dinsdag, februari 08, 2005

Doug.

Doug's been on my mind for the past week and a half. Mostly, I haven't even been aware that he has been on my mind; I've just felt a little uneasy about . . . something. Suddenly, it's obvious what that something is. Two years ago today, Doug died.

I don't talk about Doug very much, mostly because my life is so different now than it was two years ago and the people who are around me now didn't know him.

I used to worry that talking about Doug would make Ian uncomfortable, but he assures me that nothing could be further from the truth. And I now know that Ian does understand. I think most of the people around me here in The Netherlands know about Doug, but don't ask questions because they aren't sure if it's ok to ask.

It is ok.

I guess this post is kind of for them. And it's also for me. But it's also, somehow, for Doug.

Doug Glaze, my Doug, was a remarkable man. We met in 1990 and were together for almost ten years. (Although he always thought we met earlier and were together longer than that. And maybe we were. I've never been good with dates.)

The things that attracted me most to Doug were his honesty and personal integrity, even when it cost him.

The very first time we met he told me that he was HIV positive. This, in Kansas, in 1990, was remarkable. Until I met Doug, I had never met anyone in Kansas who had revealed their HIV status to me, unless their status was negative. I was immediately drawn to Doug - not because he was positive, but because he was honest. In a state filled with people who hid that they were gay, well, it was easy to see what a remarkable human being Doug was. Weighing the fact he had a disease against the rest of the qualities he possessed made his HIV status seem inconsequential in comparison.

And I thought we would live forever and that there would be enough time to do everything we wanted to do.

We met because Doug worked for an AIDS Service Organization. I wanted to become more involved with the fight against AIDS, so I went to the place Doug worked, and he interviewed me for a position there. As it turned out, they had no openings at the organization he worked at, so he couldn't hire me.

I had a little crush on him, though, so I called him the next day and invited him to go to the zoo with me. He was a little confused because he thought I was lobbying for a job. At first, he didn't know we were dating. He only figured it out after we went to a drive-in movie on our second date. After our second date he moved in with me, without knowing he had moved in.

Later, after we were living together, his organization did hire me and we worked together managing a house for People with AIDS.

We were a great team. We changed the way the house operated. It was difficult, because the organization was run by Catholic nuns. We would obtain condoms from the Health Department and the nuns would throw them away or hide them, apparently to prevent sinful behavior.

Eventually, Doug and I had major philosophical disagreements with the hospice-run "owners" of the organization. They became very irritated when those who lived in the house didn't die on time. They wanted more people through the doors, but they couldn't up their numbers if the people who came to the house lived longer than they were supposed to. And they all did.

Doug and I had a very simple philosophy to our management style. Our philosophy was that happy people live longer. Every decision we made was weighed against that philosophy. Because of this, we didn't control the house. We saw the house as someplace that belonged to the people who lived there. What we tried to do was provide those who lived there with the tools they needed to help them live the way they wanted. We discovered that the people who lived there invariably made good decisions if they were properly informed about all the variables and options available to them. And I think the fact that they controlled the decisions they made prolonged their lives.

At the final meeting I attended, right before I quit, I was asked by our boss why we couldn't just lay down the law to our "clients" and make them follow the rules. Why did we have to give the clients the right to make decisions? Management could foresee this making things very complicated and messy, although it hadn't thus far. What, they wanted to know, were we trying to do?

It was clear to us what we were doing, and we couldn't understand why they didn't understand: We wanted the house to be a place that we would have wanted to live in if we had a terminal illness and had no place else to live.
They said we were idealistic. They didn't think it would work, even though it had been working for many months, even though it was working.

In the end, I had to leave because I couldn't bear to see what we had built destroyed. My disillusionment would have poisoned the guys who had to continue living there. I continued to visit them, but it was hard. And soon, the guys started dying "on time." Control had been returned to management; management was happy.

Right after this, Doug and I applied for a grant from Wichita State University to go to San Francisco and protest with ACT-UP National. It was in the early 90's, and we wanted to protest the International AIDS Conference through direct action and demonstrations. Astoundingly, the student body underwrote the organization we started, ACT-UP Wichita State, and sent us to San Francisco to protest. That was the first trip of many Doug and I took together.

