Not gonna lie, this was not a great few weeks.
A weekly blog that covers the intersection of pop culture and social issues is probably not the best place to tell you my dear friend of 50 plus years died quite unexpectedly two weeks ago.
But what the hell, she did and I’m devastated, angry, sad and grateful to have had her in my life at all.
And yes, to you lay therapists out there, I am feeling all of those feelings – at the same time.
Of course, those feelings won’t come as much of a surprise to anyone who has ever experienced the death of a loved one – be it friend, family or a little bit of both.
And my dear Deb was A LOT of both, and then some.
Actually, she was much more than that.
She was fun and bold and brave and saved teenage me from a life of denial, depression and, well, utter dullness.
As teenagers who would both grow up to be gay, we became best friends way back when and then, some years later, eventually… dated???
Well, sort of.
That was a teeny segment of our relationship, but one that many gay men and lesbians of a certain age will identify with. The best friend who somehow was thought of as, or became, your “girlfriend” or “boyfriend” when you were a teenager or even in your very early twenties.
Except that, well, a relationship that works perfectly on every level except the sexual one pretty much ensures they’re not your girlfriend, and definitely not your boyfriend.
What they become, after some growing pains and years of therapy and a lot of luck, is that person. Your touchstone. The one. That enduring extended family member who knew you then, chose to grow with you, change with you, endure you and love you in a way no one else really could (or can) because they’d never have the history and, certainly, not the context.
There’s a shorthand when you know someone this long. Memories that ebb and flow, some really good or even great but none of them, even the most mundane or unsavory ones, ever truly bad because by this point you’ve weathered the storm and gotten through all the shit that comes at a person in more than five decades.
If you’re fortunate enough to still have that person in your life you get to laugh at the ridiculousness of what you thought so many times was the end of the world while remaining bonded in the reality of having both survived, this long, together, with any shred of sanity and humor left.
As it turns out, you realize together, you were nowhere near as insane as you both knew you were back then (and even sometimes now). As for humor, being funny is what got you through and allowed you to survive. What a gift it is to still be able to make each other laugh by saying so little. The appropriate eyebrow raise or mind read at an oddly opportune moment will more than do.
But only with them.
The one who saw you for who you really were, long before you chose to, and decided to stay and find how it would all turn out.
Loving you for who YOU were every step of the way.
Of course, this is a two-way street. You don’t get to have a person like that for so long unless you are willing to love them and see them for who they really were.
But that’s the easy part.
The hard part is when one day they’re not around for you to do it anymore.
Yeah, they’ll always be with you, all those memories make you one of the fortunate ones and blah, blah, blah, life goes on.
But not in the way you knew it.
Deb and I both loved theatre and among our favorite plays was Our Town. Yeah, we both particularly loved Albee and Tennessee Williams but there was something about that much-maligned Thornton Wilder classic that truly spoke to us and, in some hipster crowds, we took a lot of crap for it.
So it is not lost on me right now that all I can think about is the ghost of Emily, the young (Note: Spoiler Alert) dead girl in her grave at the cemetery at the end of the play, looking and marveling at her simple family and town going about their mundane tasks on a typical day in their mundane lives.
And her disembodied voice, as she asks that iconic question —
Does anyone ever realize life while they live it… every, every minute?
Followed by the Stage Manager answering —
No. Saints and poets maybe…they do some.
And Deb taking it in, nodding along, and helping me, as usual, to make sense of it.
See, that’s the thing. At the moment, none of that makes a whole lot of sense. Even though we talked about it a million times.