Monday, February 9, 2009

Why I ...

The other day I read sunshines's post about friends who are gay and the issues around their growing up and coming out. It reminded me of one of the reasons why I am not very tolerant of people who discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.

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, 1996

Dear Dan,
Remembering your fondness for sci-fi, thought you'd like this one. No guarantees on the shirt being the right size, though!

Not a bad way to remember your friend.


  1. If only all of us could even just one person who, at the end of their life, remember us fondly. What a gift you gave each other in that friendship.
    Beautiful post.

  2. This brought tears to my eyes. It was a loving, beautiful tribute to your friend and full of lovely thoughts that I wish everyone in the world could share.

  3. So sad :( I'm just like you when it comes to judging people for their sexual orientation. I just don't do it. I've always said how do we know what straight people do in their bedrooms? And why is everyone so worried about what gay people do in theirs? It's none of our business and I hate when people try to use it again someone. Your friend sounded wonderful. I would have been proud to say he was my friend too. What a lovely post. You just got stuck with me forever over this one :)

  4. That was so beautiful and it says volumes about your character, in a very, very good way.

  5. I don't know what to say but feel compelled to make some remark, what a beautiful post and a beautiful tribute to your friend.

  6. That is an amazing story! I hope that more people protect themselves from getting the AIDS/HIV virus and educate others on it also. It is a very serious disease that affects everyone not just homosexuals like everyone assumes. My BFF is a gay man whom I love dearly. Thank you for sharing this!

  7. I don't know why your blogs aren't showing up in my feeder more often.

    Anyhoo - I loved this post. Amazing to say the least. It says so much about your character as a man to not care what others think. Especially back then when people were less tolerant than today.

    I have a story a little similar to this, that maybe one day I'll write about.


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