“. . . if there’s a place for me that love has kept protected. . . “

A place where love was once protected

A place where love was once protected

A pantry opens at the far end of my small aisle kitchen (it’s too small to qualify as an “aisle” or to say the “far” end).  It’s a nice little kitchen, built into the large open loft area of my apartment, back to back with the other room in the place with walls, the bathroom.

My apartment has only two doors, one on the pantry, one on the bathroom.

No, I am not preparing to go on “House Hunters” on the HG Network.

I would not say that Rich and I shared a “love.” That would be stretching a point. But we had a special bond, a mutuality because we had at least two obsessions in common. The second was political ideas so much alike we could have written a manifesto for the other. He was the only friend to whom I could say any radical damned-fool thing knowing he would not only understand but had probably thought of it first.

We hardly ever saw each other. We communicated digitally, both on our Facebook walls, and in private messages. Almost daily. The last time we were F2F was at the first “Occupy Dallas” rally. We each knew exactly why the other was there. We would have known even if we had not been emailing back and forth about it.

The last time.

Rich died a couple of days ago. He was young. Too young.

Strange. The last time I saw my friend Rolf was also at that Occupy rally. We shared the same political views except his were more radical than mine. He committed suicide a couple of weeks after the rally.

Where is death’s sting, we were not born to die,
Nor only for the life beyond the grave.
All that is beautiful in earth and sky,
All skills, all knowledge, all the powers we have
Are of thy giving, and in them we see
No dust and ashes, but a part of thee

A place for me where my love is still protected

A place for me where my love is still protected

For Rich and Rolf, the words of this hymn would have been problematic. Not really for Rolf. He would simply have rejected them out of hand. Rich was a bit more agnostic, one of the reasons I so loved the way he thought. The three of us should have had some kind of fraternal organization together.

“. . . we were not born to die. . .”

At the very least, we were not born to die so young.

My late partner, Jerry, died almost exactly ten years ago. He was 62. Young, too young. I have outlived these men. Mysteriously.  Why me of the four?

Jerry died in November 2003. The lease was up on our apartment on January 1, 2004, and I had to move. I could not afford the rent. And I wanted to live in the heart of the city. Friends—friends from the gay 12-step groups I belonged to, friends from my church, colleagues from various professional activities—helped me move to my loft apartment, a race against the calendar.

A couple of months later, I needed help with some “handy-man” chores in my place. Rich offered to help. He knew about things such as putting up shelves in a pantry—using power tools and all of that.

“. . . all skills, all knowledge, all the powers we have. . . ”

Getting the materials at Home Depot included a bit of accidental drama not really important here, except to say that Rich shed blood for me (a joke, in case you missed it, but true). And in the process demonstrated his ability both to take charge and to protect others.

Rich knew me well enough to understand that merely installing shelves in my pantry—

Pantry, n. “a room or closet in which food, groceries, and other provisions, or silverware, dishes, etc., are kept” (2).

—would not, in fact, get my life organized. But he made no judgment. And the whole time we worked we talked about the idiocy, the immorality, of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the bizarre, the unconscionable glee with which George W. Bush led us into (what Rich and I could see even then) would be a quagmire from which extrication would be slow and painful. Rich was from New York State. He carried grief over the events of September 11, 2001, far deeper than mine. But he also carried common sense and a moral compass.

The last time we were F2F

The last time we were F2F

Since that day Rich and I shopped at Home Depot, both of my parents, two of my closest friends in California, two singers in the choir I directed at St. Paul Lutheran Church—No! I’m not going to make a list—have died. Passed. Made the transition. Whatever word you want to use to soften the blow. My sister reminds me that our mother used to say that the older you get, the more of your friends die.

A pantry used to be a place for bread—

Pantry, n. early 14c., from Anglo-French panetrie (Old French paneterie) “bread room,” from Medieval Latin panataria “office or room of a servant who has charge of food” (literally “bread”), from Latin panis “bread.” Sense in English has evolved so far that its roots in “bread” are no longer felt (3).

