a creative way out. He pulled some leaves off the greenery in the flower arrangements and laid them around the base of the cake. It was just perfect! The surprise was complete and we had such a wonderful evening. We used to talk about it a lot – how we pulled it off in an afternoon – and it always brought a smile to his face.

cake

Nikki and Mike’s wedding cake.

That brilliant white big smile. Personally, I feel that Dion loved his teeth. If he were a girl, his smile would be his tits. Huge, out there, and you can’t help but stare at them. I nicknamed him Chompers as a joke, but he hated that, so I switched to “Little Sweet D”. And to prove how little he was, he actually fit into these skivvies. But that’s another topic.

underwear

I actually held these up during the eulogy! It was hysterical!

Off and on Dion was sick with something or another or had some other type of ailment. He sprained his ankle on a business trip once and a bellman bought him to the hospital and to the airport. The crutches he was given were for someone 5’10 or taller; he walked in them kind of like this …. It was hysterical to watch. He had pink eye once and had to wear an eye patch. Arg! He was a pirate. It was kinda sexy until you thought about why he had to wear it. Ewwww.

For his 40th birthday party, I rented a house in Mexico for a week. Along with several friends, we celebrated this milestone. We laughed, drank, ate great food, hung out at the beach, went to see ruins, had dinner in a cave where the music was so loud we could hardly hear each other talk, and took a day trip to Cozumel. It was such a fun celebration. Dion and I ended our trip in Cancun, just the two of us at a resort hotel. We found many shells on the beach and we sat by the pool while a storm came in. We spent the next day and half in the hotel room reading magazines, eating room service, and watching TV. It was lovely.

When we came home, it was time for him to address the growths that were getting bigger on his arm and side. He found out that it was Kaposi Sarcoma and started chemotherapy treatments. This is when our relationship started to hit a bumpy stage. Dion was not one to over-share information but I am one who wants to know what is going on, what the doctors said, what’s next, how’re you feeling, when’s your next appointment, etc. He didn’t share details and I wanted them. That made me a nag in his eyes and it made him a brick wall in my eyes.

For both of us resentments grew until being home together was near torture. Although I argued that this was “the ‘worse’ in ‘for better or worse’”, it was clear that this was something we could not overcome. We broke up in September of 2008. In October of 2008, instead of celebrating my 40th birthday (dinner with the boys aside), I moved into a new apartment.

There were a few rough months there. We didn’t talk to each other often and I resented that he was spending so much time with the friends I introduced him to. When we did talk, we would mention ever so briefly that we missed being together, but never talked about reconciliation. He came over to the new apartment for dinner and movies a few times. I missed him and I missed us; the GOOD us, the FUN us, the loving us.

On March 11, he called to tell me he was in St. Vincent’s hospital with a case of pneumonia and that Thomas called 911 to get him there. From that day forward I was at the hospital every day; sometimes going on my lunch break and then again after work. It seemed like his room was always filled with guests. At one point, I think there were 8 of us behind the curtain laughing and talking. On March 19, the hospital called me to tell me they had to sedate Dion and put him on the ventilator.

What?! What does this mean?! OMG. I had no idea how to process that.

The vigil during his sedation was hard and emotional. Talking to him and telling him to fight and be strong, rubbing lotion on his hands and feet and stretching his arms and legs. It was a foreign and scary process to go through and I was charting new territory for myself and for him. I learned a lot in those months … mainly how to decipher Doctor Speak into regular English (no offense to Dr. Bungay and Dr. Rashmani!).

I began a new life routine that revolved completely around Dion. I would wake, feed and walk the dog, get ready for work, go to work; talk with the hospital about procedures, medications, next steps; go to the hospital at lunch if I had no afternoon meetings; talk with the hospital about procedures, medications, next steps; go to the hospital after work, talk with the hospital about procedures, medications, next steps; come home, feed and walk the dog, eat dinner, and go to bed. Then do it all again the next day. I was also in constant contact with friends and family, sending text messages, calling, sending emails.

Finally, a friend told me about the CaringBridge website, which helped provide better and consistent communication; and save my sanity. These updates and the guest books postings were wonderful to write and to read.

Shannon and I went to read them to Dion while he was sedated. I had underestimated how difficult it would be. I think I got four words out before I was crying with Shannon. We composed ourselves, held hands, and started reading the pages. Those days of uncertainty were challenging, especially when it came to trying to figure out how to get control of his finances. Does anyone here work for Bank of America? Ok, well, don’t tell anyone, but I had to forge two rent checks for him. Yikes.

