Monday, November 15, 2010
It got a call at 8:00 AM from the ICU nursing station at Cal Pacific Medical Center. I felt a chill in my bones even before I picked up the phone. Lane, the love of my life, had been admitted to the hospital to correct an issue with the colostomy repair surgery that had been performed a few months earlier. A stent was placed to keep his gastrointestinal tract open. I knew that Lane was running out of options, medically speaking.
To say that he had been through a hell of a lot would be a gross understatement. His abdomen, which had always been somewhat distended from the HIV medicine, became bloated even further in February of that year. Like a well-oiled machine, I bundled him in the car and took him to see his doctor. I could have done this in my sleep. The doctor recommended antibiotics; they didn’t help. In fact, his conditioned worsened. I took him to the nearest emergency room in a state of near-panic. He was then immediately sent to Cal Pacific Medical Center, given the seriousness of his condition and the availability of surgeons who had expertise in this area. He underwent a full colostomy. His colon, by this time, was necrotic and leaching toxins. When he woke up after surgery, he wasn’t sure what happened. I helped him understand, giving him the emotional support that he really needed.
The next seven months dragged on, with Lane in a protracted recovery and subsequent stay at a skilled nursing facility. When he had been away, I had these horrible flashes of insight about what life would be like without him. I knew it was coming and I cried myself to sleep most nights. Eventually, he came home and was trained on how to change his colostomy bag. I was given the task of preparing his daily nutrient infusions. Finally, he was given the word that he was healthy enough to undergo re-connection surgery. The surgery, although very difficult and protracted, was successful. I visited him, again, in the recovery room. I could tell that he was sick and tired of hospitals and just wanted to come home. I felt the same way.
Lane finally came home, for the second time. Something was different with him. He would be terribly depressed in the morning. As the hours passed, his mood would gradually improve. However, this state of affairs did not last long. His mood got progressively worse, and he would beg me, with tears in his eyes, for more antidepressants. I had to stand my ground and deny him these plaintive requests. I was working full-time, mostly from home, and was Lane’s primary caregiver. It was a lot to take on. Eventually, the day came when he had an appointment with his psychiatrist. He begged me, repeatedly, not to go. I struggled with this, but in the end, I knew that he needed to keep his appointment. It came as no surprise when his psychiatrist recommended involuntary psychiatric commitment (also known as a “5150”). Lane refused to see me while he was interned for the mandatory 72 hours. I think that was one of the lowest moments in either of our lives.
I answered the phone after the third ring. The nurse on the other end of the line was all business, no-nonsense. “I think you should get here within an hour; Lane’s condition has worsened,” said the nurse, with some insistence. “I’ll be there in about an hour and a half,” I replied. “The sooner the better,” she answered, flatly. I knew what that meant. This was going to be Lane’s last day. What I had dreaded for months, and even years, was coming to pass.
I hung up the phone, bent down to kiss my dog, Snowball, and drove to the hospital in San Francisco. I found the ICU and then I found Lane, wearing that awful green hospital gown, lying peacefully in his bed, with tubes and machines attached. He was in a coma. I had seen him the prior day, and while he was delirious, he partially recognized me. I called his friend, Barbara and told her what happened. She arrived with prayer beads and began chanting daimoku with a serene expression on her face. She took two pictures of me holding his hand. I then called his friend, Jim, who had been there that fateful day when Lane and I first met. Eventually, all three of us were standing around Lane’s bed. Jim was an emotional wreck, and his tears were genuinely heart-wrenching. He had come up with a plan to rotate our visits, so that I wouldn’t have to stay the entire day. I politely declined. My mood was somewhere between Barbara’s spiritual acceptance and Jim’s devastating sadness. I had to hold it together or I would have collapsed, physically as well as emotionally.
Eventually, they both left. Lane as moved to a private room on the fifth floor. It was huge and filled with sunlight. The tubes and machinery were removed. It was only a matter of time before he was going to leave this life behind. I paced back and forth, not knowing what to do, with memories of the past eight years racing through my mind. Oh Lane, we’ve seen our fair share of hospitals, haven’t we?
