Let me tell you about some of my “Best Friends” from the past along with a little story with each so you understand why I feel so lucky to have had them in my life:
One day we went trekking for an abandoned hornet’s nest for a school project of hers. We found one just along the fence line out in back of her home, but it was live. Did we care? With hornets trailing behind us, and that nest attached to a broken tree branch, we ran like hell back to her place hopping a fence in the process, bagged that nest and ran inside with not a single sting between us. There was however a nice cloud of hornets completely pissed at having their condominium stolen. A couple of days later she took it to school. I hope she got a good mark for that one.
One of my first rock concerts was STYX in 1981, and Lynda was there at my side in where else, but the gray section of Maple Leaf Gardens rocking on without a care in the world. Lynda learned of my sexual orientation later in life and accepted it without question or judgment, and aside from my parents, I needed that from “her”. She loved my parents, and my parents loved her like a daughter. Throughout our friendship, Lynda and I disagreed on many things, but we were close enough that we could argue, and we might be “miffed” at each other, but that would be it. We set our individual boundaries and we both respected each other all that much for it. While we are not bosom buddies today, we are in touch, and we both know and appreciate this friendship, and I think of her more often than I bet she would ever imagine. There is nothing that I would ever trade for the life experiences I’ve had with Lynda.
By the way, I slammed our back garage door on her finger once and she slapped my face and said “I hate you Bobby Brook”. I’m still in therapy over it, but I love her anyway, and I think she was lying because we were playing in her sandbox the next day.
Dave and I became friends at Deer Bay Park where both our families camped by the season. We were summertime pals (his older brother Rick and my brother John hung around). There wasn’t much Dave and I didn’t do together. We swam, we boated, we fished, we water skied, we hiked, we played, we laughed, and we camped out overnight on the islands at the head of Deer Bay. Dave and I probably experienced enough of what two young boys growing up together during the summer months could experience. I have a story too long to tell here, but let’s just say that our parent’s insistence that we take a first aid kit with us on a campout journey came in damned handy to say the least. That camping adventure is a story I tell at length as being one of the most memorable camping experiences I’ve ever had. It’s hilarious and painful at the same time. I mean, how can you lose a boat, burn a 2 foot diameter hole in a sleeping bag, get a soaker, set fire to an island, and receive enough cuts and bruises to grant any parent the right to refuse permission for a repeat outing? Dave and his family lived in Toronto, so our friendship was very summer-based, but I remember well visiting him in Scarborough and cycling to the Scarborough Bluffs where we climbed up and slid down those things all day long. We scourred the shorelines of Lake Ontario and returned home with glass fishing net floaters, and all kinds of smooth rocks. We were inseparable friends, and the memories are forever.
Gary’s relationship with his foster family was strained, and he came to live with us. We’d bicycle the several miles to work and back, and learned fast what hard work was, and that hard work meant income. When we weren’t working on the house, we were busy refinishing my father’s mahogany inboard boat. It was an 18 foot cruising masterpiece from the old days, with a massive 8 cylinder engine located in the middle. We stripped varnish and paint, sanded that baby, re-grouted the decks, and coated it with new varnish and paint making it ready for the summer in even finer condition than it was before. Gary and I also spent a great deal of time bicycling around Bridgenorth, or in and back from Peterborough, but we were at that age that hitchhiking was more desirable, and we would often be seen roadside with our thumbs out.
I had a huge crush on Gary, and I was struggling inside with sexual orientation issues. All of which confused me even more because I realized he was straight, and our friendship and his staying with us ended as he was relocated to another foster family. Thanks to Facebook, we’re back in touch again, but I’ve never forgot him or the experiences we shared together as lads in our teens growing up in the country. Thanks Gary!
The both of us matured together in many ways and I appreciate that we are still in touch, and that her reaction to my being gay was positive. I carried a lot of guilt around for many years believing that I was unfair to her knowing that I was hiding who I truly was, but we were each other’s “first” and nothing could darken or diminish what that meant to either of us.
Jim moved to Vancouver to complete the “Co-op” portion of our program in the last term of our final year. It was one of the most painful experiences emotionally because I was losing an incredible confidant, yet we spoke often, and it wasn’t too long before I was on a plane for the first time heading out for an extended weekend visit on the west coast. What a blast. I’ll never forget the inundation into the gay scene I received during those few days. I was completely blown away (pun intended) by what I experienced living in and amongst a gay community. I felt more at home with myself those days than ever before. Frightened too, because it happened all at once, but at least comfortable in my own shoes.
