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 hope and sex and an unwavering commitment to idealism and reverie.
So we danced around reality—he and I—and played family in the rental in Davis, walking my dogs, having coffee and drinking Bailey’s—becoming grown-ups—playing Scrabble while blasting Led Zeppelin 4, and spending lazy Saturdays listening to the SF Giants game on AM radio, with him working on his 1967 Mercury Cougar in homemade t-shirts satirizing society (“I DON’T work out at Golds’ Gym” or “I’m High On Crack”). Living a love story.
For it was love, even when seen in the shade of the past, and we were perfectly timed, walking in the dreamland of youth towards a world free from our dysfunctional families—his kind-hearted dad killing himself with alcohol, my family shattering almost the very minute we met--living life within a self-propelled sweetness that our families hadn't modeled, him leaving funny poems on my pillow in the morning (“your eyes are the color of pond algae”) and me writing my first name alongside his last in my Cognitive Psychology notebook.
Then October 17, 1989, the earthquake stirred what I’d been pushing away. A life spent tiptoeing around family anger, protecting what I thought would last forever until the inevitable implosion when I'd left for college--dad crying in the armchair, mom telling me not to come home anymore—and resulting hinterland as dad moved out, and mom became unstable, making Alex do the Ouija board until that day Alex snapped and--petrified of what would happen should mom’s heart break--I tried to fix things but 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 done. And my guarded heart could not come back from it. 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 27 years. THIS year.
Because for so many years I could not stop thoughts of him, and danced around a feeling of grief for what I’d turned away from—dreaming of him at night--and struggling with near-crippling confusion at being irrevocably chained to an ever-distant past, spending my marriage in violent lust for the intimate connection that he and I had as we huddled together in warmth and humor to face the world’s abuse.
For it was magic. Truly. That time. And remains so, delivering us both as it did from trauma of our childhoods and into the safety of another experience, wherein two tender-souls stepped gingerly into love and happiness, and witnessed in each other soul-affirming kindness, tentatively allowing ourselves to believe in things that we’d never before personally experienced, and embracing a naivete and sweetness so seductive that at 47 years of age I can taste and smell the impossible magic that it was.
And even in the shadow of 27 years of confusion, and the reflection of a million lifetimes, I know now that he was worth everything. All the pain and all the confusion. Because all these years later, I see through the darkness, and know exactly why he came into my life, and in the still quiet of the night, as I dream of another, I can open my heart and love beyond measure. For he loved me and I loved him, and in reflecting goodness back to one another, we walked together through the shadows of grief.
And on this, his birthday—February 28, his 48th--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.