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Quaker, French-speaker, educator, anti-racist; Southern-born & raised, and talking enthusaist.

2009-09-20

Russell

This was a beginning draft to a memorial piece I was to give at Center Stage. I'll post the whole thing when I find it.

There was a time when I did not believe myself lovable. There was a time when it was nearly impossible for me to really be spiritually and emotionally intimate. Russell was a living angel.

there is no separating how I knew him. to separate the spiritual from the emotional, the prayer from the physical and emotional love is not possible.

I can’t think of a time when a man has made me love God more, or another man for that matter.

There was a certain softness and tenderness about him that drew out the desire to nurture and protect, and yet, after 7 years together, I realized that it was a mutal thing, and that the nourshing and protection were …;

I’ve racked my brain and write this with more fear and worry than when I wrote my first sermon and delivered it one day to the student bodies of two seminaries. Russell is the greatest man that I know. I can’t think of someone who compares to him. How can I do him justice? How can I begin to explain what kind of man he was? It occurs to me, that that is not my role. It never will be, at least not to explain him completely. Each of us knew him in our own way and he touched us in similar ways, yet in different contexts. Some knew him as shy, some as animated and verbose. Depending on his comfort level, and socially appropriateness, people saw different sides of this very complex man.

So, I am sharing with you a bit more about me than I had planned, and the reason is very simple. Somewhere in the 7 years that Russell and I were together, there ceased to be a “me” and there was an “us.” I was hell-bent on making sure that we both pursued our separate lives, that I had my independence. Somewhere along the way, though, I ceased to consider the world without Russell. I stopped making decisions without Russell. I looked within myself and saw Russell. This heart, beats, still, with Russell’s soul, with Russell’s love.

We met on line, sort of, and sort of at the bar. I was home in Tennessee between seminary and grad school to become a teacher. I had been going to the bars with Marian, my near-sister, pretty much every Sunday. I didn’t know Knoxville for its cute, young intellectuals. There are plenty of pretty boys, but frankly the country boys were not going to keep me intellectually stimulated. Yeah, I stereotyped badly. I remember this one cute guy that I saw a few times that I was just too shy to go up and talk to. One day Marian was out of town and I didn’t go out so there I am, in the gay chat room, talking away. This guy and I start talking, we agree to meet out. And, it turns out to be the guy I had seen before and wanted to meet. We hit it off, this just 20 year-old kid from Maryville College who had never left Tennessee save for a couple choir tours, and me a jaded, gay-world worn and well-travelled guy of 26. (both kids, of course). We only saw each other that once, then communicated via telephone and email.

Right after we had just met, I had received more bad news on top of all the crap I had just gone through at Earlham. I emailed him telling him the news, expecting him to freak out and say “sorry, but. . .” I wouldn’t have blamed him. But what did Russell do? He showed up at my door, and when I opened it, he kissed me. And said that we’d deal with it.

Our entire relationship was like that. I drop a bomb and he kissed me and we dealt with it. There was a time when we separated for a few months. He dated someone named “Hush” in NYC who enchanted him. This person knew the who’s who of New York. He was hot. He was older than me. He knew theatre. He knew cinema. He could offer what I could not.

I feared that I had lost Russell. But if I had been a better man, if I had just met Russell half way . . . . if, if, if. In any event, Russell lived with my sister for a time and drove one of my parent's cars. He even worked for them for a while in TN. In the meantime I was getting used to being alone, but all the while praying for Russell to come back to me.

September 11 apparently gave Russell the impetus to make a decision to come back. He had to choose between me and Hush or neither. He chose me. Since then it has been incredible. The last year was magical.

Russell didn’t have it easy. He did not have the support of his mother and father. Unfortunately neither of us could turn to them for the support and advise that we wanted from them. While they loved their son, they didn’t love him enough to accept his choices, to welcome into their home unconditionally. Blame was laid on him for the family’s problems. He carried a great burden. He locked it up. He cried. He moved on. Luckily he began developing a relationship with his brother.
My family welcomed him with open arms, and my father found in Russell a son – and a son who understood him. Russell understood my dad. Their birthdays a day apart, (both Capricorns), both English majors, both tall and dark haired, both introverted for the most part, both writers, both lovers of high-maintenance, difficult and demanding people. I’ve heard it say we often marry someone like our parents when we choose a mate. I married my father. I remember the days early on when I’d call mom and say “ok Russell is doing thus and so. Dad did that. How did you manage?” Over time, in learning to love Russell, I learned to appreciate and love my own father. My own parents served as models for what to do and not to do in a relationship. We watched them. We listed to them. We made our choices based on them.

3 comments:

  1. Just want to thank you for sharing so gracefully a part of your deepest self.


    «Le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît point.»

    BTW, have you read any of Michel Tremblay's novels or plays?

    --Liberata

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  2. Thanks for sharing this. It's all sweet, not in the saccharine way but in the real lived love way. I saw Russell across the room a few times but I really got to know him through your reminiscences, especially those long miles through Nebraska. It's a good second-hand friendship to have.

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