Category Archives: past mistakes

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.

Love Letter to 401 WEA

I write this from the dining room of my Upper West Side apartment, the one where I have lived for nearly five years; the one that brought me from Hell’s Kitchen, where I lived for six years. The one where I felt I was providing a better life for my dog, Victor, by being steps away from Riverside Park. The one where I cried in the hallway the day I moved in, a lump of heaves and snorts, a wet mess from tears and snot, sitting on the floor with my back against its cream wall, feeling completely alone after breaking up with my boyfriend of four years. This was the apartment I did not want the broker to show me.

*      *       *       *      *

My relationship with Dion crumbled due to mutual infidelity fueled by anger and resentments, insecurities and self-doubts, booze and drugs. I met with a broker and asked him to show me apartments in Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen, and the Lower East Side. I wanted to be where the men were since I was single again. He asked what I wanted in an apartment: one bedroom, character, near transport, not too noisy, elevator, doorman, dishwasher, large kitchen, etc. The list went on. I wanted to treat myself after living one year in a 300 square foot studio on the fifth-floor of a walk up building. A studio where the shower was next to the refrigerator in the almost non-existent kitchen where two men and a large dog tripped over one another while getting ready for work, dinner, or to go out.

“You’ve said that you often walk to Central Park with your dog. Why not look in the Upper West Side?” he asked.

“Not interested,” I replied while thinking he was insane.

Why would I ever want to live in the Upper West Side?! It’s the ‘burbs of Manhattan. Strollers everywhere. Kids. Parents. Entitled mothers with their five children in polo shirts and crocs. Ick.

He took me to several places in the neighborhoods that interested me. None of them fit my “wants”. They were too small, too dark, too low, too creepy, too smelly, too boring. Too … too … too … too. They were too little and I was too much.

*      *      *      *      *

This was the apartment where I spent nine hours fastidiously measuring and taping the hallway in order to paint vertical stripes. The smell of blue painter’s tape lingered on my hands, in my hair, on my clothes; the taste of it in my mouth. A once cream and overly bright hallway became a rich and luxurious walk from the living room to the kitchen. The dark green stripes with a base of a deep brick red evoked a masculine men’s club. This was the apartment where I explained to guests that the stripes were not black, but a deep green, secretly relishing in the fact that the stripes were so rich and dark they were almost an enigma.

*      *      *      *      *

“There are some great properties in the Upper West Side and there is a lot of inventory right now,” my broker mentioned. “And you’ll be closer to Central Park where you go every weekend.”

I sighed.

“Let me just show you three and if you don’t like them, we’ll come back to Hell’s Kitchen and continue your search,” he continued.

I reluctantly agreed and resented him for even thinking I would be interested in that neighborhood. We looked at two apartments near Central Park. Both were awkward and interior apartments with no light.

He does not get it. He has no idea what I want and cannot deliver. This is not going to work. I need a new broker.

“This isn’t working for me,” I said as we looked around an apartment where you took three steps down inside the door to get to the living; where you took three steps up to the closet-kitchen outfitted with a dorm-sized fridge and two-burner hot plate; where four steps up and a turn took you to the windowless bedroom. “Let’s go back to Hell’s Kitchen.”

“I have one more place to show you near Riverside Park,” he smiled. “It’s a little more than your budget, but I think you can make it work. Take a look at this one – humor me – and then we’ll go back to Hell’s Kitchen.”

We entered the building and we were greeted by the doorman. We went up the elevator to the fourth floor. On either side of the landing were sets of closed double doors, something I judged as creepy and strange. We passed through one set, walked a short carpeted hallway (This must smell rank in wintertime!) and he unlocked and opened the door.

*      *      *      *      *

This was the apartment where I bought “grown up” furniture. Metal and glass bookcases from Room and Board that held books that I read, and aspired to read. Books of architecture and art. Books to laugh through and cry through held tight by interesting bookends or stacked in a pleasing way. A dining table with a leaf and six chairs, where dinner parties were held, board games played, and Thanksgiving feasts enjoyed. A nice wooden desk, where I would write letters in order to keep the US Post Office from going bankrupt and ensure that letters did not become a dying breed. A Crate&Barrel bar replete with all types of barware and liquors. A six-drawer dresser housing funky socks, American Apparel T-Shirts, and Tom of Finland Toile pajama bottoms. A wooden credenza that held my new 54″ flat panel television, bought after a drunken brunch, and where I was surprised by its size when it was delivered.