When he started to come out of sedation it was like a miracle. I could not believe it. He was regaining his personality, his smile, his bright eyes. Since he had the trach, he could not talk. He communicated by forming silent words. I cannot read lips. Shannon is much better at it and did a great job translating what he was trying to say. One time she was convinced he was saying ‘thirsty, thirsty’; I was convinced he was saying ‘help me, help me’. He confirmed later that he was saying he was ‘thirsty’. My lip reading was so bad that once he tried so hard to tell me something and I kept saying, “I don’t get it. I don’t see it. What are you saying?” He finally got so frustrated that I wasn’t able to understand him that he mouthed what I was able to make out exactly: “Go home”. So I did. The only other time it was clear was when I told him how long he’d been in the hospital. He mouthed “Fuck!”

Then he moved to writing in a notebook. One night he wrote the sweetest note. I have it pinned to the corkboard above my desk at home. He wrote: “I love you. With all my heart and soul. You make me want to live on.” And then he wrote, “Bring me my computer.”

One night I walked into the room and he actually said, “Hi!” I nearly fell out. He could talk! It was a completely different world then. Talking and laughing and telling stories. And his progress just kept going. Every day he showed signs of improvement.

It was planned that he would come to my house for his recovery and be there as long as it took him to be independent. As we waiting for his release, an orderly brought his lunch and said, “Ok Mr. Wade, tonight for dinner, your choices are ….” Dion interrupted her and said very strongly, “Oh no! I am not having dinner here tonight. I am being released!”

When we got outside and into the cab, Dion said, “Fresh air. I haven’t smelled fresh air in so long.” Then started crying. He was so happy to be out of the hospital. Then he said, “Everything is moving so fast. The cars, the people, the noise.” It was as if he was experiencing New York for the first time again.

His recovery was going very well. His physical therapist, Michelle, was a godsend and he loved the time that he had with her. Afterward, he would say that she worked him really hard, but he loved her voice and her approach. She was kind, gentle, and genuinely cared about his condition and his improvement. The night before she would come, he would get all prepared and say “Michelle is coming tomorrow!” with a big smile. It was a bright spot in his day.

I was laid off from work one week after his release. What a blessing in disguise! He was at my house – what we started calling our house – for 6 weeks and I was there with him 24 / 7. It was the most fantastic 6 weeks of my life.

We talked about our relationship and why we let it fall apart and reached new heights of communication. We went for walks to Riverside Park to sit on a park bench and watch the world go by, we had a picnic with Thomas one Sunday afternoon, we went to the movies, we went to dinner. He went to lunch on his own, he went shopping on his own. We went to his old apartment to get more clothes and bring some of his things to help make my place his.

Mainly we talked about fears, about wants, and needs, about each other, about how we truly loved each other. One day he came home after a doctor’s appointment with a little gift box and a card. Inside the box was this beautiful orange glass bowl. The card reads …

card from dion

There was true beauty like that in every moment we spent together. Then, he had his downturn. It was fast, and quick, and unreal, and unexpected. Before I called 911, Dion had to get dressed. He was very specific about what he wanted to wear. He wanted his lightweight blue shirt (and he buttoned it up and rolled up the sleeves), his orange paid shorts and a brown belt (not that brown belt the other brown belt), white booty sox, and his tennis shoes. That was his ER costume. In the room in which we were placed, he looked down at his nails and said, “I should have cut my nails.” Then later, “I should have shaved.” And then later, “I wish I took a shower.”

While we sat in the ER room for 15 hours, it became clear that Dion’s body was not responding to the treatments he was being given. The doctor pulled me aside and in hushed tones told me that the KS had continued to grow and was now filling his lungs along with several different bacteria. It was critical, he said, to sedate Dion and put him back on a ventilator. My fear turned into reality. I knew this was something that Dion would not survive. He was tired and weak.

We had – what I can only call — the most amazing and frank discussion I have ever had. We talked about what could happen in real terms, not skirting the issue at all. I told him that that it is clear that he may not make it through this. He said to me, “Ok. I understand. Either way, I’m not scared.” He was so strong and accepting of what was about to happen to him. I was so proud of him. We talked about what he wanted to have happen to him if he died (resuscitation, cremation, this celebration). He had a few specific things of his that he wanted to ensure others received.

His approach to this conversation really put me at peace. It was clear he was ready to go. I had the honor and privilege to thank him for what he meant to me, to tell him I love him more than I could really express, and to say goodbye. He also thanked me for everything that I had done for him and we held hands. When the doctor’s came in, I gave him a kiss on his forehead and said goodbye again. As I was leaving the room, I turned around and he was sitting upright in bed, looked at me, said “thank you” and then “goodbye” and waved a little sweet wave.

