Bob's letter to me after he left Philadelphia
Forty seven years ago at an after hours gay dance club in Philadelphia I met Bob. Bob was 29 years old and recently relocated (with his wife and two children) from Washington state to Philadelphia, PA by his employer Boeing Aircraft.
Across the smoke filled room on the crowded dance floor I saw him dancing. He was dressed in a light colored (I think gray) suit which was unusual dress for the patrons of the Pennrose Club. Most of the men in the club were dressed casually. But his suit isn't what caught attracted caught my eye. What attracted my attention was him. He stood out from the mass of young men on the crowded dance floor. He was slightly built (maybe 5'7", about 130 lbs), dark short hair, square jaw, flashing, mischievious black eyes and a dazzling smile. I was a goner once he looked at me with those flashing dark eyes and his open and friendly smile. He was looking just a me.
Bob Surina - the only picture I have of him - an old yellowed newspaper clipping
Sitting at the bar with my friends Ron and Ed I thought to myself "Wow! That is one nice looking guy." I turned around from the dance floor and told my friends about this "knockout" that I saw on the dance floor. Much to my surprise after the music stopped I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned and it was him! The dazzling guy in the suit on the dance floor who I was admiring earlier. He asked me if I wanted to dance. I was a bit tongue tied but I did manage to blurt out "Yes!" He led me by the hand (a curious sight in retrospect because I was much taller - 6'3" than him) to the dance floor. A slow song was playing. He put his right hand in my left hand and his other hand in the small of my back and started to lead. It was natural for him to lead. Not because he was older (29 years to my 21 years) but because he was just that type of guy. He was a take charge, masculine, yet genle man who obviously saw me looking at him and decided to take advantage of the opportunity.
As I wrote in a previous blog posting, dancing with him was pure heaven. I never felt such joy before in my short life. I knew then and there the pure sensual thrill of dancing with someone who you find very sexually attractive and who had that extra "something" and Bob had "it" in spades. This guy literally took my breath away. Dancing with him I was in another world. Of course it didn't take long before I realize we were both aroused. Wow. I had never experienced anything like this before.
I have written about this experience before but I write it again because something has changed. A few months after I posted that blog (April of this year) , I heard from one of his children by e-mail. I was both surprised and thrilled. Over the many years since that fateful night of that I met Bob for the first time, I always wondered what happened to him after our affair in 1963-1964. Last week I received an e-mail from his son informing me what happened to his dad, my lover of 47 years ago. That e-mail from his son caused me to reawaken all my memories of Bob Surina all those years ago.
Me in my apartment in Coatesville, PA 1963 - the time I was seeing Bob
Much has happened in my life in the past 47 years. My memories of my magical time with this wonderful man had receded far into my past. Much of the detail I had forgotten. But now this sleeping giant of my very first love has been reawakened.
I had ended my relationship with Bob because he was married and had children. As much as I loved him I did not want to start out my life as a "mistress" to a married man. Had Bob been single we would have probably been lifetime partners. I was totally in love with him as he was with me. But back then, Bob had a family. I didn't ask him to leave is family nor did he offer to leave them. He would make the long trip from where he lived in Philadelphia with his family to where I had a small efficiency apartment in a small town 37 miles west of Philadelphia. He made that trip almost every Saturday morning or whenever else he could grab a few hours to be with me. When we were together it was like heaven. I never knew such joy as when I was with Bob. He was sweet, gentle, kind and above all, very, very sexy. He had a wonderful sense of humor. I had never experienced such happiness before in my life as I had those few short hours each Saturday morning that I used to spend with Bob. I loved spending time with him. I could tell he liked to be with me too because when we were together the outside world didn't matter. I finally found out what love meant. All those lyrics to love songs now made sense to me. They now had meaning for me because we were both in love.
I eargerly looked forward to Bob's visits. I lived for Bob's visits. However, over time I wanted to do more than just stay in my apartment. I wanted to go out. I was 21 years old and I was afraid I was missing something. Of course, now with the wisdom of time, I look back in retrospect and realize how foolish I was. The ignorance and selfishness of youth. I had both qualities in abundance I am ashamed to admit.
I eventually ended my relationship with Bob. I knew I hurt him by doing this. I guess I was selfish because I wanted him all to myself but I knew this could never be. He had a wife and three small children. Back then in the early Sixties, whem homosexuality was such a taboo subject treated with fear and paranoia, a man leaving his family (with children) for another man was unheard of. I never considered asking him to chose a life with me over his family. I was young and full of hope and confident I would meet someone who I liked as much as Bob and who was single. Some I could live my life with until the end of my time on this earth. I did meet that man the following year in July. His name is Bill and last week we celebrated our 46th year together.
