Wednesday, May 07, 2008
Those Who Didn't Make It
Don S., Kenny V., Joe M., Alice K., Linda T., Jerry L., Bob S.. Those are just a few of the friends, former classmates, co-workers and lovers who did not reach the retirement age of 65. Actually, none of them even reached the early retirement age of 62 years. Don S. was only 56 years when he died in 1997. We were the best of friends during our Commercial Course days in high school. Ours was a friendly competition to see who could get the best score in bookkeeping. Don usually won. Kenny died in Vietnam. I found out that Kenny died when I attended my first class reunion, which was the 20th. I felt guilty that he died. Not because he died in Vietnam but because Kenny was the first person I had a fist fight with. We were in 7th grade waiting in line to go into Mrs. Roger’s science class. He shoved me (Kenny was a bully). I shoved back. Next thing we were both rolling on the floor, thrashing about with elbows flying. I don’t think either one of us landed a blow. We both ended up in the principal’s office, sweaty, disheveled and embarrassed. I don’t believe we ever spoke again during our remaining high school years. Yet, I still felt guilty when I heard that he died. Kenny was only 24 years old. Joe was another friendly rival. Joe and I were similar in appearance and also had a friendly competition. Our competition was different than the one Don S. and I had. Joe and I used to frequent the Westbury Bar, a gay bar in center city Philadelphia. We would compete to meet the same guys in the bar. I usually won this “competition”, much to Joe’s chagrin. Joe died in 1992 of AIDS related causes. I met Alice when she arrived in the personnel department of Girard Bank to escort me to my new place of employment in the trust department. Alice was the secretary of the head of the trust department. When I first saw her smile I knew she was someone I would be friends with. Alice was warm and friendly and even more naïve than me. She had a genuineness about her that is rare. We shared many bus rides to our homes in the Roxborough section of Philadelphia. We bowled together and our team even won the championship in 1969. We went to lunch and shared our life’s frustrations and joys together. Alice and I laughed a lot. She was like the sister I never had. Alice killed herself in June of 1989. She was in her adopted daughter’s bedroom when she put a gun in her mouth and blew her brains out. I will never forget Alice. About a week before she committed suicide, she called me at the new bank where I worked and left me a voice mail. She wanted to know if I could go to lunch with her. She wanted to discuss something with me. I was too busy to return her call. The next time I heard about her was a voice mail left by her husband telling me she had killed herself. I couldn’t believe it when I heard his message and, in a way, I still can’t believe it. Alice was 49 years old when she died, leaving a husband and two adopted Korean orphans behind in this world. Linda T. was my cousin. Like Alice, Linda was a sweet, beautiful and uncomplicated woman. She was open and friendly, almost to a fault. Like Alice and I, Linda was naïve in many ways about life. Linda never married. She lived at home with her mother and bachelor brother. Linda fought ovarian cancer for eight years. I lost count of how many times she lost her hair during her chemotherapy treatments. Linda was a naturally beautiful girl but the loss of her hair didn’t faze her. She would always say “But Ronnie, when the treatments end I get all new hair!” That’s the way Linda was. She always had a smile on her face. I saw her two weeks before her death. She was at home wheeling around her intravenous feeder. She would go about the house as if she was perfectly healthy pushing that intravenous feeder. The last thing I heard her say was a warning to another member of the household that if he didn’t stop drinking she would come back to haunt him. Linda Lee T. died in 1998. She was only 48 years old. Jerry L. was another classmate of mine from high school. Although we didn’t have any classes together, Jerry was one of those rare guys, friendly to everyone. In high school, where social status is so important to many students and cliques abound, Jerry didn’t follow those rules. Although he was a football jock and could have easily limited himself to that clique, he was friendly to me. The last time I saw Jerry was at our 25th class reunion. He had recently lost his job through a layoff and was dejected. He didn’t want to attend the reunion because he was embarrassed he didn’t have a job. His many friends talked him into going to the reunion anyway and we all had a good time getting reacquainted. Jerry didn’t make it to our next reunion (the 35th). He died in an automobile accident in Ohio at the age of 42. Bob S. What can I say about Bob? When I met Bob I was a very young 22 and Bob was 27 years old. I met Bob at an after hours gay dance club in Philadelphia. At 27 I thought he was so old. In spite of his “advanced years” I thought he was very attractive and personable. He asked me to dance. It was a slow dance. I had just recently discovered the pleasure of slow dancing with a man. I loved to dance and had always enjoyed dancing with women. But, when I first danced with a man I discovered a new dimension to dancing. What a revelation. I thought “No wonder dancing is so popular!” Short, slight of build, and fine featured, and possessing a self confidence that wasn't arrogant; Bob was just the type of man I was attracted to. Bob told he had recently been transferred from Seattle Washington to the Philadelphia Boeing plant. He also told me he was married and had two children. We danced some more. After the club closed Bob asked if he could see me again. He had to arrange it so his wife wouldn’t know where he was. I told him where I lived. He would visit me every other Saturday morning. Bob was the first man I was intimate with. However, after months of lies to his wife, hiding (the time my Mother came over to visit my apartment Bob hid in the bathroom) and living my life as a “mistress”, I tired of it and called off the relationship. I was young and wanted to go out. That was in 1963. A few months ago, searching through the Social Security death index as part of my genealogical research, I put in Bob’s name to see if anything came up. His name came up. He died in 1990 in Washington State. I do not know the cause of his death. He was only 57 years old. These are but just a few of people who have passed through my life and are responsible for the person I am today. Don’s friendly competition with me helped me to overcome my lack of self-confidence. Kenny was the first bully I stood up to and refused to be bullied anymore as I was during elementary school years. There were others who tried to bully me after my “fight” with Kenny, but I always stood up to them and let them know I wasn’t one to be bullied. Kenny was the turning point. Joe M. taught me the terrible lessons of the consequences of selfishness and promiscuous, unprotected sexual activity. I saw a once handsome and proud man reduced to an almost unrecognizable shadow of his former self. His lowest point perhaps was when a small child standing next to him on the street pointed to Joe and said to his mother “Look at the ugly man.” Joe broke down in tears. Even in the advanced stages of AIDS, Joe was still cruising the streets of center city Philadelphia for anonymous sex. Linda taught me to face with bravery whatever bad hands life has dealt. Linda never once lost her sense of humor and never felt self pity. Jerry taught me to accept all people as they are. Jerry was one of those rare people who was friendly with me even though he had nothing to gain by my friendship. We had absolutely nothing in common. He accepted me, a genuine dork (at least during my high school days) who was no threat to his social standing with the football jocks. He always had a smile for me. Then there was Bob S. Bob was the first person who didn’t make me feel like a pervert because of my sexual identity. Our sexual relationship made me feel like a natural person. It is ironic that my first sexual relationship with a man would be with a married man who had children. We never talked about his wife or children. I don’t know why, we just didn’t. Bob also had “the smile.” As you, the reader of this blog, can tell by now, I’m a pushover for a genuine, accepting smile. None of these people who were so much a part of my life would live long enough to enjoy their retirement years as I am doing now. If I should die tomorrow, I will always be thankful to these people for shaping my life and to help make me the person that I am today. I am indeed a Fortunate Son.