Jim returned to Ontario not too long after graduation, and settled in London, and it was because he lived there that I sought out employment there in the late 1980’s. Our friendship simply took over where it left off, and away from my family, and living in and amongst the gay community there, I soon fully accepted myself without regret, and entered into my first relationship.
Jim and I are friends to this day. There isn’t anything that I wouldn’t share with Jim, and I value his friendship a great deal.
We both worked hard at our jobs and put in a great deal of overtime. We were fortunate enough to travel and represent the company at many trade shows, and there wasn’t much we didn’t share, except around the issue of orientation. I knew I had fallen in love with him - something I doubt he truly knew or understood. He asked me once if I was gay, telling me that if I was it was OK with him, but I lied. I wasn’t able to truly admit it to myself with any great degree of pride then, and I was so afraid that our friendship would end. In retrospect, I should have been truthful that day. Michael met a wonderful girl, and they soon became a couple, and our friendship suffered as they will when a partnership develops. Eventually he married and had children, and for that I am pleased because his nature would make for a great father. I haven’t been in touch with Michael for years, and I wish that he knew how I truly felt then.
Losing that friendship was one of the most painful experiences in my life, and following his marriage, I became very ashamed of being gay, and went much deeper into the closet refusing a relationship or any opportunity to explore my feelings for a very long time.
Donna and I quickly became great friends and before a year had passed, I had spent time with her in her home and with her friends in Louisville. Donna and I have remained in touch since we met in the early 1980’s, and we share a history of friendship that I doubt many people are fortunate enough to experience. If we’ve done anything, we’ve bared our souls to each other, and we’ve laughed ourselves completely silly. We’ve toured New York City, attended Kentucky Derby after Kentucky Derby, partied ourselves to near forgetfulness, shopped, cried, and sat together, completely silent for a good 20 minutes staring in awe at an original Monet in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
I was with her when she slipped on a banana peel on a New York street, and I’ve stood at Colonel Sanders grave with her craving a piece of Kentucky Fried Chicken. We have gone to drag shows together (in fact she took me to my first one in Louisville), and I’ve watched steamboat races with her while sipping cocktails on the Ohio River. Donna will hold a very special place in my heart forever. Something about our meeting was right from the first second, and I would say without question that if I were to ever have had a child, I would wish for her to be the mother.
One night at a gay bar I was approached by a guy who said “my friend over there thinks your cute”, and I took a quick glance to where he was pointing, saw this guy, and brushed off the news with a “thanks for letting me know” kind of attitude. On subsequent nights out, I would notice this guy looking at me, and I was becoming somewhat attracted to the whole game, and on another night while seated with two friends at a table, I looked to my left and there was the hottest looking butt in black Edwin jeans at my eye level. I looked at my friends and made a comment about the hot ass, and at the same time the guy in the jeans looked over his shoulder and made eye contact with me. It was HIM. The guy I’d been playing eye games with. I learned his name was Jim. We didn’t speak all that much, but there was strong physical attraction, and with his number in hand, I promised to call him.
One week later after not being able to get up the nerve to phone Jim, I found myself out at another bar, and of course Jim was there wondering why I hadn’t called. I told him about my being nervous, and promised to call in the coming week. We both went our ways for the rest of the evening, and before I knew it, they were announcing “last call”. I was then invited by some other friends to their home just up the street to an after-bar party, and 10 minutes later I found myself in one of the most beautiful homes I’d ever been in. I was there only a short time when there standing in front of me was Jim! He explained that he rented a room here, and he took me on a tour of the house, his bedroom, and his weight room in the basement. I was beginning to like this guy very much.
Jim invited me on a date later that coming week to come back to his house for some fireside drinks and a chance to get to know each other. It was a blissful date, and one that I won’t ever forget. That was on December 6, 1990.
We soon became a couple, and I quickly learned that there was an issue with his health. A few months into our relationship Jim related to me that he had HIV (the virus that causes AIDS). His expectation was that I would leave him and be angry for withholding this information from me. His confession came as a result of him being hospitalized with a strain of pneumonia, and he knew that he shouldn’t keep the news from me any longer. It was inconceivable to me to run. I was in Love, and I was not about to have this illness jeopardize the happiness I was feeling with Jim in my life. Jim’s diagnosis was not public knowledge and in spite of many friends telling me they felt the relationship was moving “too fast”, we moved in together to our apartment on Waterloo Street six months after that first date.
