We met in my senior year of high school, at his high school. Short set-up: my senior year, there were six of us (four seniors, two juniors; four guys, two gals) who needed another year of lab science. My high school offered physical science, which I’d already taken, and biology…and I was not about to dissect a fetal pig, thank you very much. So my high school’s administrators went to his high school’s administrators and proposed that my schoolmates and I attend their chemistry class in exchange for the loan of our band teacher.
Strangely enough, they took the deal. Never did get a band going, though.
Anyway, this guy, a junior, one of a classful of guys — didn’t I mention? His was an all-boy parochial school — impressed me not only with his brains (and it was obvious early on he was very very smart), but with his acting talent. Now how, you might be wondering, would I know he was a good actor when we were in chemistry class together?
That’s easy. The teacher was one of those rare sorts who, when things were a little slow as far as his lesson plan was concerned or one of the other teachers was giving a big and very ugly test, would let our class become either a study period for Big Ugly Test or a forum for whatever else was going on. Like the school talent show. In preparation for which he (not the instructor, but the student in question)…no, let’s give him his name. Steve gave us the piece he’d be performing, a dramatic monologue from a film called The ODESSA File.
He was good. He was also funny as hell, as I discovered the week after Thanksgiving when the four guys from my school had a week of NJROTC training that I’d opted out of. Just before the Thanksgiving break, the teacher announced our class instruction in distillation and fermentation would involve…making moonshine. Well, that was the gist, making a mash of rotten fruit (ew) and leaving it to sit over the break, then distilling it the week after. Not really much else you can do when you have to regulate the flame on a Bunsen burner so it’s hot enough to evaporate alcohol but not hot enough to boil water, so there was a lot of conversation, and Steve wandered over and talked to me and my lab partner (the other gal from my school) and the three of us kept each other in stitches for the whole week.
No, we never got to sample the ‘shine, because the teacher conveniently let it “go bad” during Christmas vacation…
Fast forward, and following a year of letter-writing to keep in touch, Steve invited me to his senior prom. I said yes. He kissed me during a dance. I kissed back. There was never any conversation about whether we were dating or not, we simply were a couple from the moment he picked me up for the prom. Fast forward about three years, to a summer evening after a pretty nice day at the beach, and Steve tells me he’s seeing a counselor because he thinks he might be gay.
Once more, please, slowly and in English this time? But it didn’t change on the second hearing, nor the third. We had not, to that point, had sex, but we were definitely thinking about it. A lot. Never discussed, but for about the six months previous to that night, we’d been edging a lot closer to it. (No, no details. Not that kind of blog, folks. 😉 ) And then this announcement, and I assumed I was going to be losing him because hey, straight woman/gay man did not seem to have a lot of staying power as a romantic option.
So of course I thought about it for three days and, the next time I saw him, I suggested we go away for a long weekend because if I was going to lose him (which seemed, oh, a dead certainty), then I wanted him to be my first.
And he was. Two months later, he proposed. To which I said, “But…gay.” To which he replied, “I don’t think that will be a problem.” And we were young enough and stupid enough and horny enough to believe it.
Three years later, the engagement ended with about the same level of discussion and fanfare as there’d been when we started dating six years before. But we’d started out as friends, and went back to being friends, and that part of it lasted.
Through my mother’s death, through his HIV-positive diagnosis, through his various problems fighting one of those addictions that are even less publicly acceptable than alcohol or drugs (and the legal penalties for the results of that addictive behavior), through him becoming my roommate because he’d managed to make himself unemployable, through coming home after picking up my rental car after my second-ever car wreck and finding him sitting on the sofa with his backpack packed saying, “You have to take me to the hospital, I can’t stand this anymore,” about this *thing* that had been bothering him for a couple of months where it got progressively more painful to swallow to the point he’d nearly stopped eating and drinking.
A few days in the hospital, test after test culminating in a spinal tap, which led to a diagnosis of meningitis, a particular form of it that a healthy immune system would have knocked down without any trouble but that his compromised immune system…could not.
He’d been hospitalized a week when I got the call, early on a Saturday morning, that he’d gone into full respiratory and cardiac arrest. And because he hadn’t told me, or his parents, that what really pushed him into going to the hospital was the blinding headaches he’d been having, and none of us knew anything about his personal variety of meningitis, there was no DNR order on his chart. His parents had the joy of dealing with the legal end of the medical system that said they couldn’t let him go until a brain scan was essentially flat, and that took three more days. It still breaks my heart.
And so today, on what would have been his 56th birthday, on the fifteenth anniversary of his parents and me scattering his ashes beyond the Redondo breakwater, I am grateful for Steve. He gave me an appreciation for live theater, movies, opera, good conversation, nice restaurants, and sex. He also taught me that when people change — when they become more truly who they are — it can be a wonderful and amazing thing, and so maybe hanging on through the changes is a very good thing after all.