Saturday, April 06, 2013

Alice and Joanne

Girard Bowling Banquet - 1968. Me to the far right - my date Alice next to me holding my trophy and Joanne sitting next to Alice. The body language tells the whole story.  Alice was my date, Joanne wanted to be my date.  Her boyfriend (and eventual husband) is sitting at the far end of the bench.  His name was also "Ron."  Introduced them to each other.

Most of my romantic blog postings have been about men but believe it or not folks, I have had lady friends.  In fact, back in my prime, I had quite a following which did prove a problem because while I always had the eye for the guys, the ladies had the eye for me.

Two of my favorite women friends were Alice and Joanne.  Both are in the photo at the top of this blog.  In this posting I will tell the story of me and Alice.  In a future posting I will tell the story of me and Joanne.

I met Alice when she came to pick me up from Personnel when I was hired as a remittance clerk in 1965 at Girard Bank in Philadelphia.  Alice was my new boss's secretary.  I liked her immediately. She was friendly, funny and, as you can see, very attractive.

As I got to know her I found that we had a lot in common except for the fact that she was straight and I was gay.  Our personalities were very similar.  She was honest and straight forward and had a wonderful, sense of humor and not at all conceited in spite of the fact that she was very beautiful and had a figure that most women envied and caught the eye of many of my straight male friends.  


Alice and I out on one of our many lunch dates

Alice and I became best friends.  I felt comfortable with her because she never pushed me for a more intimate relationship yet I felt that she eventually expected that to happen.  To me Alice was more like the sister I never had.  We did so much together.  We bowled on the same bowling team and even won the championship in 1968 (see above photo).  We both worked as campaign volunteers on the Bobby Kennedy campaign until he was assassinated.  We went to lunch a couple times a week.  We both rode the bus together to and from work from Roxborough, PA.  Alice and I had many good times together, sans sex.

However there came a time when she saw our relationship was going no further and she met someone else.  His name was Juergen.  He was tall like me and had the same teasing sense of humor that I have.  Alice and Juergen eventually got married.  Alice left work and she and Juergen adopted a little Korean girl who she named Allison.  
Alice and her daughter Allison - 1972
One day she brought her daughter into work to meet me.  I was out to lunch.  Alice, knowing how anal fussy I was about my work area and desk, told me when I returned from lunch that she had to change Allison's diaper on my chair!  Well, actually she didn't but she know she would get a rise out of me by telling me that.  That was the kind of relationship we had, like brother and sister.


Allison sitting at my desk while I was out to lunch
Alice and I continued our relationship as friend even though she no longer worked at the bank.  She would call occasionally to go out to lunch.  Now that I think about it, I don't think I ever called her for lunch.  I guess that was pretty selfish of me but at that time I pretty self-involved (like I'm not now.)  

We would exchange Christmas cards and birthday cards and occasionally she would call me to commiserate with me about her latest family issues and catch her up on the gossip about her former co-workers at the bank.  


Alice with her friend Diane 12-23-1968 at me and Bill's apartment in Roxborough, PA. - my favorite ship painting is in the background

Then one day she called me on a Friday.  This was when I was working at a different bank.  I had been job eliminated at Girard/Mellon Bank and was working at Fidelity Bank, right across Broad Street in Philadelphia.  It was Friday and I missed her call but she left me a voice message.  I was so busy and concerned about catching my commuter train at the end of the day that I didn't return her call.

That Sunday I saw a message on my answering machine at home.  I turned it on and it was from her husband Jeurgen.  His message said that Alice had died.  He said she went into her daughter's bedroom, and put a gun into her mouth and killed herself.  I didn't believe him.

He said her viewing would take place the following Thursday in Roxborough.  I didn't believe him.  

I knew Jeurgen was a great practical joker but I thought this time he went too far.  I told Bill "I'm going to go to that viewing just to show Jeurgen up."  I really didn't believe that Alice had killed herself.  She was one of the most gentle persons I've ever known.  Another reason was she was Catholic and she was very religious.  I just didn't believe it.




Comes the day of the viewing. It was a hot August day in Roxborough at a funeral home on Ridge Avenue where the viewing was being held.  I walked in the front door still not believing that this was real then I saw Jeurgen.  He was standing beside Alice's closed coffin.  He was shaking people's hands who were standing a line to pay their respects to him and Alice.  I got into line.  When I got to Jeurgen, he took one look at me and I looked at him and we both lost it.  He went one way and I went the other way, into a side room.  I completely lost my composure as did he.  In fact, I'm choking up now even writing about this.