Jim and I were more than your average gay couple, we truly became the absolute best of friends. We found out that we shared so much in common and yet we learned so much about life from each other that it seemed like a perfect match. We both came from small towns in the country, we both struggled with being gay, we both had a keen interest in the death care industry (Jim attended College to become a Funeral Director), and we shared the same interests in stereo equipment and what we played on it. Jim appreciated the finer things in life, and took great care of his possessions. His illness was at a stage where he was not working, but received income from available pensions, and he was happy to be the “at home” figure in the relationship, working out, eating well, and tending to his health as best he could. We were fortunate to have many fantastic friends, and our social calendar was always full it seemed. We certainly lived our lives to the fullest because we both knew that at any time, he could be stricken with a condition that would see him admitted to the hospital, and that one of those times could very well take his life. While he did experience many hospital stays during our relationship, his ability to recover quickly was uncanny, and our routines would be back on track as soon as possible, and our attitude’s positive beyond what most ever understood.
It was not all sunshine and roses however. Jim was a very complicated man, and I learned that even from his teenage days there were issues affecting him, and he sometimes acted out in ways that were not so well thought out. I became aware of, and dealt with Jim’s pathological lying. He was a convincing storyteller and fabricated a vast amount of untruths that to this day will never completely be understood. He created an imaginary world with imaginary people, and had the incredible skill to remember it all in specific detail. It wasn’t until his diagnosis with AIDS and it’s affect on his brain that the stories started to become more and more unbelievable, which led me to realize so much about other stories that I once believed. This shattered Jim as it became more difficult to trust him and his word, and he was not happy that the side of him that he nurtured and protected was now open. Still, as his dementia increased, Jim did not go the angry and uncontrollable route, but rather turned more into a little boy, happy with having the simple things in life like Dubble Bubble Bubble Gum and Fudgsicles, and never forgetting who he loved, and who loved him. Like no other could, Jim helped me deal with my father’s death one year into our relationship with great care and compassion and I will be forever grateful for having him by my side then.
As a result of Jim's dementia, our apartment was gutted by fire in March of 1993. From that point on he required constant care throughout the day until I returned from work, and the efforts of volunteers from our local AIDS service organization, home care and later the VON made possible a much better existence for us both. Jim supported me in whatever I did. When I hurt, he hurt. Likewise, he was my soul mate, and as time has passed the memories of the troubled times has become appreciatively foggy so that recollections of the good times prevail. After 3 years and one month together, Jim died peacefully in the apartment that we shared throughout our relationship. It was our home. It was where we held dinner parties, Halloween parties, and parties just for the sake of having a party. It’s where we’d sit up late at night drinking cocktails while watching London’s thunderstorms blow tree branches down the street. Here we’d sit on our porch and whistle at the good looking guys that cycled by, and it was here that we celebrated our Christmases together, where we displayed our collection of Moorcroft pottery, where we worked out, cooked dinner, watched Jeopardy, Designing Women and Golden Girls.
We played music, we danced, we laughed absolutely every day. We lived!
Dad on the other hand was a peaceful man who hid is sadness well, and was, when faced with hard times, able to look at the sunny side of just about everything. Dad loved to canoe, and he would take me on canoe trips all around Deer Bay sometimes for hours on end. He would paddle, I would sit, and we would talk, or just sit quietly taking in the silence and beauty around us. Dad taught me how to paddle a canoe, and he taught me how to fish, how to ride a bike, how to cut the grass, take out the garbage, and shovel the driveway. I learned how to pitch a tent, light a campfire, start up the camp stove without setting myself ablaze, and drive a boat. He taught me how to use a saw to cut firewood, and how to have a good laugh, tell a great joke, and entertain with personality. I owe much of my personality to him, and I often will say or do something and think “hey, that’s just how Dad would have been. When I was sixteen, My Dad and I went on a helicopter ride. We’d heard about them being offered at some public event for $10 per person for a few minutes, and while it wasn’t affordable then, he got the address of the pilot, and one day, with a $20 bill (a fortune to Dad), we drove to the farm where the heliport was. The pilot was having lunch with his wife, but with someone showing up out of the blue to commission a helicopter trip, he was eager to make some cash, and out we went to the helicopter and it took him about 15 minutes to fuel up, and prepare the craft for flight. Now Dad was a photographer, so of course he had his camera with him, so I know how it must have looked to the pilot, so after getting everything ready, he turns to Dad as says “so where do you want me to take you?” to which Dad grinningly replied “Anywhere this twenty bucks will take us” as he handed the bill to the pilot. That poor pilot was not going to make a dollar off this flight, but he loaded us in, and he took us around the area on a flight over Buckhorn Lake, Deer Bay, the campground, Lakefield, Young’s point and back to his farm. I will never ever forget that wonderful day with Dad!