However, over the years I've often wondered what happened to my first love, Bob. His son told me that his father and mother eventually divorced and Bob married again and had three more children. His son also told me that Bob had two children from a previous marriage. That meant my Bob had a total of eight children during his lifetime. Wow. He also told me that Bob died of emphysema (he smoked 3 1/2 packs of Salem cigaretts a day.) He said Bob also drank prodigious amounts of coffee. That was Bob, a bundle of high energy. I guess he felt he need a lot of stimulants to maintain his fast paced lifestyle.
His son also told me that his mother wrote a book about her marriage to Bob. He said I might find the book interesting but warned me that it didn't paint a flattering picture of his father. I went on Amazon.com and ordered the book, "I Love You This Much". I'm reading the book now. His son was right, his former wife does not paint a flattering picture of Bob. In fact, the picure she paints of Bob is of a man I did not know. I don't know whether or not to believe her and her portrayal of Bob. The "Black Devil" she describes in the book is so unlike the sweet, kind, caring and loving man that I knew all those years ago. What really blew my mind was the time period she is writing about is the same time period Bob and I were seeing each other. It is so eerie to read her physical description of Bob with his pale skin that she could see the blue veins on thes side of his forehead because those are the same blue veins I saw. She describes his "mischievious dark eyes." Those are the same eyes that I saw. She speaks of his charisma which he had in abundance. Bob could charm the pants off of just about anybody and he did me (literally.)
But this mean and vindictive man she consistently describes in her book is a man I don't recognize. I understand that she knew Bob much longer than me but I think some of her anger comes from a woman deceived. She felt betrayed. I don't blame her for feeling that way. But look at Bob's position. He wanted the All American Family and yet he was a homosexual, living a double life. The torment this poor man must have went though. I never had a hint of what he was going through when we spent those many happy hours together in each other's company at my small apartment in Coatesville, PA.
Something strange has happened to me from having my memories of Bob revived and from reading his former wife's book. I now feel very, very sad for Bob. My last communiction with Bob was in March of 1964. He wrote to me from the bowling alley he was managing in Tacoma, Washington. He told me when he received my letter his first impulse was to "hop on a plane" and fly to Pennsylvania to be with me. In his second letter he asked me to move to Tacoma, Washington. He said he had a "lot of money" and would see to it that I "had as much as you have now." He said that if I couldn't move to Tacoma, then he would send me round trip plane tickets to visit him in the fall during my vacation. He wanted me to check out the area and make a decision as to whether or not to move to Tacoma. Of course at that time my mindset was that I would never get involved with a married man. What kind of life would we lead? I would be his mistress again. I wanted a life for us together. This was impossibile because he had a family. It was out of the question. I didn't go to Tacoma. I don't even remember if I responded to his plea. I just didn't go. By this time I had met someone new (Jim) and was busy with my new life. Jim was single (lived at home with his Mom) and visited me all weekend as occasionally on weekdays. I liked Jim but I wasn't as head over heels in love with him as I was Bob but I attributed those feelings to the fact that Bob was my first love. Again, the folly and foolishness and naiveté of youth. I had no lack of those qualities at that time (still do in many respects I have to admit.)
Much has happened since that time in the spring of 1964. I broke up with Jim because he was too possessive. I met Bill in July of 1964. Bill lived in New Jersey. He would come out to my apartment in Coatesville and pick me up and take me to his apartment in Pennsuaken, New Jersey to spend the weekends. At the end of the weekend he would make the round trip to take me back to my apartment in Coatesville, PA and return to his apartment in Pennsauken, NJ. Looking back on those times I must have been a pretty desirable boyfriend to receive all that attention. But I digress.
In December of that year (1964) Bill asked me to move in with him. I was reluctant because I didn't want to be tied down. I was still young and I wanted to go out and meet people. Bill said I could still go out but just keep my activities discreet. He said it was pointless to try and restrict a young guy who was just starting out in life. He told me I would eventually tire of the bar scene (which I did some years later.) We had an open relationship. We were realistic. We loved each other. We didn't have to prove anything to anybody. We knew that.
After I got a job at a center city Philadelphia bank in February of 1965 I moved out of Coatesville and in with my new lover Bill. Bill and I eventually moved to Philadelphia. We lived a few years in Roxborough then we moved to center city Philadelphia for eleven years. I went out often to the gay bars and clubs. Sometimes I went with Bill and sometimes I went alone. I vacationed often at the gay Mecca of the East Coast, Provincetown, Massachusetts. I met many guys over those years. Some I had brief relationships and some I just became friends. I experienced much. Much happiness, some sadness. I didn't miss much. I saw many of my friends die of AIDS related illnesses.
Me in Provincetown, Mass sometime in the 1970's
In 1980 I had enough of the big city gay lifestyle. I wanted a quieter existence in the country with Bill. We sold our house in center city and moved to the country in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Actually, we didn't live too far from that efficiency apartment I had in Coatesville, PA. We also lived near my parents. I wanted to be around during their advancing years to help them if needed.