This was the apartment where I could host visitors for extended stays. My mom, my sister, friends in for business and friends in for pleasure. Where I would have work team meetings to brainstorm, away from the office’s chaos. Where I would know my neighbors and their dogs, but only remember their dog’s names. Where I would see the adjacent apartments turn over three times in the course of four years, feeling pleased that I had stayed put and was the “long-term tenant. This was the apartment where I felt comfortable leaving my door unlocked when I left, whether for an hour or the day.

*      *      *      *      *

The door opened and I saw sunlight bouncing off the gleaming hardwood floors. I saw a large living room flanked by what could be a dining area accentuated by a trio of windows in a rounded turret. I saw a large bedroom with two large windows and a door into the bathroom. The bathroom also had a door into the hallway, the long hallway that led from the living room at the front of the apartment to the kitchen in the back. I saw the kitchen with a large window, a dishwasher, double ovens, cupboards and more cupboards. I saw counter space. Lots of counter space.

I saw charm, character, and pre-war details. I saw history and felt memories of lives lived in this building and these rooms since its opening in 1900. I saw ghosts of the past and I saw my future. I would be happy here.

“I have to have this place,” I told my broker, not knowing what was in store for me.

One week later, I moved in and I was on the hallway floor crying in rage that I made the wrong decision, that my life was going nowhere, that I was alone. My relationship ended, my life was once again in flux, and I wondered why the hell I was now living in the Upper West Side. Was I crazy? I knew I would never see a gay man again. Not here. Not in the ‘burbs. The smell of H&H onion bagels wafted through the open windows and Victor licked my face.

*      *      *      *      *

This was the apartment on the fourth floor corner of a pre-war building in the Upper West Side of Manhattan on West End Avenue. This was the apartment from where I sent cleaver change of address cards that cryptically told where to find me.

USA – NYC – UWS – WEA – SCP

This was the apartment where Christmas dinners and Thanksgiving dinners were held. Where brunches were enjoyed with much champagne. Where I would come after a long workday, be greeted by my ever-loving dog, walk to Riverside Park, and watch the mighty Hudson flowing. Where I would take long baths in the big and deep tub, immersed to my chin in hot water. Where I would read books before going to bed. Where I would shower in the morning and dress in the bedroom with the curtains open, not caring if the neighbors could see, since that is what you do in New York. This was the apartment where I caught two neighbor girls, no older than 10, watching “The Incredibles” on my giant TV with me, as they perched themselves in their neighboring window. This was the apartment where I would sit by the windows that faced West End Avenue to watch thunderstorms of lighting and pouring rain, where first snows would fall and quiet all traffic and gently whisper onto the tree branches below.

This was the apartment where Dion came to recuperate after his three-month hospitalization. This was where “The Last Supper” was held, a hindsight reference to a dinner party held three days before he went back into the hospital. This was the apartment where he lived the last six weeks of his life before succumbing to AIDS. This was that apartment.

Eventually, this was the apartment where I came to hide from my emotions and seek escape from the madness that was my life. This was where I built a facade of a perfect life, with the perfect job and the perfect dog, and the perfect clothes, and the perfect perfection of a perfectly clean and orderly perfect apartment. This was where I would run after work to seek safety from its CEO’s daily torture. This was where I would run to hide from my self-doubts, low self-esteem, my loneliness, and fear. This was where I was seeking solitude in order to get clarity, without realizing that I was isolating into a lonelier and smaller life. The bar became less useful for cocktail parties than for my own personal binge drinking. The desk I thought I would write from became most useful for doing lines of drugs. The bed became more a place to sleep with many than a place to sleep peacefully alone. My life unraveled before my eyes, and by my hands, within this apartment.

*     *     *     *     *

This was the apartment where I had a vision. A vision that the life I was living was not worth it. Where I backed myself into an emotional corner and had a breakdown. This was where I came after rehab to put the pieces of my life back together. This was that apartment. This was where I learned how to have fun sober while playing board games with sober friends. This was the apartment that I left each morning to attend meetings and outpatient care; where I would return filled with feelings that I could now work through. This was the apartment where I could now look in the mirror, into my reflected eyes, and feel proud of me. This was that apartment.