That was the last time I saw him alert. I would not trade that Monday for anything in the world. It is a day I will never forget.

But … the point is this. He was ready. He was prepared. And he was not scared. He was very specific about today, too. He said, “I don’t want some priest I don’t know talking about me and I don’t want everyone crying in pews.” He wants us to celebrate his life with smiles, laughter, music and love and stories. It is my hope that today we can accomplish that for him.

For me Dion was smiles, laughter, music, and love. I miss him, and I know I will miss him forever. But … I know he is here with us. He is watching us, critiquing the decorations I am sure, and loving the fact that we are all here for him.

Dion Wade was so much more than the last seven months. He was a lifetime of experiences shared with all of us. From his childhood in Farmington, to his other adventures in cities he lived and countries he visited, to his life here in New York — a city he loved with great passion.

He was a fully realized man, whose talents were great, faults were few, and friends were many.

*     *     *     *     *

Click here to see a slide show that was shown at Dion’s Celebration of His Life that was loving put together and includes a song sung by Dion’s friend and my cousin Shannon Darin and Dion’s friend Patrick Barnes.

Click here to see images from the Celebration

i am doing my best …

I admire my fiancé’s relationship with his father. Simply put, Kirk and his father have a relationship, one that from my perspective seems ideal. It is completely unlike my relationship with my father.

He and I don’t have a relationship and haven’t for years. I usually describe ours as “strained.” Recently, and with the help of my therapist, I have come to terms with the way our relationship works. But I sometimes wish that it was a strong as Kirk’s is with his father; you can see the influence he has had on Kirk.

When I look back on my childhood, I can honestly say that my dad was a good dad. We did fun family things together, like camping trips to Mount Shasta, or exploring the Bodie Ghost Town. Christmas morning’s would bring presents with riddles written on tags that hinted to its contents. My sisters and I would read the riddles to try and figure out what was inside. There were family dinners around the table, where we would pass the Wol Taf Klim (low fat milk) and soccer games for the teams we played on, usually coached by him.

Once, when I was in fifth or sixth grade, I was in the front yard playing a game I invented called “Dorothy Gale from Kansas.” I would fill a bucket with water and pretend to be heading to slop the pigs or to be coming from the barn with a bucket of fresh milk. Then … all of sudden … without warning … I would be caught in the middle of a horrific twister! I would scream and spin around in circles holding the bucket in both hands. The centrifugal force would keep me spinning faster and faster, my arms stretching. I would spin until I was so dizzy I couldn’t stand any longer. The twister would rip the bucket from my hands and I would tumble down to the ground and find myself laying in the green grass of a far off land.

During one very rousing game, my dad came out of the garage with a football.

“Scott, let’s go in the street and toss the football,” he said cheerfully.

I looked at him, completely puzzled.

“Why?” I asked, with all the snark that a pre-pubescent child can muster.

He looked at me blankly.

 “Oh forget it,” he said as he walked back into the garage.

He and I went to a local amusement park together, I assume at the insistence of my mom, which I am sure was meant to be “bonding time.” All I remember from that adventure, was feeling completely out of place with him, sitting on rides alone while he watched, and walking around embarrassed to be with him. The only sense of connection I got that day, was through keeping secret that he got a speeding ticket on the way there.

As I grew older, nearing and clearing puberty, our relationship became different. I see it now for what it was: my father was not equipped to have a gay son. He didn’t know what to do with me. He didn’t know how to talk to me. He didn’t know how to be the father of a gay boy. He did the best he could.

My mom and dad got divorced, he moved to Santa Cruz, and when I was twenty I went to live with him and his wife. I had already been through my rebellious high school years, and was now in the workforce. They lived in Aptos, California two streets up from the beach. The location was amazing, but our relationship was very surface. We would talk about work, the weather, and general topics, but nothing deep and meaningful. And definitely never about dating or relationships. He was starting to get back into his faith as a Jehovah’s Witness, which I feel caused more strain on our relationship, being that the flames of hell were licking at my heels for being a heathen homo.

I’d like to think he is proud of my accomplishments. I’d like to think that he knows I am a good person and have tried to be a good son. I just don’t know for certain that he does and I doubt I ever will. We have a sort of “don’t ask/don’t tell” communication policy. I share updates with him mainly via emails sent to my entire my family. I have never received a response. I have sent links to my blog posts, but I have never received a response.

