The Story Of the Nice and Caring Guy
One of my college friends was Tris, a big bear of a guy who was also one of the gentlest people around. We had been aquaintences for a while since he lived down the hall from me in the fraternity. Later on he moved upstairs and we became friends following one Saturday when during the normal "stop by everyone's room to see what is going on" shuffle, I found him cowering behind the couch in his suite. It soom became apparent that he was having a bad trip and needed talking down. So we talked for a bit and then I convinced him to get bundled up and we'd go for a walk. It was late Janruary and the temperature was 20 below and there was 5 feet of snow on the ground, so getting ready to go out was important. Tris and I walked around the campus and the woods and the river, talking for several hours. By the time we got back to the house, he was down and calm, so I deposited him back at his room and went on my way. A couple of days later he stopped by to say thanks (actually, he literally said "you saved my life.")
Over the next couple of years we became friends and continued to correspond in the off-hand way that friends use after college. It had been vaguely apparent during college that Tris was either gay or bisexual. I figured it was none of my business either way. Pretty much, I make my friends in a sex and orientation blind way - male, female, in between, it makes no difference to me. That was the case with Tris.
Sure enough, a few years later Tris held a committment ceremony with his SO Jeff. They were as committed to each other as any married couple I know. Seeing their committment to each other solidified in my mind the belief that everyone had a right to be together with the one they loved, regardless of sexual orientation.
Tris and I corresponded less often over the next few years as life interfered. Tris was a kindergarden teacher and speech therapist in Atlanta. L and I were both involved in our careers and living on the West Coast. Shortly after we moved back here to Colorado, Tris wrote to let us know that Jeff had died. Like any of us would be if we lost our spouse, he was broken hearted and bereft. Perhaps more so because Jeff had died of AIDS and Tris was HIV positive. So Tris retreated from the teaching that he loved and took to writing. This was still early in the AIDS epidemic and Tris wanted to take no chances that he might be a risk to the kids he taught.
Around the time of a college reunion, Tris was quite ill, too ill to attend. Through some of our other friends (one of whom happened to be a producer for CBS who had just produced a special on HIV) he found a different treatment regimen and rallied. Tris regarded those extra years as a gift from above that he was forever thankful about. He spent much of his extra time involved in community efforts and charities in the Atlanta area.
In July of 1996, I got a short note from Tris telling me to watch for a package from him. At he end of the month I got a box. Inside the box was a book, a fraternity T-shirt from our long ago college days, and a letter. The letter still brings tears to my eyes today. In it, Tris explained that by the time I read the letter, he would be dead. His doctors estimated he had less than a month to live at best. He didn't want to burden his brother who would be handling his estate, so he had taken the things he wanted those who had been his friends to have to remember him by, boxed them up, and prepared them all for shipping. That way his brother just had to take the boxes to the post office after he died. He wanted to make sure that it was mailed after he died, so that we all wouldn't be calling and as he put it "acting maudlin." And he did all this in the final weeks of his life while in immense pain.
So anytime I hear someone making disparaging remarks about gays, I think of my friend Tris. A man so gentle he was a beloved kindergarten teacher. A man who wouldn't hurt a fly. A man who loved all no matter what their creed or orientation. A man so gentle and sharing and caring that he didn't want his brother to have to deal with his estate and so he boxed and addessed and weighed and ... during the last week of his life while in pain and agony. And then I think that the haters who would make such remarks aren't worthy of sharing the planet with people like Tris.
The book that Tris sent me is in my library today. It is a signed copy of Michael Bishop's Unicorn Mountain, which features a character from Atlanta dying of AIDS amidst others. In the flyleaf, Tris left his final words to me in a short note:
July, 1996Not a bad way to remember your friend.
Remembering your fondness for sci-fi, thought you'd like this one. No guarantees on the shirt being the right size, though!