—and I regret that mine is not a place for bread because that seems so much more apropos of friendship than the clutter that is there, that Rich knew would be there. That he warned me about. And made no judgment of.

I wish I were able to tie all of these thoughts together, to say what I want, need, to say about Rich today. But also about Jerry, about Rolf, and about all of those others. But I cannot. I’ve reread a favorite poem. It has the spirit. It is copyright protected, but surely Dick Allen won’t mind if I use it to remember, to think about the room or closet in which [my memories and my love] are kept.”

If You Get There Before I Do (4)
by Dick Allen

Air out the linens, unlatch the shutters on the eastern side,
and maybe find that deck of Bicycle cards
lost near the sofa. Or maybe walk around
and look out the back windows first.
I hear the view’s magnificent: old silent pines
leading down to the lakeside, layer upon layer
of magnificent light. Should you be hungry,
I’m sorry but there’s no Chinese takeout,
only a General Store. You passed it coming in,
but you probably didn’t notice its one weary gas pump
along with all those Esso cans from decades ago.
If you’re somewhat confused, think Vermont,
that state where people are folded into the mountains
like berries in batter. . . . What I’d like when I get there
is a few hundred years to sit around and concentrate
on one thing at a time. I’d start with radiators
and work my way up to Meister Eckhart,
or why do so few people turn their lives around, so many
take small steps into what they never do,
the first weeks, the first lessons,
until they choose something other,
beginning and beginning their lives,
so never knowing what it’s like to risk
last minute failure. . . .I’d save blue for last. Klein blue,
or the blue of Crater Lake on an early June morning.
That would take decades. . . .Don’t forget
to sway the fence gate back and forth a few times
just for its creaky sound. When you swing in the tire swing
make sure your socks are off. You’ve forgotten, I expect,
the feeling of feet brushing the tops of sunflowers:
In Vermont, I once met a ski bum on a summer break
who had followed the snows for seven years and planned
on at least seven more. We’re here for the enjoyment of it, he said,
to salaam into joy. . . .I expect you’ll find
Bibles scattered everywhere, or Talmuds, or Qur’ans,
as well as little snippets of gospel music, chants,
old Advent calendars with their paper doors still open.
You might pay them some heed. Don’t be alarmed
when what’s familiar starts fading, as gradually
you lose your bearings,
your body seems to turn opaque and then transparent,
until finally it’s invisible–what old age rehearses us for
and vacations in the limbo of the Middle West.
Take it easy, take it slow. When you think I’m on my way,
the long middle passage done,
fill the pantry with cereal, curry, and blue and white boxes of macaroni, place the
checkerboard set, or chess if you insist,
out on the flat-topped stump beneath the porch’s shadow,
pour some lemonade into the tallest glass you can find in the cupboard,
then drum your fingers, practice lifting your eyebrows,
until you tell them all–the skeptics, the bigots, blind neighbors,
those damn-with-faint-praise critics on their hobbyhorses–
that I’m allowed,
and if there’s a place for me that love has kept protected,
I’ll be coming, I’ll be coming too.
(1) Bradby, Godfry Fox. “Where Is Death’s Sting.” The Hymnal of the Protestand Episcopal Church in the United States of America. 1940. New York: The Church Pension Fund, 1940.
(2) “pantry.” Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 2013. Web. 09 Nov. 2013.
(3) “pantry.” Online Etymology Dictionary. Douglas Harper, Historian. 2013. Web. 09 Nov. 2013.
(4) From The Day Before by Dick Allen, published by Sarabande Books, Inc. Copyright © 2003 by Dick Allen. All rights reserved.

2 Responses to “. . . if there’s a place for me that love has kept protected. . . “

  1. Mary Kalen Romjue says:

    Losing friends and family is so painful and I too feel it coming way too soon. I am sorry for your loss,

  2. meldow2012 says:

    Dear, Amazing Friend,
    Thank you for sharing this most painful time and deep reflections and a poem that touched my core. Tears of remembrance roll down my face as I write this and think of your life together with Jerry along with all those we have loved in our separate yet forever linked lives. I love you and I miss you.

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