We’ve always been cordial, don’t get me wrong. When I do see him at family functions, once or twice a year, we hug hello and goodbye, we discuss work or no work, or we talk about the weather. He has met past boyfriends, but has never attempted to get to know them, and he doesn’t really seem comfortable acknowledging any of my relationships. Again, I think he doesn’t know how.
When Kirk and I were in California for my niece’s high school graduation, he showed the most compassion I have seen in years. As we were leaving, he actually hugged Kirk and told him it was very nice to meet him. I’d like to think that he saw how happy I am, how happy Kirk makes me, and that he can see how I am changed person, a grown man.

All of this, to some, might sound sad, which it is sometimes. But I look at it as both of us are trying our best. I have to believe that he tried to do his best when I was young, and that what he does today is him trying his best. I have to feel confident that I am doing my best in my actions. If I send emails to keep him in the loop, I must see that as me doing my best. If I remind him of our plans to be married next October, and get nothing but a nod and blank stare, I need to see that as me doing my best in keeping him informed. If he hugs me hello and good bye the few times that I see him each year, then I need to see that as him doing his best to demonstrate paternal love. I don’t blame him for any of my issues. He was only doing his best.

But I do think about the inevitable day when he passes away and how I might feel. I will have to gather the strength to truly feel that I had done my best. I don’t want regrets or feelings of what could have been “if only I did something different.” I can’t expect him to respond to email messages, to discuss how my relationship with Kirk is progressing, to ask questions about my sobriety or the challenges I face as a gay man in a straight man’s world. I can’t expect him to change, otherwise I am setting myself up for major disappointment.

All I can do is tell myself that I am doing my best. Every day, every interaction, every un-replied to email, every “how’s the weather conversation,” every so often I see him.

I am doing my best.

Rhododendron

Our sweet little puppy, Rhoda, unfortunately ate some sego palm root. We have two in our backyard and had moved them from one area to another. They really are a pretty plant, but they are also highly toxic to dogs, cats, and children if ingested. She spent four days in the emergency vet on IV fluids, pain medications, and other antibiotics. She was released and came home with us. We had to continue to administer medications, and feed her baby food via syringe. She was taking milk thistle and special nutrient-rich supplements. Her energy levels would swing from moderate to low in a matter of minutes. Her personality was no longer vibrant.

Two weeks in, Kirk and I were in a mess of tears and sadness. Her stool had been black for five days, indicting internal bleeding; her energy level was nil, all she could do was sleep and look at us with pleading eyes; she was isolating in the closet or as far away from us as possible; she wasn’t eating and want drinking on her own; her personality was gone along with her weight, she was skin and bones; she was urinating almost uncontrollably; she wanted nothing more than to lay in the grass and sniff the air. The vet suspected advanced liver failure — all the signs were there.

She got one last medicinal pain shot to make her comfortable. We took her home to wait for the inevitable. The vet said to call her the following day and that she was hoping something miraculous would happen.

The rest of the day we wept, loud cries against god, tears and snot flowing. Everything was a devastation, an indication that our family was being pulled apart.

She wandered to Victor’s bowl for a drink of water. I tapped on her bowl and said something I’ve said a hundred times, “Rhoda’s bowl. Use Rhoda’s bowl.”

Kirk was cleaning the floor where she had her most recent peeing and I heard him in the hallway gasp and cry. My throat let out a guttural sob as I crouched on the kitchen floor and covered my eyes.

We all sat outside in the grass and under the canopy. Kirk had said that all we wanted to do was provide her a good life. We moved here to do that and look what happened. She’s going to leave us. Our family is breaking apart.

Kirk and Victor went back in the house. Rhoda and I had time alone. I laid down next to her and kissed her face, her ears, her little black lips. I rubbed her paws and felt her toenails. I massaged her neck while her eyes closed and occasionally opened to look back at me. I told her how much I loved her, her little beard of whiskers, her golden eye lashes. My sweet little Rhododendron. Sweet little girl. I cried into her neck, feeling the protrusion of her shoulder bones.

She licked the salty tears from my face.

Back inside, she was upstairs cuddled in bed with Kirk. They had their time together. I sat thinking on our red sofa, the sofa sprinkled with white dog hair, indecipherable from which dog.

Is this really happening? Little Rhoda will be dead in a matter of days? Will it happen tonight? Will we have to put her down tomorrow? Is this really “it”?

These thoughts spun through my brain. My eyes hurt, my head hurt, my nose and throat hurt. My heart shattered into a million pieces and its shards cut into my belief in a higher power.

My higher power, who gave me strength to get sober, leave a demoralize job, grow emotionally and spiritually, and finally be honest enough to love and be loved without fear, was taking away my precious baby.