We met, for the very first time, in October 1999 at The Mint Karaoke Lounge in San Francisco. I had been coming to The Mint for a few months already, after my “initiation” at The Metro bar a few years earlier. I enjoyed the music and the company of like-minded individuals. However, I hadn’t been dating anyone for over a year, and it seemed to me that I was entering a dry spell. The bright spots in my life were work, friends, travel, and karaoke. But Mr. Right was elusive.
I was on stage at The Mint, singing some Sinatra tune, when I noticed that there were two men sitting very close to the stage, one of them noticing me, intently. I smiled back, weakly. After the song ended, the one with the steady gaze approached me, introduced himself as Lane, and give me a nice compliment. He also introduced his friend, Jim. Lane was impressed with my vocal talents and wanted me to audition for his a capella doo-wop group, The Starry Knights. I sized him up immediately. A little taller than I, very handsome and well put together, with light brown hair, neatly combed, and dark, penetrating eyes that miss nothing. I was immediately drawn to him, not only by his very attractive appearance, but also his completely forthright, no-nonsense, “let’s-get-to-business” attitude. I found this extremely refreshing. He’s not a flake, thank God. I took his business card, chatted with him for a bit, and then he left.
Lane later confided to me that while I was on stage, Jim had poked him the side and whispered, “you like him, don’t you?” I knew none of that at the time, except for the fact that I really liked Lane. There was a connection evident at that first meeting.
For the next two and a half years, our friendship bloomed and flourished, centered around singing and philosophical discussions at The Mint. I would wait outside just to catch a glimpse of him walking up the street towards the bar. He would get to within a hundred feet and then I would run to him, calling out his name. We would embrace, look into each other’s eyes, and make our way to The Mint. It should have been evident that this was no ordinary friendship, but sometimes the mind works in strange ways. I knew that Lane was involved in a long-distance relationship, and that he wanted to move to New Jersey to be closer to this mysterious man, and to possibly rekindle his acting career. Instinctively, I knew that this would not work out, and after three grueling months, Lane came home, just before the tragic events of September 11th, 2001. We picked up just where we left things, and our friendship continued apace.
Shortly afterwards, I was notified that my company had offered me a job in Denver at my San Francisco salary. We had merged with a larger firm, and the San Francisco office would be vacated by early 2002. It was an attractive offer, but I had already purchased my home and wasn’t keen on moving, yet again. I declined the offer. My last day was March 31, 2002. My intention was to travel for six months to a year, and then start looking for work. My first travel destination was going to be Kailuia-Kona, on the island of Hawai’i. Although I was used to traveling alone, I decided that I would invite Lane to come along with me. This seemed to be a friendly gesture on the surface. However, my subconscious wanted to take things to the next level. He agreed, immediately.
I had no idea how fast things would change between the two of us.
I was still pacing in that over-sized private hospital room. The minutes ticked by slowly, agonizingly. It seemed as though Lane’s breathing was slowing down, but I wasn’t really sure. I wasn’t sure about anything now. I wanted so much to be able to say goodbye, but all I could do was hold his hand and whisper words of love. I have to hold it together, for the both of us. I thought about Hawai’i and closed my eyes…
From the moment I arrived, I was in love with Hawai’i. I would go exploring on the island and then fall asleep to the sound of the ocean waves. But I was alone, as planned, for the first two days. On the third day, I drove to the airport to pick up Lane. I was irritated with him, as he had not followed my carefully laid out plans. Still, I was happy to see him. We picked up his luggage and drove back to the one bedroom, two bathroom, oceanfront condo. After giving him a tour of the place, I helped him unpack. He disappeared into his bathroom. He then reappeared, making his romantic intentions perfectly clear, in the most unambiguous way possible. We embraced and our lips met. We both had all of these feelings bottled up, for years, and then, by some magical Hawaiian twist, we let them explode outwards, enveloping us in a cocoon of the deepest, most passionate love possible. We began as a couple from that halcyon day forward. It was April 6, 2002. A date that I will never forget.
MORE TO COME!