Fifteen years. One third of my life. Tom's been gone for 15 years now and it seems like just yesterday that we said goodbye to him. In those 15 years, I've mourned, I've fought addiction to meth and a host of other chemicals, I've gained and lost and I've cried. I've also moved from San Francisco, I've gotten clean and sober, I've made new friends, earned my master's degree, bought my first house, and adopted my loving pups.
None of the latter would have been possible without the former. Tom changed my life in ways that, fifteen years later, I am still only beginning to realize. I hear his laughter in so many voices, I see the smile in his eyes in so many faces. When I'm down, I remember the nights sitting in the window of the front room while he rubbed my feet and we watched the lights of SF and the Bay Bridge. I remember telling him of my fears and hopes and dreams. I remember the unwavering support he gave me. I remember the day he died, how I was too late to the hospital to hear his voice one more time.
Tom was the family I chose. In life we have the family we are given and the family we choose. Sometimes the family we are given doesn't accept us for who we are, or only accepts us with conditions. The family we choose accepts us unconditionally for who we really are, and where we are in our journey.
Over the weekend, I got to spend time with some of the family I choose at Gay Days. I met a cool couple, J and M. M had turned 21 the day before I met him and is just the sweetest kid. I hung with these guys over the weekend and we had lots of laughs. We went out to dinner one night and M started to tell me he could never come out. His family would never accept him, so he planned that for the rest of his life he would not come out.
I told him that his journey was just beginning and then even though it might seem now that his family would never accept him, families often surprise us. And then I told him about the family we choose. I told him that he was going to develop friendships that would last his lifetime and those friends would accept him for just who he was. I told him to live his adventure, cuz we get only one, and his was going to be amazing. As we sat there talking, the tears streamed down his face and it was clear that this sweet young guy was getting it. I remembered all the talks I'd had with Tom when I was in my early 20's and he in his late 30's. It took me a while to "get it" but finally I had and was able to actually share it in a meaningful way with another young gay man.
To say that I'm over the loss Tom, would be a lie. I think of him often, and always with gratitude. It's been 15 years, one third of my life. You wouldn't think I'd still cry over him, over the loss, but I do. It took me 3 days to write this, if that is any indication. All I really know is that I am a better man because Tom loved me. I'm not sure anyone will ever love me like that again. Sometimes, I care about that, but mostly, I realize I was very lucky to have that once in my life. If it is never my turn again, I'm ok with that...mostly :-) The family I choose will carry me though.