“How can you exist?” I screamed into the sofa pillows. “How could you do this her? To Victor, who is finally smitten with his little sister?To Kirk who finally decided to get a puppy again after suffering the loss of two that he had to leave behind with his last horrific relationship? And how can you do this to me? What have I done?”

I can’t remember if we ate dinner that night. I do remember crawling into bed. The four of us huddled together in a mass of love and sadness. Rhoda lay between me and Kirk and we both faced her. Victor was curled up in ball in the crook of my bent legs. Pats and coos and quiet tears soon melted into much needed and unrestful sleep.

I woke up around 4:30 am. Rhoda and Victor had long ago left our bed, I was sure. But where was she? My stomach turned. I quietly got out of bed and checked underneath. Not there. In her bed. Not there. In the closet. Not there. I softly padded my way down the stairs and glanced into she living room. She was on the sofa, a tiny curled ball of white on the red cushion.

She lifted her head and looked at me with squinted eyes. Her tail thump-thump-thumped slowly. I curled up next to her, rubber her bunny-soft ears and kissed her nose.

“You lovely beast. You sweet lovely beast. I am so sorry this has happened to you,” I whispered in her ear, my eyes welling up.

“It’s so unfair, I know. And I am so sorry that you are in pain.”

She looked up at me with her little black eyes, her gold eye lashes seemingly more pronounced. I stroked her chin, full of whiskers like a bearded lady in a freak show.

“We love you so much, Rhoadster. You are so loved and are such a part of this family. We will never forget the life and the sense of completion that you brought our family.”

She rolled to her side and I rubbed her belly and buried my face in her soft neck. She strained to sniff and lick at my ear, so I moved purposefully and her sniffs and wet licks filled my ear.

“I want you to know one thing, my sweet baby girl. If you are ready to go, we understand. You should go. If you are in pain and want it to end, we understand. We will be sad and miss you horribly, but we will understand. You deserve to not be in pain. You deserve to romp and play again.”

This conversation ripped me back to August of 2009 in the ICU of Roosevelt Hospital. Dion has been re-intebated and sedated. The day before, his attending doctor discussed deciding when to end his pain — pull the plug, as it were.

I talked to his parents and they agreed it was time; they made plans to arrive in New York the next day with his brother. Since I was Dion’s medical proxy, I had the distinct and soul wrenching task of telling the doctor that it was time. I signed paperwork. I was numb as they explained the process: they would start administering morphine and continually increase it. He would bloat. Once a sufficient does was administered, they would turn off the respirator and let nature take it’s course. I asked for assurance that nothing would end until after his parents and brother came to see him.

The next day, my cousin Shannon and I sat in the ICU lobby together as we had done together for so many days.

I went to see him, held onto his hand, stroked his hair, and told him that his pain would soon be over. He would be free. And a day later he was.

Now, in my living room, I am telling my eighth month old puppy the same thing knowing that either she will leave of her own will before the sun rises, or we will drive to the vet that afternoon.

“You deserve to be free, baby girl. You’ve been such a good puppy, and wonderful dog. You can let go if you want to.”

She continued to lick my face and I let her. I pulled the chenille throw over me and stretched out on the sofa, my face next to her back and my hand stroking her head.

I slept there awhile longer, but left her in a little ball on the sofa. Curled up. Tiny. I crawled back into bed with Kirk before the sun started to cast a pink light in the sky.

Something woke me. A noise? A feeling? A voice? A sixth sense? I sat up and looked over the edge of the bed.

There were two little black eyes staring up at me, brighter than they had been in two weeks. She sat primly with her long front legs in perfect turnout. Her tail wagged.

She looked … better, happy, less pained. I got out of bed and kneeled down next to her. She wiggled and wagged and chewed on my hand. She crawled into my lap and up my chest to give me her signature hug. She licked my face as if to tell me that everything was going to be alright, that it was going to be fine.

That morning, she ate a solid breakfast of kibble and grape nuts mixed in with baby food. She ate her entire bowl full and looked for more.

We went on a morning walk and she had pep in her step and curiously sniffed at plants and the street.

She had energy and life. Yes, life. A gift. A treasure. Kirk and I were mystified. When we talked to our vet, who just the day before was crying with us in her office, she was mystified.

She prescribed to us a pill form of the injection she was getting every other day.

Rhoda has been on a path of recovery ever since. Her stool is no longer black, her belly no longer bloated. She’s been weaned off two of her meds. She wakes in the morning ready to eat. She eagerly goes on walks and uses our newly installed doggie doors to go in and out as she pleases.

She is our little Rhododendron. A Smoky Mountain girl. A blossom among the trees, blooming against the odds of high heat and no water. A fighter.