Bill and I lived in our "country house" on 7 acres of wooded land with our three Pomeranian dogs, Horace, "T" and "Babydoll" . We lived there for 25 years. In November of 2006 we sold our house and retired to Delaware, where the taxes are cheaper. In all those years, there probably wasn't a time that went by that I didn't think of Bob and how his life turned out.
Then one night,during a slow period at my hotel front desk job, I was researching Ancestry.com on the Internet for my genealogy records. I was checking the Social Security Death Index to get the dates of when some of my relatives died. The thought came to me to check to see if Bob, my first love, was on the Social Security Death Index. His name would be easy to look up because it wasn't a common name. I put in his name "Robert Surina." To my surprise his name came up immediately.
Robert Donald Surina
7 Jul 1933
20 Jun 1990
A wave of sadness immediately swept over me. Bob was gone. He had been gone for almost twenty years. Then I thought of all those years while he was still alive. Those years that I was so involved in my life that I didn't even have a moment to give him an call and ask him how he was doing. Oh how I regret now that I didn't call him. I know he would have been glad to hear me as I would him. I close my eyes and I can hear his voice now. I can see his knowing, mischievous smile. It just breaks my heart to think of him and that I will never, never see or hear him again. Gone. Gone forever.
I'm not a religious person but I do consider myself to be somewhat of a spiritual person. I'm not even sure what "spiritual" means. But I do feel that perhaps someday I will see Bob again. I am reminded of the movie Robin Williams made some years ago. It was called "What Dreams May Come." Robin Williams' character goes to heaven. He discovers that all the religions are in heaven. Everyone. You can be whatever you want to be in heaven. Whatever form, whatever age you prefer. You can stay in heaven as long as you want before you are reincarnated back to earth as a newborn child. To me this make emminently more sense that much our our obedience based organized religion teachings on earth.
Now I'm going to say something really crazy. I feel Bob's spirit is with me now. I feel his presence. I feel his warmth and love. That doesn't mean that I don't love my present partner, Bill. I do. But I feel something. Maybe it's all in my head. After all, I did fall on my head by rolling off a roof when I was just a toddler (my babysitter wasn't watching.) Whatever it is, my imagination or the real thing, it feels good. I have an inner sense of peace and tranquility. I don't know how long this will last but for right now I feel something and the only way I can explain it is that Bob knows that I miss him and he is with me now.
The mind is an amazing thing. We have the ability to fool ourselves into believing something that isn't so or we are blind to things that are obvious to others. One thing that I will always have that no one can take away from me are my memories of Bob and time we spent together. We were both supremely happy. Bob was my lover. That's what gay guys back in the Dark Ages (before the Sexual Revolution of the Sixties and Seventies) called each other who went steady....lovers. I loved Bob and he loved me.
Bob's former wife writes of her spirtiual awakening, secure in her belief that her love for Bob was valid and Bob's homosexuality was a perversion. She was wrong. Bob was trying to live two lives the way our homophobic society dictated at that time. To support his family and maintain his dignity he felt he had to portray himself as a straight family man. Yet he had his hidden desires for members of his own sex. To be homosexual is not a perversion. I was born gay. I had no choice. The same was probably true for Bob. He dealt with his homosexuality in a different way. The only perversion in our society is the way they treat members of our society who have an attract to the same sex. Thank goodness the newer generation is more realistic about gays and lesbians in our society and do not discount them as human beings but as equal to them in every aspect of freedom.
What Bob and I had during our brief time together was more than sex. We had a bond. We had a bond that was doomed by the strict societal codes of that time we were together. The relaxation of sexual codes didn't begain until the late Sixties. That was too late for me and Bob. By the time the restrictive sexual codes began to fall I was with a my partner Bill, who I dearly love. Bob was divorced and remarried and had three more children. Our brief relationship in 1963-64 was but a sweet memory.
I never thought I would feel this way about Bob again after all these years but I have to honestly admit, I miss him. I miss him more than I ever thought I would, even after all these years.
After reading his wife's book and all that was going on in his life, I just wish I could have been there for him to give him a hug and offer my support to him. Just to give him a hug and offer him comfort.
I think I may have made a difference in his life. I do believe there is a reason for everything in this life. I do believe in The Plan. I believe that some day I will again see Bob and that melt your heart smile of his. I don't know how, when or where but I do know I will. Whenever I think of Bob now I get a warm, peaceful feeling. That is how I know he is still with me.
Now that I am nearing the end of my life I am comforted by the fact that I just may experience Heaven the way Robin Williams did in his movies "What Dreams May Come." I will be in a perfect place with those people and my pets that I have loved during my lifetime. That perfect place will have no room for pain, hate and discrimination. That perfect place will be Heaven. I hope to see you there Bob. I miss you. I never stopped loving you.
Me at my computer July 2010 - 47 years later writing this blog posting