And it was a time of great vulnerability. But I didn’t know it then.
Because at age 20, away at college, and in love with the future, I couldn’t see anything but sex and hope and an unwavering commitment to fervor and reverie.
So we danced around reality—he and I—and played family in the rental in Davis, walking my dogs, brewing fancy coffee, drinking Bailey’s—becoming grown-ups—setting up the Scrabble game while blasting Led Zeppelin, lying in on the weekends, our lazy Saturdays spent with AM radio telling of the SF Giants, and him tinkering under the hood of his 1967 Mercury Cougar in homemade t-shirts satirizing society (“I DON’T work out at Golds’ Gym” or “I’m High On Crack”). Both making a world for ourselves, living a love story we were writing on our own.
And we were so tender, he and I; babies who had lived inside lives unbecoming our gentle hearts–him with the role of tending his sweet father who was succumbing to alcoholism, and me literally having my family explode the minute I stepped off to college—and we were so perfectly timed, growing towards one another as we lived within a protected sweetness that our families hadn’t modeled, removing ourselves from the life we didn’t want to see, reflecting back to one another the safety of kindness and humor and gentle days, Fool in the Rain playing as letter tiles were chosen, him leaving funny poems on my pillow in the morning (“your eyes are the color of pond algae”), me writing my first name alongside his last in my Cognitive Psychology notebook.
But October 17, 1989 came, and the earthquake stirred all that I’d been pushing away, and in mere moments, the entire trajectory of my broken family burned inside me, dad crying in the armchair, mom telling me I wasn’t welcome to come home, dad moving out, mom unstable, making my younger sister Alex do the Ouija board until that day Alex snapped and ran away from the house (that in just two months she’d be inside when it shook into its death) with me following, trying to fix the world I didn’t want to end, petrified of what could happen if I let her go; wanting to save us all from brokenness and still not being able to, for even the earth knew it was too late, and tossed the house down the hill, making everything cockeyed and wobbly, and smelling of the remnants of a dead family, rotting food from the tipped fridge, moldy water, smashed perfume bottles, the beloved Angel fish lying dead on the floor.
And it was too much. I had seen too many broken hearts, had lost too much for dreams to still come true, and pushed him away in the disbelief that good could even exist, and in the breakups aftermath, he cried—tears on the lashes of lovely hazel-blue eyes—and asked me why I had to leave, believing I guess that I would actually have an answer even though I didn’t know anything, and wouldn’t, not for so many years.
But, as if we both needed an answer, he stayed with me. For during my lifetime since, I could not stop thoughts of him, and did not want to, and shuffled around a feeling of grief for what I’d done and turned away from—dreaming of him at night–struggling with near-crippling bewilderment at the feeling that I was irrevocably chained to an ever-distant past, existing within my marriage in reverie for the intimate connection he and I had shared as we huddled together all those years ago in college in Davis, warmth and humor and hope and respite from a damaged world. And I could not shirk it no matter how painful it was to remember, and did not know why.
Yet here in the shadow of all these years, I see it now for what it gave me.
Because all this time later, I can push through the darkness to the beauty, and see myself for the different person I became for knowing him.
For it was magic. That time.
I loved him and I knew he loved me, and in reflecting goodness back to one another, we walked together through the shadows of grief, loving with open hearts against all probability, and nurturing a sweetness so seductive that even at 48 years of age I can still taste and smell the impossible magic that it was.
And for so long, it was a loss, but even in the remnants of 28 years and the passing of a million lifetimes, I know that he was and always will be a gift to me.
Because he changed me forever—danced upon my soul–beckoning me to emerge towards the safety of himself, and in bearing witness to his powerful love for me, I became stationary within a beautiful moment, and existed in perpetuity as witness to joy and happiness and the affirmation that I could be loved. And it was an impossible gift that I will carry with me forever.
So on this, his birthday—February 28, his 49th–I just wanted to say:
Happy Birthday, Steve. You were a safe place in a terrible storm. Thank you—my beautiful friend–for showing me how to love myself.