This was the apartment where a friend and I organized and packed bags of freeze-dried food in preparation to backpack a portion of the Appalachian Trail. This was the apartment where that friend became my boyfriend, and where that boyfriend eventually moved. This was where we set up Christmas early and where our parents met for the first time during a Thanksgiving feast. This was where I left to see a Broadway show and have an anniversary dinner with my boyfriend, and came home with my fiancé. This was the apartment where a puppy, Rhoda, was brought to keep Victor company and to round-out our family. This was the apartment where we decided to move to Charleston, South Carolina.

*      *      *      *      *

“I have to have this place,” I told my broker, not knowing what was in store for me.

This was that apartment.

*      *      *      *      *

truth and honesty …

I am at a juncture in my life, a challenging “mid-life crisis” that makes me contemplative and introspective. Each day I seek answers to the questions of why I do what I do, how my behaviors and actions drive results or bring consequences, and what makes me the “me” that I am. The objective of this deep and meaningful work is to achieve a positive self-image, which for most of my life has eluded me.

During lunch with a friend who I have known since I was three years old, I find myself sharing what has brought me to this juncture. We talk about the mental and emotional work that I am taking on, which is all part of becoming a sober and fully-realized man. She asks what I want to get out of all of this work. I hold my breath for a moment and then the truth pours out and over the table like water from an overfull water glass.

“I want to be able to see myself as others see me,” I say as my eyes start to burn. I look down and blink repeatedly.

“Do you want to know how I see you?” she asks with love in her voice.

“I don’t think so, because I know it will make me cry.”

My eyes well up. I know what she will say. She will say things that I hear often. Adjectives used to describe me that seem as foreign and incorrect as saying my skin is the color blue. For as long as I can remember, these words (which are kind and lovely) enter my brain, twist and turn, and morph into lies. The image of “me” that lives inside my brain and heart does not match these statements. I do not believe them about myself, so I cannot accept them from others as being true.

For the most part, people in my life think positively of me and say very nice things about me. Normally, I do not feel grateful for the words they use to describe how they view me. I feel shame; shame that comes from lies that I tell myself – things I believe about myself – and actions and behaviors that mask my true emotions or provide a false sense of power when I feel powerless. It comes from a society that condems who I am and who God made me. Shame comes from not living a fully honest life. From fear of people not liking me. I have not been fully honest with myself or with others, and I have not always been honest when it matters most.

Honesty is a hard value to uphold. It influence ones morals. However, where does one draw the line at what one considers a white lie versus a fib, a stretch of the truth versus a full-blown lie? Is it OK to lie in order to protect others or myself, or protect the perception that others have of me? What is the difference? Does it matter what I keep secret and what I make public; and, when does a secret evolve into a lie?

Keeping secrets is a protective reaction. This I know. Secrets protect against ridicule, persecution, harm, shame, or oneself. I am coming to believe that secrets are a form of dishonesty. They are about withholding information, reserving it, reshaping it, or limiting disclosure. This is typical when trust is a concern. But, when do secrets start to make you sick … the deep sickness that is true shame, guilt, and self-loathing?

Dishonesty comes in many sizes and shapes. Dishonesty can be big or small. For example, when someone asks, “How are you?” and I respond, “Fine” even though I am not, I am not being honest. Maybe I want to spare them the sob story, maybe there’s no time for details, or maybe I just don’t want to accept that life is hard to live on life’s terms. I find that I say, “Fine” often, but I try now more than ever to respond with an honest fact. “I am happy it’s warm today.” “I am little sleepy.” “There’s a lot going on. More than I can share right now.” And, yes, maybe it’s just none of their fucking business.

Honesty is the focus and foundation of my sobriety. I am now finally honest with myself about who I am, who I want to become, what I do, and why I do what I do.

I am working to undo damage from what others say that is untrue about me – statements that, after hearing them enough, I choose to believe. Some are in response to my behaviors and some drive my behaviors into being. Statements like, selfish, stupid, not committed, inadequate, a loser, dishonest and not trustworthy, lazy, unreliable, arrogant, or condescending. Those statements make it hard to believe when people say that I am caring, considerate, loving, handsome, funny, articulate, an intellectual, smart, fun to be with, sexy, creative, talented, or a good person.

I am learning that I base my responses on how I feel people will judge me and our interactions. I am a people pleaser by nature. I have lived my life with low self-esteem and with a corrupt self-image. I want other people to like me because I do not like myself. I need others to admire me because I am jealous of what they may have. I surround myself with nice things and present myself as perfectly as possible in order to mask the inner turmoil that is in my head. If my flatware drawer is in perfect order, then of course my life is!