That was when I discovered the purpose of all those side rooms where funeral viewings are held. A place to the bereaved to gather themselves together.  

When I got myself together again I went over and talked to Jeurgen.  He told me that Alice probably killed herself because she was very depressed.  He said her Mother had just died, and that Alice was going through her change of life (she was 49 at the time as was I), she was under a lot of pressure because they were in the process of putting both of Jeurgen's parents into a nursing home, she was overwhelmed keeping up two houses one in Roxborough and their house in Ocean City, New Jersey and the problems of raising their two kids (Alice and Jeurgen later adopted a Korean boy they named "Charles.)  He said he didn't know why Alice took such a violent way out and why she killed herself in her daughter's bedroom.

Then I lost it again.  I saw both of Alice's children standing in the back, stunned, and dressed like they were going to Sunday school.  Allison was 10 years old and Charles 8 years old.  When Jeurgen introduced us the first thing Charles said was "Oh, you're the man with the dogs."  Charles was referring to the fact that every year I sent out Christmas cards of me with our Pomeranian dogs.  I don't know why but that combination of their Sunday school clothes, and not fully understanding what was going on with the viewing but they did know me as "the man with the dogs."  I lost my composure again and had to return to the side room.


"The Man With the Dogs"
Later, when I had a chance to think clearly about Alice's suicide I thought what a selfish thing for Alice to do.  Of course I felt bad for her, feeling trapped like she did and no way out, but to do that to her family.  I just couldn't comprehend it.  Alice was not like that.  She was sweet, gentle and caring.  To this day I don't understand why she would take such drastic action.  After all suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.  

When I got home I got to thinking a little more then I started to feel guilty.  Alice had called me and left a message on my voice mail to call her back. She did sound concerned but I dismissed that because lately she was always sounding that way.  But now I wondered, "What would have happened if I did call her back?"  You know folks, to this day that question has haunted me.  

I was reminded of Alice's suicide because today I heard that Pastor Rick Warren's 27 year old son committed suicide. See here for the story.  

Pastor Rick Warren is the author of "A Purpose Driven Life."  I haven't read his book but I do subscribe to his theory that we must all have a purpose in life.  I know what my purpose is, to live my life openly as a gay man and to dispel the hate and fear that is often directed towards gay men and women by showing people that I am just like they are, the only difference being that I am sexually attracted to men.  My purpose in life is to make people happy.  Love, simple as that.   

There have been times when I have been depressed and even a few times when I wanted the pain of loneliness to end but whenever I felt myself slipping down that slope I would think of Alice and what she did.  I could never do that to my family.  One time I even came as close as getting into my car in a closed garage and turning on the engine but then the image of my Mother came into my mind and I pictured her at my funeral....I just could not do that to her.  

 These days as more and more of my friends and relatives are leaving me, I wonder how I would feel when I am alone again.  Bill has often said that when I'm gone he has no reason to live.  And to be quite frank about it, I think I would feel the same way if he was gone before me.  Then I would be just one of those sad old gay men who lives by themselves. I would hope I wouldn't feel like that but the thought does cross my mind during our recent spate of medical situations.  

Tomorrow I will tell the story of Joanne.  That one has a happier ending.  














20 comments:

  1. As soon as you mentioned Alice's name, I remembered the story. It is so sad that a beautiful mother and wife had to do this to herself but I can understand it in a weird way. Maybe she just wanted to say goodbye to you without letting you know she was going to take her life? Did you stay in touch with her husband and children?

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    1. Nadege,

      Alice was my one true relationship with a woman. If I was straight, we would have been husband and wife. However, I have always believed that it would be wrong to get married when I was gay. Sooner or later there would be a problem and I just didn't want to ruin my life or the woman's life I would have married, especially such a sweet and gentle soul like Alice, who was so much like me in temperament and personality. It just wouldn't be fair.

      Yes, over the years I have stayed in touch with her husband annually by sending and receiving Christmas cards. Two years ago I called Jeurgen (who has since remarried) and had a long conversation with him. I never did know his kids, only having seen Allison once when Alice brought her into my workplace and changed her diaper at my desk (a joke which she so enjoyed playing on me). I only saw Charles once and that was at Alice's funeral. Jeurgen told me that Charles turned out to be a wild and uncontrollable kid who had long since left home. He said Allison had married and had a family and was doing well.

      I was thinking of calling him again and offering to send him the photos I have of Alice. I don't think he's ever seen them.

