Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The awkward altar call

Never take a long car trip with a good friend if you want to keep that friend, or, conversely, if you want to know if your friendship will last, take a long car trip.  15 years after high school, I ran into an old friend and decided to help her drive her car to college in the midwest.  That story has to wait.  A coincidental event is more important.  During a conversation, she mentioned my best friend from high school, Jeff, and told me he lived in San Francisco, "his element," she said.  I understood that was code for "Jeff's gay."

It all made sense.  Jeff's birthday is June 12th, mine is the 11th.  We met for years to celebrate together on his birthday and he always brought another friend with him.  I once asked him to marry me in a letter.  He graciously ignored the proposal.  I was disappointed, but figured I had over-stepped the bounds of our friendship.  I loved Jeff, probably from the moment he came to Juanita High and we met.  He is the only person I ever kept up correspondence with faithfully.  I always meant to write people, but I always did write Jeff.

Anyway, I called Jeff and shamelessly invited myself to visit him in SF.  He offered to let me stay with him while I visited.  I immediately made reservations.  Almost the instant I hung up, the phone rang again; it was Jeff.  "Before you make reservations, Pat, I just thought you should know I'm gay and I live with my lover."  

I got to visit Jeff and Oscar only a handful of times, during summers and at New Year's.  One summer, he told me he was busy during June and I should wait until later to come.  I had not been unable to reach him throughout July.  In August, I was out in the yard tending roses and pulling weeds, when I suddenly decided to call Jeff as the summer was waning and I had not made my semi-yearly visit yet.   

As luck would have it, Jeff had been waiting for a different phone call and he answered right away.  He sounded terrible.  "What's wrong, Jeff?" "Oh, HIV infection." 

I offered to fly down immediately, but he said there was nothing I could do.  He sounded so tired, so weak; we talked only a short while, and as the conversation slowed I said, "I love you Jeff." "I love you too, Pat."

Jeff died the next day.  When Oscar told me, I dropped the phone and dissolved into sobs just like the ones I'm having to pause for now.  Since 1972 Jeff has been with me every day.  I miss him incredibly.  

Oscar, Bill Clumpner, and I attended Jeff's cremation.  Oscar had been arguing with Jeff's sister about who would keep the ashes.  She wanted all of them and Oscar wanted to take them to Golden Gate Bridge where Jeff liked to walk.  We took the ashes with us to the park. Screw her, we thought.  We'd only let her have part of the ashes, and throw some off the bridge.  When we got to the bridge we realized that Jeff did not believe in an afterlife, so the eternal location of his ashes did not matter; our memories of Jeff mattered.  We left him in the trunk and shared a brief relieving chuckle about it, then walked out to the center of the span for a silent moment with Jeff.

Back home in Seattle, Jeff's sister planned his service.  Old friends of Jeff flew in and we all met the night before at one of Jeff's favorite watering holes and did what Jeff would have wanted; we all got blitzed.  All of Jeff's lifelong, true friends were there.  Oscar was not there.  Jeff's sister invited him, but he was not allowed to say who he was to Jeff.

The next day at the service, the preacher from his sister's church gave a eulogy in which he described a loving, caring, generous man. Hah. Jeff was a crank, a curmudgeon, who loved humiliating people. (Right Joe Pfeiffer?)  He would jokingly say, "Hi, I's yo new neighbor," yet defend equal rights.  He both loved and hated Justice Scalea.  He was complex, the smartest person you could hope to meet, and gave great hugs, but he was decidedly not anything the preacher described.

Then, in the middle of a memorial service for a gay atheist log cabin Republican, there was an altar call.  Jeff would have left.  I would have but I rode with someone else.

Jeff's family either did not know Jeff or wanted to deny him.  

Jeff left a will with several insurance policies, some made out to his sister, some to Oscar.  He left out one car.  She demanded that.  Oscar didn't drive, but was damned if he'd relent.  He decided to let her drive down to the bay area and get it if she wanted it.  Pretty sure that didn't happen.  Just in case there was any problem with his will or other provisions, Jeff had assembled an impressive stamp collection worth many thousands and gave them to Oscar.  Like I said, a smart man.

I still think of Jeff every day and I miss him terribly.  Sadly, I lost track of Oscar.  Do you have any idea how many Oscar Lopezes live in the bay area?


Stephanie Frieze said...

A loving tribute, Pat. When my father died the minister who presided at his memorial service had never met him. She took notes during my eulogy and then literally lifted her eulogy from mine! I was furious. I have a minister friend who is more of a wisewoman and I hope she lives long enough to preside at my funeral because I don't want some stranger talking about me.

Jo said...

Pat, I feel your frustration. I, too have attended services where the person described by the minister/priest/whatever, didn't match the friend I had known! The worst one was for my father. Dad had attended that church for over 30 years, but the priest obviously didn't know him and did not pay attention to what we had told him about my father. I was already vulnerable and unhappy, the eulogy given just made it more so. In your blog, you have given your friend a meaningful eulogy.