My former neighbor Michael called on Saturday, leaving a message with a more than usual sense of urgency to it. Alarmed, I quickly called him back.
We had been good neighbors and caring yet slightly awkward friends, standing about an arm's length apart and eyeing each other with a 50/50 mixture of slight disdain and moderate amusement. I always told Michael that the difference between us was that I was looking for a man with a Degree, and he was looking for one with an outstanding warrant. Michael, you see, liked the bad boy looks, with a preference for tattooed Latin types.
He hmself was a polite Texas boy who came to the big city, and seemed to have more success with restoring his classic cars than any suitors that looked his way. Over the years I lived down the block I never met any serious boyfriends, although I was aware of a couple of long term buddies that would stop by for brief periods of time.
When I called him back, he told me about Antonio. Antonio was a handsome Latin-Armenian man that Michael had picked up in a bar in the valley almost eleven years prior, and since that fateful night had visited him weekly. Antonio was Catholic, deeply closeted, and lived with family, so his availability, both physical and emotional, was severely limited. They had never been on a date, never been out in public past the occasional errand, and their focus was primarily physical, but had been ongoing for eleven years. I had known about his existence, but had never met him.
Apparently Antonio had called the previous Saturday, but Michael was tired and did not invite him over. He didn't call back the following day but Michael didn't think anything of it. The week sped by and Michael rang him the following Saturday, but there was no answer, so Michael left a message. In a few minutes the phone rang, but on the other end of the line was the voice of a young woman. It was Antonio's niece, and she had called back to tell him that Antonio has suffered a heart attack and passed away the previous Sunday. The young lady took his email to send him details about the memorial.
Michael had called me in a blend of grief, sorrow and confusion. Although in reality a play buddy, Antonio had been a constant in Michael's life for over a decade. It was the longest relationship of his life, Michael observed, and in many ways the best- neither asked for anything beyond the moment. No fights, no demands, just being together in the now. But how does one mourn what was essentially a secret relationship? Should he go to the service? What should he say to the family? How does one reveal a secret relationship, and to whom? The burden of keeping the secrets of the departed combined with the need to say goodbye to someone he deeply cared for posed vexing questions. He did not know if Antonio was out to his family. He wasn't even certain if that he had been given his real name. We talked for over an hour, and I realized that he had much deeper feelings for Antonio that he had ever admitted, possibly even to himself.
I listened to Michael describe what seemed like a scene from Brokeback Mountain- when Ennis learned that Jack had been killed. I thought the parallels were striking, and was more than a little saddened for Michael and the loss that he was bearing, alone, in the year 2010. For me it was a sad reminder of how far we still have to go.
In the end, Michael went to the service and introduced himself to the family. He recognized some patrons of the bar where they had met, and was able to describe the situation and share his feelings with them. I'm grateful that he was able to find that closure. How many of us in this day and age never do?