I mentioned that Dad was a photographer his entire life. His father, and his father, and his father alike, were all photographers, so it’s definitely in our family’s blood. To this day I cannot go into a photo developing facility without thinking of Dad. The smell of the chemicals was something we caught whiff of every day he came home from work at General Electric. In the morning he left smelling of Old Spice, and at the end of the day, like a photographer. It’s just the way it was… It’s the way he was.
Dad was forced into early retirement from GE, and soon after experiencing his freedom from there, his health declined. He had hip replacement surgery after a long, painful and forcibly inactive period of time. He underwent a heart valve transplant – again after a lengthy waiting period in which he was unable to enjoy life very much at all, and still, given all the setbacks, Dad remained his happy and humourous self, and we’d go on car washing excursions together, or one of our favourite things… a trip to the dump. Yup. There was no better trip you could take with Dad than a trip to the dump. Now, you have to realize that throughout my life, a trip to the township dump usually involved a fully loaded box trailer (he made one out of an old tent trailer box), and after unloading it in the pits, you’d take a damned good look around, because, well, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure, and with Dad, we very seldom ever returned from the dump without bringing something that “could” be useful back home. I think my mother dreaded us going to the dump. I don’t blame her. When we helped move her and Dad from the Bridgenorth home, there was no room in the garage for a car, and most of what was in there, ended up where it came from – the dump!
Following his recovery from the heart surgery, and ready to take on the world, Dad noticed a lump when he swallowed, and after some tests it was revealed that he had Esophageal Cancer. Dad was a severe asthmatic his whole life, and he suffered from countless allergies and terrible acid reflux for as long as I can remember. It would appear that that his munching on Tums and Rolaids did little to help prevent this cancer, and he was given only months to live. Dad was 67 years of age, and between treatments, and the invading cancer, he spent much of his remaining time hospitalized. It was during this time that Dad and I truly became the best of friends. There were no issues between us to be settled, and I knew enough to grant him the ability to share his feelings about life, and his dying. He shared many things with me during the last months of his life, and I so wanted him to meet my partner Jim, and I wanted desperately to reveal my sexual orientation to him. I needed that peace. I needed “his” acceptance. I had planned on coming out to he and Mom awhile before, but the book “Coming Out To Your Parents” warned not to upstage or upset a family when a terminal illness is present. This was a conflict for me, so Jim would come with me to visit Dad in the hospital, and one day when Dad and I were alone while Jim and Mom went to the cafeteria, Dad asked “So Jim is your Friend?” I said “Yes, he’s my friend”. Dad said, “That’s not what I mean. Is he your Friend?” he again asked. I knew where he was going, and I remember the book explaining how important it was to use words acceptable and understandable to the person you are coming out to, so I replied, “I know what you mean and yes Dad, he is my friend” putting emphasis on “is” and “Friend”. Dad said, “No, what I mean is, is he your friend”. “Dad” I said. “I know exactly what you mean, and Jim is my very best friend”.
Dad started to cry, and I told him how sorry I was if I was a disappointment to him, and he got mad at me and said that I was never a disappointment to him, and that “I am crying because you will never be able to experience the joy of having a son like I have with you”. We spoke about many private things then, and he wanted me to promise to not “carry flags in one of those gay parades” – a promise I made but broke many years later. He told me to go get Jim, and leave mother in the Cafeteria which I did. The three of us talked at great length, and Dad insisted that “he” be the one to tell the rest of our family. I was out! I was finally out to the one person I’d feared coming out to my whole life. And he accepted me without question. He accepted Jim without question.
From that point until Dad’s death, our visits were just that… visits. We spoke of so much, and in a manner that we never had before. We spoke of the things we did and loved, and the memories of some really great times. We spoke about his dying, and his being thankful that I would listen because no one else would let him speak about it due to their own discomfort with the subject. When he was drugged up with morphine, we spoke about the conspiracies against him, the nurse shooting the barking dog, and together we watched the Royal Canadian Air Force’s Snowbirds flying in formation inside his hospital room.
I will never forget the last kiss we had. I still feel his lips, and I can still smell the Aqua Velva I’d put on his face prior to shaving him so his beard would stand out. To this day, I can’t puff out my cheek while shaving without thinking of that wonderful man puffing out his cheeks like a little boy while I ran his electric razor over his face. That last kiss happened a week before he died. I cried all the way home, and Jim just drove… all the way back to London, silently knowing, like me, that we had just seen my Dad alive for the last time.
I love you Dad!