      The memory of Alice and our special friendship has never left me. Many a time I've just wanted to call her and share the latest gossip and news and tease her. We had that kind of relationship. These days I would tell her about all my ailments and the "joys' of getting older. I miss her even to this day.

      Ron

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  2. Sad! To lose a beautiful friend. I know it's like having an enchanted pool unfairly and inexplicably drained away. It happens. I hate it. My condolences, Ron.

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    1. Geo,

      You're right, losing such a beautiful (in mind and body) friend was a life changing event for me. In some ways Alice's death saved my life. There were a few times where I descended to the depths of depression but when I thought of the path Alice took to end her pain, I knew I could not do that to my family. There was one time especially that I may tell the story some day. It was always too painful to tell but maybe I will before I leave under natural circumstances. Then maybe again I will see Alice again and tell her I was sorry that I didn't return her call. That will never go away.

      Ron

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  3. menopause does strange things to your mind (ask me how I know this).

    interesting story; wonder whatever happened to her husband and kids? and yes, she was beautiful.

    other observations - the 60s clothes/hairstyles, the macrame (!) plant holders, you with a cigarette (just like your dad's pix in the previous post).

    I too had been looking forward to bobby kennedy's presidency; he was murdered the day I graduated 8th grade (catholic school, don'tcha know). nothing was ever the same after 1968.

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    1. Anne Marie,

      You're very observant. Yes, this was the Sixties, a special time in my life.

      Over the years I've stayed in contact with Alice's husband Jeurgen by exchanging Christmas cards. A couple of years ago he called me and we had a long conversation. He told me that his son Charles was a wild kid and left home long ago. He said that Allison had married, had children and was doing well. I never got to know Alice's kids. Only met Allison that once when Alice brought her into where I work and changed her diaper on my chair (big joke, we both laughed at).

      Alice and I were working at the Kennedy headquarters in center city Philadelphia, across from the bank where we worked, that night that Bobby Kennedy was shot. We were manning the telephones. When the announcement was made we were shocked into silence. All of us volunteers left that night, stunned. I have never forgotten that night. That was the last time I ever worked for a political campaign. You're right, nothing was the same after 1968.

      Ron

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  4. This is a very sad story. I suspect Alice could not understand how her actions would affect those who loved her. When people get to that point in their grief and depression, they don't think very clearly. I'm so sorry you lost your dear friend in this way.

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    1. Java,

      I'm sure Alice didn't fully realize how her actions would affect others. All of us who knew and loved her just could not believe that she would do something so violent. That was not in her personality. She was such a gentle and loving person. You are right though in that some people get to that point in their grief and depression that they feel trapped and don't see a way out. They just want the pain to end. I've been there, I know. But fortunately for me when that did happen to me I thought of the path Alice took and realized that I could never do that to my family, Bill or anyone else who cared for me. Somehow, someway I would get through my pain......and I did. Today I am fully vaccinated. I have periods and bouts of depression but never would I take such drastic action unless I had some kind of really awfully terminal illness that I saw no way out. But for a perfectly healthy person to do away with themselves, I just don't see it. Sooner or later the pain dissipates.

      Ron

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  5. what a sad and terrible story. Such sorrow. I feel your pain.

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    1. Dr. Spo,

      Like the memory of my Mother, Alice has never completely left me. I feel certain I will see here again someday. I do.

      Ron

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  6. OMG, Ron. I wasn't prepared to read what happened to her. How utterly horrible! It's stating the obvious to say how devastated you must have been, and without a doubt some mental scars are still there.

    Btw: You may wish to correct the typo you've made towards the end of the last para but 3 (or4?) - at the end of the sentence preceding "My purpose in life is to love, simple as that" - which, in other circs might be funny, but not now. (Hope I've explained the location clearly enough.)

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    1. Ray,

      Thanks for the notice of the correction, a Freudian typo for sure. What I wanted to convey that I feel my purpose in life is to created happiness and make people feel good about themselves. I'm not always successful, especially with bad or evil people but overall I try to leave a trail of smiles behind me.

      Yes, the mental scars are still with me. I have never been able to get the thought out of my mind "What would have happened if I returned her call that Friday." Alice often called me when she was having marital problems and we would talk about it. That day I just didn't have time and then I forgot about her call that weekend until I received Jeurgen's message on my answering machine. That guilt will be with me the rest of my life.

      Ron

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    2. Yes, I can fully understand what you say, Ron. Without saying that I can KNOW what it feels like (because I don't) I do certainly feel FOR you.