This work requires a great amount of personal evaluation and soul searching in order to discover what makes me tick. The more I dig into who I am, the more I uncover who I am not. It helps me define who I am now and who I will become tomorrow.

This work makes me more able to see myself as others see me. This work helps me hear and believe the words said about me, especially those words that bring tears to my eyes when said by a life-long friend during lunch.

The tears do come, but not because I do not believe the words. They come now because, in this new view of myself and my life, I am starting to hear them as truth.

not a hero’s tale …

I grew up in a nice, quiet, suburban Northern Californian town, surrounded by the last remaining orchards in the area. There were cherry trees, apricot trees, plum trees. It had quiet streets, good schools, tree-lined sidewalks, and the smell of freshly mown grass on summer Saturdays.

It was in the valley, just a short drive to the beach and a not-so-long drive to the mountains. A parent’s trust was known when they let you drive “over the hill” to Santa Cruz; a harrowing, winding, twisty‑turny drive at the age of 16 or 17; especially when filled with teenagers whose sole purpose of going was to get drunk at a bonfire party at Bonnie Dune.

There were soccer teams that played games only on one weekend day, un-chaperoned walks to and from school with friends, and bike rides without helmets and elbow pads. There were parks where we picnicked and watched fireworks on Fourth of July, streets where you could play hide and seek for hours after a summer’s sunset, and malls that most of us worked at in high school.

There were parents, and children, and families, and friends. There were suburban scandals of affairs and divorce and alcoholism. There were popular kids, smart kids, awkward kids, and nerds. There were polite kids, quiet kids, loud kids, nice kids, and some of those kids were horribly mean kids. Many years later, these horribly mean kids would look back and wonder why they were so horribly mean? They would think quiet thoughts to themselves late at night when reminiscing on their youthful days; their days of teasing and taunting and being horribly mean kids.

My family lived on a street with several other families and their kids. I was one of the youngest kids on the block. We would all play together, go to school together, babysit and be babysat by each other. In this town, most of these horribly mean kids all went to the same elementary school, junior high school, and high school. Only a few splintered off and attended different junior high schools, but most of kids regrouped in high school.

In elementary school, these horribly mean kids built many great memories together that started from kindergarten and continued through sixth grade. Talent shows, skate days, Halloween parties, cupcakes on birthdays, Valentine’s Day paper bag mailboxes and awkward growing pains both physical and emotional.

They played horses, and baseball, and foursquare at recess. They teased and tortured each other with crushes and our own immaturity, and they teased and tortured this one particular boy. He was a geek in the truest definition of the word.

My memory of him, as one of these horribly mean kids, is that he always wore brown corduroy pants that were “floods.” He had a look on his face that showed pure lack of comprehension. He had a blank stare and his cockeyes were covered and enlarged by big, thick glasses. It appeared that he rarely bathed or brushed his hair; it had mats in the back and his cowlick was always unruly. He had yellow earwax in his ears and a snot-crusted nose.

We called him stupid, retarded, a dumbass, and geek. We ignored him, moved seats, and held our nose when he came near. He had cooties and we had an endless supply of cootie spray in our fingers. We laughed aloud if our friends were forced into some type of close interaction, like square dancing or being table partners. We pushed him on purpose, left him out of any clique or afterschool event, and made him become everything that we thought he was: disgusting.

We were the band of horribly mean kids who, years later, began to regret our actions and behaviors. With age brings maturity and remorse for youthful insolence. We would long for a moment to apologize and atone for being so horribly mean.

There were moments when he would pop into my head and I would wonder where he was – if he was. I have no recollection of him after 6th grade. I do not know where he went to school after that.

I pictured him in a special needs home, sometimes in a straight jacket or receiving electroshock therapy. I had visions of old black and white films of sanitariums filled with drooling nut jobs, and he was always right there with them. I sometimes pictured him still living at home, wearing brown corduroy pants, watching TV with his mom – his poor, poor mom – eating a TV dinner while she mournfully knitted and wished her life had turned out different and that she did not despise her son.

On rare occasions, I pictured him a huge success, as if he invented Post Its. He was clean, friendly, and happy. He smiled and laughed and had friends. He had blossomed in college, where he joined a fraternity and played flag football with his brothers, even though he wasn’t that good. He had fun. He went to parties and was awkward, but not excessively so. He was smart and did well in science and math.

