Monday, February 20, 2012

Memoir Monday: The Best of Beginnings

Most of the best things in my life started from unlikely beginnings, and this is a story about one of those things.

I met Jack in 1994, the year that began the final phase of my downward spiral into depression. Although he came into my life when I was at my lowest and craziest, Jack saw something in me worth getting to know, and the oddest friendship was born. We had nothing in common except sexual orientation and a childhood of poverty. He liked house music and I was at the time getting into folk. He read very little and I read as if books would soon vanish from the earth. He was a conservative Christian (yes, and gay) who doubted evolution and I was a pretty dedicated atheist who put great stock by Darwin's theory. He had a great tolerance for people seen as freaks and kooks, while I just couldn't be bothered. There was a time in my life I would never have bothered with Jack either, but for some reason I was drawn to him.

Maybe it was because he was my first gay friend, and I his. We went to our first gay club together, naively betting that the person who did not hook up had to pay the toll on the way back. (We would up splitting the cost.) We rented movies we vainly hoped we could bring the other around to liking. ("Love Affair" still ranks as one of the longest two hours of my life.) We danced, scammed on guys, sang songs, and shared all of the life stuff we couldn’t share with anyone else. We were both promiscuous at that point in our lives, him happily and me crazily, and we compared notes about…well, things that probably don't have a place on this public blog. Our myriad differences did not divide us but made us more interesting, and after only a year it was like I'd known him all my life.

Things weren't all rosy, though. Even Jack's friendship couldn't fend off the deepest and longest depressive episode of my life, and he oftentimes bore the brunt. When I began dropping out of sight for days and weeks at a time, he kept calling until I called back. If I was emotionally numb when we started out for the evening I was smiling when we got back. When he landed a boyfriend, the first of us to do so, he was not put off by my confession at how intensely jealous I was. At the time I thought only his penchant for weirdos kept me in his life, but looking back I think he saw something in me invisible to others, including me. He stuck with me when I hit bottom, and was the only person who knew I was attending therapy. I was incredibly ashamed that I was getting mental health treatment, but Jack never made me feel unworthy. He listened to me talk about what I'd said in therapy, and never seemed uncomfortable or anything less than completely supportive.

After I emerged from the shadow of depression, we were talking on the phone about a fun evening we'd had the night before, during which I was accompanied by a fabulously cute guy who lavished me with attention. Jack said, "I never thought therapy was worth very much until I saw how much it helped you. You looked like a new person last night, and I felt so happy in my heart." I had to bite my lip to keep from bursting into grateful tears that even after seeing me through the worst he was still able to celebrate the best. I wish now that I'd just cried. I was too young to realize that he was worth it.

As the years passed Jack and I had periods during which we lost touch, only to reconnect later with no awkwardness. It was during one of these periods that Jack died, a legacy of the promiscuous days of his youth. It's cruelly ironic to think that, of the two of us, the one who actually enjoyed those wild sexual adventures was the one who paid the highest price, while I somehow escaped physically unscathed.

When I heard the news my world narrowed to a pinpoint, and all I could think was of a birthday gift he had given me years before. He barely had any money, and although I had insisted he not buy me anything, he presented me with a glass paperweight, inside which was sealed a red rose. It was, he conceded, perhaps the tackiest thing one could imagine, but he thought that on my birthday I should have a gift, dammit. Ten years before I would have turned up my nose, but I thought, then and now, that it was one of the best presents I have ever gotten.

How likely is that?

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