“I Miss Him…”
My rock has gone away.
After a three-year battle, my beloved husband Tom died at home on the morning of November 19 from cancer. He was where he wanted to be, at home—not in some skilled nursing facility—with me looking after him.
We met eight-plus years ago, in Alcoholics Anonymous. There’s a joke in AA about what’s known as the 13th step—oldtimers becoming romantically involved with newer members. In our case, it was the reverse—the newer guy got the older one in bed. One night I gave him a ride home, and he invited me in for a tumble in the hay.
Very quickly, we became a couple.
And, we were visible. Highly visible.
Tom was a bartender for many years and had worked in wineries after nearly completing a viticulture degree at Fresno State, specializing in what’s known now as enology, the science of winemaking. After he got sober, he decided he wanted to be a drug and alcohol counselor. He completed the program at Fresno City College (FCC) and interned at Turtle Lodge (the Native American recovery program here). He then realized he needed to advance his education and returned to Fresno State in 2006 to work on a degree in social work.
While he was at FCC, he got me out of my shell. It’s funny; I’m very public about my gayness in writing, but for a long time I kept a low profile out in public. On the other hand, Tom didn’t care who knew he was queer, even on the television news. As he often said, he had played with boys since he was in middle school—earlier, actually.
I think we were featured on every local TV channel at one time or another during the next few years, kissing one another or being interviewed. Mini-cams from channels 24, 26, 30 and Univision were focused on us at the Valentine’s Day rally at Fresno State five years ago when Tom grabbed ahold of me; we embraced and madly kissed.
In our small way, we were a face of commitment long before Prop 8, Meet in the Middle or the most recent March on Washington, D.C.
After he returned to Fresno State, Tom got me back on campus and involved again. There was many a Friday when I’d go out to meet him after his noon class. While he was in class, I’d go over to North Gym and get a swim in, something I hadn’t done in some years. It was invigorating, being back on campus regularly. Today, I’m active with the Alumni Association and do volunteer work on campus. I’ll be back in class this coming spring.
Tom also encouraged me to get involved in the larger Fresno community. This spring, after he completed cancer treatment and before his condition worsened, he urged me to apply to serve on this year’s county Grand Jury (something I had wanted to do for years). Because it seemed we were out of the cancer woods, I went ahead and, ultimately, I was nominated by the Superior Court judges for service. When names were drawn in June, mine was the first one, and I became the first openly gay man ever to serve.
One of the few arguments we ever had was about my withdrawing from the Grand Jury in November. Tom ended up in the hospital Halloween weekend with significant internal bleeding. He wanted to come home but he required 24/7 care, which meant I likely would have to resign from the Grand Jury. He said he’d go into skilled nursing before he’d permit me to resign. I told him he was more important than the Grand Jury, and if he really wanted to come home, that’s what would happen. We eventually reached a compromise that worked—he came home and I stayed on the jury.
In 2007, he was diagnosed with throat cancer. He battled it into remission. Radiation and chemotherapy killed the tumors, and a massive six-hour surgery removed them. That cancer was gone, but it left him with chronic pain and physical scarring.
We had talked over the years about getting married if it was ever legalized. When the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage in May 2008, we dusted those plans. We wanted to do it in the spring of 2009. In October 2008, we were featured in a story about Prop 8 in Fresno State’s Collegian newspaper. Then our unease about how the November election might go led us to get married on October 29, a few days before Prop 8 passed. A wonderful friend of ours stood as our witness.
Although Tom had his health issues, life was blissful for us. Then January 2010 came. The doctors discovered Tom had a tumor in his esophagus. It was back to the cancer wars. In many ways, Tom didn’t want to deal with the doctors again, the poking and prodding. But he did, out of his love for me.
From what others have shared, I’ve come to think Tom was moving back and forth on the edge of the next universe for awhile. A few days before Tom had the internal bleeding, our cat passed away from old age. Tom repeatedly said he could see the white tuft at the end of the cat’s tail moving around the house afterward. Several friends say people approaching death have similar visions.
Right now, I feel bad that I wasn’t in the same room with him when he passed away. I had taken an opportunity to get some computer chores done and found him when I finished. He wanted me to be doing what I was doing. And he died when he was ready, peacefully.
Our friends and neighbors have been wonderful support. I’ve been getting condolences from some very surprising places. The Fresno State University communications staff has been in touch, and the men’s water polo club sent a message that they’re thinking of me.