And she continues to fight, to blossom, to grow. To continues to amaze us with her resilience. She is our little baby girl, who in her 8 months of life has two surgeries and a poisoning under her collar (dogs don’t wear belts, you see).

Hopefully, this will be the last major experience for her. Hopefully her health will continue to improve and she will grow to be an old and wise dog.

For now, we’ll take it one day at a time. Tail wags, gentle licks, click-clack nails on the hardwood floors, night time snuggles, muzzle nuzzles, and a whole lot of hope.

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columns of light …

In 2003, on 9/11, my friend Eric and I went to see an outdoor dance troupe in Battery Park. It was a nice little picnic; people were extra congenial. Afterward, we walked to the World Trade Center site, compelled by the light columns..

The closer we got, the more clearly we could see that they were shimmering. They looked like sequined gowns glistening and shining in the light. We walked closer and closer trying to figure out how the city pulled off making the huge and bright columns of light refract the light and display movement in that way.

We continued walking, trying to guess what it was that made it look that way. Was it some kind of confetti blown into the air? Was there some kind of hovercraft way up high that was dropping shreds of silver paper? Is it moving both up and down at the same time? Was it smoke blown into the shafts of light by huge fans and then stirred by the slight early autumn breeze?

Then, almost simultaneously, as we were about half a block away, we gasped. It wasn’t confetti or smoke. It was moths of all shapes and sizes. And bats. Hundreds of them. Maybe thousands. They were all drifting and floating around in the light. It was as if they were blissed out, getting their luminescence fix.
It was one hundred percent mesmerizing. And one thousand percent beautiful.

i remember …

… sitting in disbelief watching it on TV, my sister and me in silence on the phone together  

… finally connecting with my friend, Christopher, on his mobile; he lived on West St and his terrace looked directly at the towers about 5 blocks north; while he was walking uptown through the fray, he told me about the ash, the chaos, the fear, the smell, the panic 

… that Diana would have been on the 83rd floor at the time, but wasn’t, thankfully; she had moved to the UK  

… hearing stories from Dion about the Brooks Brothers WTC store that was taken over by the FDNY and turned into a morgue, mainly for found remains; they spray painted “arms,” “hands,” “legs,” etc. on the walls 

…  that my mom came up to San Francisco to spend time with me; it was a moment of childlike need for his mommy, to feel safe and protected, and a moment of reciprocal adult support to help each other through what just a day before was inconceivable

… the silence and solidarity of the candlelight vigil in Dolores Park with Tara, Scott and Bobby, and hundreds of other San Franciscans

… the quiet and empty skies for three days, no planes, no ‘copters … just air and clouds and quiet

… the sheer inundation of American flags everywhere, on everything; no window, building, jacket, backpack, bumper, telephone pole, wall, bus, store front, front lawn, or restaurant without an American Flag

… the sadness, the shock, the sense of not understanding how it could happen, the amazement over the careful and insidious planning that it took to pull of such a horrible event, the hatred that welled up and became cause for personal concern, and the realization that our lives as Americans would never, ever be the same
I remember …

dion’s treasure box …

On August 9, 2009, I suffered a loss that I was unprepared for emotionally.

My partner, Dion C Wade, passed away from Pneumocystis Pneumonia (PCP) and Kaposi’s Sarcoma (KS), two opportunistic infections that occur in those with HIV which result in full-blown AIDS.

In October of 2008, we broke up after seven months of arguing, bickering, and anger. During that time, Dion was seeking treatment for the red blotches, almost bruise like, that were appearing and multiplying on his body. He started weekly injections of a chemotherapy-type treatment.

Our relationship started to falter when Dion (who was one to not overly-communicate or share) started to shut down and not answer my questions about his doctor’s visits, how he was feeling, if the treatments were working, or what the doctors were saying. Instead, Dion chose not to talk about it. He began to push me away and I slipped into finding “recreational” ways to escape my fear of what was happening.

In short, he saw me as nothing but a nag, constantly pestering for information; and I saw him as an alienating asshole that was shutting me out. Our last fight – the one filled with hatred, yelling, insults, insinuations, and some physicality; the one that resulted in me moving out of our Hell’s Kitchen studio – included me saying something I will never forget:

“God dammit, Dion! If we were married, we would have said the vow ‘for better or for worse!’ Well, this is worse, Dion, and you are shutting me out. You’re an asshole.”

“Fuck you, Scott. Just fuck you,” he replied as he looked at me blankly.

I moved out four weeks later.