He had girlfriends and kissed them. They weren’t repulsed by him and made love to him on the beach. One loved him so much that she said yes when he asked her to marry him and his mother cried proud tears when he thanked her for loving him through all his awkward years and for believing in him. In these moments, I saw him living a hero’s tale.

That is what I pictured when I pictured him alive. It seemed clear that he would be a case for suicide, either as a teen or as a 30-something. I could picture him being the one who shot random people from overpasses, or the one who drove his car into a restaurant, or shot himself after gunning down his office mates.

*     *     *     *     *

Recently, on Face Book, a plethora of school photos was posted. Comments and stories, memories and thoughts, were brought up over one school picture in particular. It was Mr. Murphy’s sixth Grade class photo. These “horrible kids,” still friends today, commented on their life and remembered.




Anne: We sure had style!



Jon: Remember square dancing, skate day on Fridays? Mr. Murphy was a fun teacher. Remember the talent show, the song “Popcorn,” and Pat Benatar’s “Hit me with your Best Shot”?

Lisa: OH MY GOSH! I totally do! Square dancing was such a good time. I dream about Mr. Murphy’s class periodically throughout my life. I think that was one of the best years of my childhood. Why do I not remember skate day? What is wrong with me? Popcorn — that was fun! We just couldn’t get enough of that, could we?


Anne: I loved the song Pop Corn and skate day was so much fun!

Lisa: Does anyone remember the boy front left with glasses? I think his name was Robbie? Anyway, I wish I could give him a HUGE apology. It makes me sick to my stomach, but I can remember us doing some mean things to him. Oh man kids can be so mean!


Cyndi: I remember being so mean to him, too. I wrote him a letter about 10 years ago and apologized for being such a douche to him.


Scott: His name was Robbie. If memory serves, we called him Rotten Robbie. We were all horribly mean to him. I remember reluctantly inviting him to a birthday party of mine once; he ate the candles from the cake after they were blown out. He was odd and I don’t think any of us ever knew why, and it was never explained to us. We were mean. @Cyndi: Did you actually get the letter to him or was it just for your own clarity? BTW, POPCORN ROCKED!



Lisa: Yes, it was Robbie. I think I remember mention of a brain injury or something that made him not able to do some of the PE stuff. Did he die, really? My son teaches Taekwondo here. He is so good about working with special needs kids. I think about Robbie sometimes when I am there. I would love to go back in time and extend some love and acceptance to him. UGH. Popcorn was a blast!



Cyndi: @Scott, It was 16 years ago and I did actually send the letter. I felt like sh*t after I grew up and recalled my treatment of him… Kids can be so cruel… I see my youngest son go through it now…


Paul: We were all mean to Robbie! It was kind of hard not to be at the time. Does anyone remember when I split my lip wide open on his head? Somehow, his head got in the way when I was running by. I couldn’t remember much, but everyone told me it was all his fault! Who knows? He was kinda mean, but who wouldn’t be the way everyone treated him. Did he really die? Poor soul.


Paul: Lisa, how could you not remember Skate Day?


Lisa: Did we bring our roller skates? How do I not remember skate day, but I do remember your bloody lip? LOL! I’m sad I never got to see Mr. Murphy again before he died.  😦


Anne: I saw him once at an appliance store on San Carlos St. Weird … I was just thinking about him today. I think about him a lot. I think he is the reason I teach 6th grade.


Cyndi: You teach 6th grade? How perfectly perfect!


Lisa: Ok that skate day thing does sound familiar now!

*     *     *     *     *

The comments slowed down and a few weeks passed by. Our lives went on. Other photos were posted and other comments were made. Work, play, eat, sleep, status updates … time ticked on. Then one day an email message came from Gabrielle.




Gabrielle: Found this pic and someone with the same name, graduated in ’87 and looks maybe like what he’d look like. He’s 42. So that seems maybe right – perhaps he missed school due to medical complications? I sent him a FB message asking if he went to Rosemary.

She provided a link to a MySpace page and pictures that it contained. One of the pictures showed a tall man in a black cap and gown holding a diploma; another showed him in cap and gown with a smaller, older man, presumably his father.

Gabrielle:  I don’t know what all the pics are – thought I could just send the page picture blown up. I have no idea what all the other pics are.

Lisa: That looks just like him. It’s got to be him! I hope he really is alive. That would be great news.

Anne: I think so, too.