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    3. Ray,

      Sometimes I think that when I die and if there is an afterlife I could ask Alice "Would I have made a difference?" That is a question that will go unanswered the rest of my life.

      Ron

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  7. Ron,

    You say, "But for a perfectly healthy person to do away with themselves", you don't get it. Perhaps she wasn't as healthy as you though. Some people have a depression problem that blanks out reality for them, even though to many they appear very normal and happy. But the depressions are terrible and especially aggravated if there are real issues surrounding them. I think you know why I say this. It is a tragic story.

    Personally, I always felt everything changed on November 22, 1963.

    Lar

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    1. Lar,

      What I meant to say was "physically healthy." I'll go back and correct that wording. Of course Alice wasn't mentally healthy, something I didn't realize until it was too late. You know I understand that someone who appears to be "healthy" can have serious mental health problems. I think we all have that condition to some extent, some worse than others.

      You are right about November 22, 1963.

      Ron

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  8. Ron,
    Suicide has touched my life too many times.
    My grandfather on my father's side was the sole pastor of a large church in Boyertown PA in the 1950's. He suffered from terrible back pain and from the few details that I've been told he simply took too much of his pain meds and that was that. Both of his sons were married and settled, but my grandmother had to move out of the parsonage and learn to live on her own. So unfair to her.
    My uncle on my mother's side was named Ronald Coleman lastname. I believe you are also a Ronald Coleman. Uncle Ronnie was 54, never married, living with his parents, when he took a shotgun and put it in his mouth and pulled the trigger. What he was thinking no one knows. The family was very religious; I've often wondered if he was gay and didn't know what else to do.
    I can't imagine being so down and out that suicide would see, like a logical idea, and I can't imagine leaving my kids with that legacy.
    Thanks for your blog and your openness.
    Karen

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    1. Karen,

      I too cannot imagine leaving your children and family with the legacy of guilt that suicide provides. Maybe if one had a terminal illness and lived alone, I could see an assisted suicide but I just don't understand the other kind of suicide. But it probably as a good friend of mine said, a mental illness. When one has no hope or purpose to continue living, then maybe and then I'm not even sure of that. I for one could never put a gun in my mouth and shoot. It might not work. I remember seeing a young guy when I lived in Downingtown some years ago who had a deformed face, no chin. I asked my boss what happened to him. He told me that that young man put a gun in his mouth and tried to kill himself but only succeeded in blowing off his bottom chin.

      You uncle Ronald may have been gay. I know and have heard of many gay men who had such guilt feelings that they wanted to kill themselves rather than face the humiliation of people knowing they were gay. I never felt that way. I've never felt bad about being gay. My depression always came from loneliness which had nothing to do with being gay. I do fear being alone when I grow older. But I would hope that I would have enough in my life to give me a purpose for living. We shall see.

      Thanks for sharing your story Karen.

      Ron

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  9. Anonymous4:40 PM

    Ron, I stumbled upon your blog while researching retirement in Delaware. I hope your medical treatments are a success and you have a quick recovery.

    Your coming out story was very interesting. My husband and I are PFLAG members and hear others' stories. They are as unique as each individual. My stepson also had a difficult time coming out to us as an adult, even though we were supportive. These days, the kids are coming out younger and younger and support is available in the schools (at least here in the NYC metro area).

    Such a touching story about your friend Alice. My uncle also committed suicide a few years ago, at age 70. He was having marital problems but aside from that no one expected or knew why. You can never know what is in someone else's mind, and you should not feel guilty over Alice either. The fact is that they wanted to control their destinies and each accomplished their own end, albeit violently. We are left with questions and memories. Keep the memories and let the questions (and guilt) go.

    You sound like someone I would enjoy knowing, and I will continue to read your blog if you don't mind.

    Take care and be well, Judy

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    1. Judy,

      Thank you for your comment. You are right that each coming out story is different and unique. I personally didn't have any qualms about coming out but others did including my Mother who didn't take it well. Over time she came to "accept" the fact that her oldest son was gay but I suspect she always felt she had done something wrong in raising me. She didn't. She was the best Mom ever.

      I can sort of understand how someone can be driven to suicide. You get so depressed and you feel there is nothing worth living for anymore and you see no way out. I few times I felt like that but quickly pulled myself out. Unfortunately for some people, they are unable to do that. What I never understood about my friend Alice's suicide is why she took the violent way out. She was always so gentle. That is something I will never understand.

      Thank you again for all your kind comments.

      Ron

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