In retrospect, it is clear that we were both scared shitless and had no idea how to productively express our fear or help each other through it. This type of thing happened to other people; people you do not really know, but people that other people know. This type of thing was something that you heard about at dinner parties … six or more degrees of separation. Did you hear about so-and-so, the friend of such-and-such? So sad…. This was something that happened in the 1980s and the early 1990s, not now. Not now. Not this. Not us. Not him. Not me.

There was, in fact, no degree of separation in our case. This was close. This was my house. This was my partner. This was the person who would be mentioned at dinner parties. This was real. This was my life. This was happening. Now. This. Us. Him. Me.

*     *     *     *     *

In March of 2009, ten days after his forty-first birthday, Dion was admitted into St. Vincent’s Hospital. He was having major difficulty breathing. He called me after being there three days to let me know. I went to visit him and we started to communicate, not talk – communicate. He opened up and shared his fear and so did I. We began to repair our relationship. The doctors had him on high doses of medications, breathing treatments, and antibiotics. His lungs were spotted with PCP and KS lesions.

I was at the hospital every day to visit with him, sometimes three times a day. I talked with his doctors about his condition, what they were doing, and what the outcomes could be. I translated “doctor-speak” for Dion, who was overwhelmed by the information.

Seven days later, he was no longer responding to any breathing treatments and he was fighting the ventilator that they put him on. His condition was worsening by the day. His doctors felt that the only way to help him was sedation and intubation.

He was sedated for a little over one month. During this time, I continued my daily visits. I would talk to him, rub lotion on his drying hands and feet, and stretch his arms and legs. I also acted as his medical proxy by asking questions and learning about his condition and tests being done, giving answers and information to the doctors, and advocating for his survival by approving treatment options and procedures. I managed his bank account, ensured his rent was paid, paid his other bills, and was the “information and support go to” for friends and family. I couldn’t have gotten through this time without my cousin Shannon. She was there alongside Dion daily. Helping him. Helping me. Helping us.

Dion came out of sedation and spent one month in the ICU. He was still intibated and could not speak, his motor skills were non-existent and he weighed ninety pounds. He communicated by nodding his or shaking his head to yes or no questions. He tried to mouth words. Slowly his ability write – or scrawl – returned. He spent the next four weeks in Acute Therapy after they closed his tracheotomy. He slowly regained speech, and he worked hard to develop full motor coordination by re-learning how to sit up, stand, balance, and how to walk.

Four months after being admitted, he was released from the hospital. He came home to my Upper West Side apartment to recuperate. It was unthinkable to let him return alone to his fifth-floor-walk-up. He was doing physical therapy, walking with a cane, and going to multiple doctor’s appointments. His breathing was still labored, and he was on several strong antibiotics.

*     *     *     *     *

The week after he came home, I was laid off from my job at French Connection. I will forever be grateful for that. You see, five weeks later, Dion was back in the emergency room unable to breathe. The ambulance would not take us to St. Vincent’s where his regular doctors were affiliated. We had to go to Roosevelt Hospital. We spent 15 hours together in a little room attended by a group of unfamiliar, yet very capable and kind doctors. I acted as the “go between” by relaying information and consulting with his regular doctors over the phone.

After several tests, X-rays, breathing treatments, and rounds of antibiotics, he finally asked for some pain medication. Another round of X-rays were done. The ER doctor explained that the most recent X-ray showed the PCP growing quickly and very aggressively. He had lost three-fourths function in his left lung and almost half in his right. The only way to get his condition under control and stable was re-sedation and intubation.

“Do you understand?” the doctor asked me, his hand resting on my forearm.

“Yes. I understand.” My heart sank.

“I’ll leave you two to talk. I’ll be back with my team in thirty minutes to begin preparation. You’ll have to leave at that point.”

“I understand.”

“Scott … I don’t understand. What was he talking about?” Dion asked, a little hazy from the Dulodin.

“They need to re-sedate you, Dion. They have to intubate and put you back on the ventilator. Your body isn’t responding to what they are doing now.” I said.

His eyes focused on mine. He was absorbing what that could mean. He was lucky enough to come out of the first sedation. Chances were slim that he would come out of this one.

“Ok. I understand,” Dion said. “Either way, I’m not scared.”

We had … what I can confidently call … the most amazing and frank discussion I have ever had. We talked about what could happen in real terms – the potential of his death. He was so strong and accepting of what was about to happen to him. I was so proud of him. We talked about what options he preferred if he died (resuscitation, cremation, a memorial). He rattled off a specific list of items that he wanted to give to friends.