Gabrielle:  CONFIRMED. Robbie is ALIVE!! I sent him a note and he confirmed it was him. 🙂

Lisa: How can we reach him? Is he on FaceBook?

Gabrielle:  Lisa, he is on FaceBook. Same graduation pic.

Anne: Um, ladies, I just checked out his MySpace page and he likes little girls. He has videos of middle school girls in their locker room and a naked picture of four or five women (not girls) and then some other pics of young girls he has labeled “hotties”.  

Lisa: You’re right. Based on his “friends” in FaceBook, he is quite the perve!  Sad …

Cyndi: Yeah, I noticed that… sad. He should actually be reported don’t you think? It seems like he’s using FaceBook as kiddy porn. Yuck.  

Lisa: I do think so. I was just telling my 19-year-old son about it and he said I should have reported him. I only blocked him.  

Cyndi: I will do it tomorrow. I have time tomorrow. I hate to say it, but as kids, was our gut instinct trying to tell us something???  

Scott: It is sad. And gross. And, like Cyndi says, sometimes our gut is right on. Either that or the social torture he was put through as a child kept him sort of locked in that state of mind and his longings from his youth haunt him today. Not saying that it’s not disgusting, because it is, but psychologically, it can be explained. I think you should report him, Cyndi. You don’t know if or when he might act / has acted upon it. Sad. I was sort of hoping for a “hero’s tale.”  

Lisa: Weird…I’m cleaning house thinking of all the stuff we’re saying. The ‘80s were an interesting time for parenting, not as proactive as today. Looking back, he was a troubled boy crying out for help! Instead of help from adults, he received torment from unsupervised peers. Seriously heartbreaking.  

Scott: Completely.  

Gabrielle:  But is it Kiddie Porn? I didn’t actually look, I confess.    

Anne: No, and I think Scott is correct. We don’t know; they could be relatives. The naked people were adults. Are we just persecuting him now as we did when we were young?

Lisa: Either way, I can’t accept a friend request from anyone who openly posts porn on their page. I am in contact with too many youth.

Gabrielle:  Based on his MySpace pics — ugh! Was it better for all of us to wonder? I have not made friends nor said I was sorry for the way he was treated. So odd how we felt about this just this morning. Amazing what a few strikes of some keys will turn up with, eh?  

Anne: I just don’t want to do to him as an adult what we did as children.

Gabrielle:  I understand, Anne.  

Lisa: I think we are smart to be cautious. He’s a grown man now. He’s not a little harmless boy anymore. I honestly would love to apologize though. I’m also thankful Robbie is alive.

Cyndi: I think you have a point, Anne, and a valid one at that. My alarm bells went off when I saw children marked as “hot” and “If 1 million people join this group I get to see Miley Cyrus naked” stuff that tripped me out.

Anne: I do feel bad for being mean as a child but don’t feel like apologizing. I don’t want to bring him into my life. I know that is selfish but I see potential drama.

Lisa:  You’re a smart girl, Anne. We have to consider the possibility that what concerns us could just be the surface of stuff going on with this guy that we haven’t known for over 28 years. Caution is a good approach! If I didn’t have guilt from how I treated him back then, I would NEVER accept a stranger into my social network with open pornography issues.

Gabrielle: Did you all look at all the groups he’s a part of? Three of them are “Random Nudity” “Nude Modeling” “That Miley Cyrus pic we all want to see,” “I strip naked before I take a dump.” I dunno … guess he likes nudes. But, he’s a fan of two Philapina girls; one aged 13 and the other 14. As a mother of girls … ew. Just ew.  

Lisa: Sad…and you are right…ew! I hope they keep a close eye on the young ladies in his family…

*     *     *     *     *

And I say again, that as children our gut feelings may have been correct. Either that or the social torture we horribly mean kids put this boy through, kept him locked in that childlike state of mind and his longings from his youth haunt him today. I am not excusing his behavior, nor am I explaining it. I am not condemning him for something that I speculate, but I am not willing to reach out to try to understand or gain clarity. I am no longer in need of seeking out personal redemption by apologizing for my behavior.

While it is a tad exciting – like solving an aged puzzle, the paper peeling slightly from the cardboard backing, the picture faded with age and almost unrecognizable – it is now clear that sometimes regrets should be chosen to remain regrets. Simply: some stones are better left unturned. 

It is sad, especially since I was really hoping for a “hero’s tale.”