His approach to this conversation put me at peace. It was clear he was ready to go. I had the honor and privilege to thank him for what he meant to me, to tell him I loved him more than I could really express, and to say goodbye. He also thanked me for everything that I had done for him and we held hands. When the doctor’s came in, I gave Dion a kiss on his forehead and said goodbye again. As I was leaving the room, I turned and looked back, one last act of ensuring he was OK. He was sitting upright in bed looking at me. He mouthed, ‘thank you’ and then ‘goodbye’ and waved a little sweet wave.

That was the last time I saw Dion alert. I would not trade that Monday for anything in the world. It is a day I will never forget. Six days later, he passed away.

In September of 2009, I wrote about Dion’s Treasure Box.

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I am surprised that I find myself still sleeping on ‘my’ side of the bed. The other side is empty and can now easily be slept in, but my body just does not go there. I look to my right while reading, and half expect to see him laying under the sheets, bedside light off, head on the pillow facing away from me. I reach out to stroke his hair, or his shoulder, or his hip; but there is nothing and no one there. Just air. Just bed. Just me.

The first week after he passed, I left the sheets on the bed a little too long. When I finally washed them and crawled into bed, I couldn’t smell him anymore; there was no trace that he had ever been back in it. Around the same time, I finally addressed his bedside table. His urinal with his last early morning piss still inside, a half drunk Ensure, his cough medicine and the little plastic cup/cap with his lip marks on it, his notebook and a pencil, and some pills. All of it cleared off, and in some perverse way, sanitized of his pain and suffering.

Other items soon made the move from closet, drawer or cupboard to the trash bin, or a donation bag. It felt selfish at first, as if I was singling out his items and banishing them. I kept a few of his favorite t-shirts, his orange cowboy shirt, and his Adidas slip-ons. For some reason, it was harder to let go of those items.

I also kept his “treasure box” that rested on the windowsill since the day I brought it from his old apartment as a surprise. After he was released, he needed some more clothes. He dictated a list and I went to his place to them. I also included a picture of him and his friend Marie and his treasure box.

I showed Dion my treasure box when we first started dating. It holds keys from past apartments whose addresses I no longer remember; tickets from movies, shows, and concerts; trinkets either found or received; and other knickknacks that someone unfamiliar with the contents would see as junk. Mine also includes a piece of paper with his name and phone number on it … a memory of the morning after we met at The Eagle. He started his treasure box soon after.

I showed him the clothes that I brought and he seemed pleased that I got it all correct. I hung up his shirts, folded his jeans, and put away his t-shirts, socks, and underwear.

I told him I had a surprise for him. I reached into the duffle bag and I pulled out the picture of him and Marie. He was so happy to see it and held onto it for a while. We decided that it should go on the living room bookshelves. Then I pulled out his treasure box. He was elated! He went through it and looked at everything again. It was like an affirmation that he had lived before; a life filled with experiences other than pills, hospitals, doctors, nurses, and tests.

Dion’s treasure box was just like mine. His passports, tickets, foreign money, keys, a baggage tag from the Concorde, a box of tea, a stuffed toy Nessie from Scotland, and other assorted “junk” and pieces of paper filled it to the brim. He placed it on the windowsill next to his side of the bed.

It stayed there until recently. Since then, I have gone through his treasure box twice. The first time, one night a week after he passed, curiosity and sadness drew me to dump its contents on my bedspread. Nothing out of the ordinary, shocking, or unexpected lived inside the little plaid box. The other half of the slip of paper with my name and number was inside. I was overcome with heart-broken tears.

The second time, I noticed a pattern with the ticket stubs inside the box. With a few exceptions, each stub was from something that we went to together. Whether a show or a movie, he kept those ticket stubs. Those were his treasures. I was a part of those.

He had a list of items that he wanted moved to what we were now calling “our apartment”. They all made the move, but he never had the chance to see them here. His round white mirror, the tortoiseshell bowls he bought in Paris, the seashells we collected in Mexico, the rocks from Shelter Island, the award statuette for some unknown achievement, the cool and creepy painting of children, the plexi-glass mantle clock, his miniature buildings, the art deco lamp, Buddha heads, and – of course – his book collection.

In every room of this apartment, something that is or was his is around. They comfort me when I see them, to think of him, to remember him. I wish he could enjoy them here with me. And when I see him in bed, or at the sofa when I glance from the kitchen, I know it is a figment of my saddened state of mind.

Someday I will assess that his old t-shirts are taking up too much drawer space and his slip-ons have gathered too much dust, and I will decide to part ways with them.

But … what of the memory of him sleeping quietly next to me, the smell of his hair, the heat of his skin, the feel of his hip? And what of his treasure box?

Well, those are for another story.

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