Later, Doug and I were arrested with ACT-UP in Kansas City, but that's another story for another time. I will say, though, that in the couple of hours we were in the holding cell with the rest of the protesters, I learned more about hair care products than I ever knew existed.

We moved to the country shortly after this and lived in a house on ten acres of beautiful prairie land, along with Doug's mom and Natalie (the Grace to my Will). We had a couple of cantankerous horses and more dogs and cats than I could count. Although we didn't have much money, in retrospect, it was a magical time. We went on a cruise to the Bahamas together with my family, and I think that was one of the best trips of my life. It was something Doug never imagined he would be able to do, and yet, there he was, doing it.

Later, we moved back to town and bought a turn of the century house that had a great yard. We completely renovated it.

And I thought we would live forever and that there was time.

We started to look for ways to legally protect our relationship and found that there were no lawyers in Kansas who knew a thing about how to do this. We found lawyers who knew how to draft Wills, but they didn't know about what, specifically, we needed, nor were they clear about how the law would interpret anything we came up with in order to look after our needs.

Faced with this, I decided it was time I learend a little something about the law. So, I went to law school.

I chose a Kansas school (Washburn) because I wanted to practice specifically in Kansas. Where else could I possibly be as needed? I was honest on my application about wanting to study law because I was gay and wanted to help others who were lesbian or gay. I was offered a full scholarship through law school, which I graciously accepted.

We moved to Topeka (coincidentally about 5 blocks from the Fred Phelps compund), and Doug finished his undergraduate degree as I got my law degree.

It was about then that Doug started drinking. Apparently, Doug drank -- a lot -- before I met him. He didn't while we were together until we moved to Topeka. I didn't know how much he drank until much later.

While studying, Doug became the editor of the Washburn University yearbook. He was always a great editor and writer; his history of Wichita in the late 70's - the first city in the nation to have a gay rights ordinance, and the second to repeal it - won a statewide history writer's award and scholarship. He was an incredible force of good and light.

After graduating, we moved back to our house in Wichita and I opened a law office. And Doug began to drink more and more. And although I still didn't now he was drinking, it was obvious that something was very different. Our life together was awful.

I don't know if law school was the catalyst to the dissolution of our relationship or if maybe Doug would have started drinking again anyway. Or maybe we would have lost our way even without the alcohol. I don't know. I used to think it was the drinking and that law school didn't have anything at all to do with it. I'm not so sure now.

But we did break up. And both of our lives changed, for the worse.

We weren't happy people anymore. Doug, little by little, became ill, and I became a recluse.

I tried to date other people, but I wasn't very good at it.

Doug and I never expected to break up. We both saw ourselves as always being together. Others saw us as always being together. Yet, we had both changed drastically, and neither of us knew how to bridge the gap. It hurt all the more because we loved each other so much.

For the record, although I didn't try to stop him, it was Doug who left me. I try to feel good about it being his decision, that I had nothing to do with it and that his leaving was what he wanted because I promised I would never leave him and so now I can say that I didn't ever leave him.
But that's not reality.
In reality, I forced him out because it was just too damn painful living with him.

Now I see that he had become frightened and alone and on the verge of becoming ill. I did not know that then because I didn't look hard enough. And in all honesty, I don't know how I could have done it differently.

I've learned that sometimes in life, our very tiny, little decisions add up. None of them alone mean anything, but each one is a step that leads to another, and pretty soon you look up and you're somewhere very different from where you thought you would be.

So. There we were. Somewhere very different from where we thought we would be.

But I still thought he would live forever and that there was time.

I discovered a lot in the next couple of years. Much about Doug; more about me. As I said, he did not really date much, and neither did I.

We slowly started to make peace. As is often the case after people lose their way with each other, although others didn't know what we still meant to each other, we did. We both saw that we were less than whole without each other. I think everyone who knew us saw that, even if they didn't see how much we still loved each other.

And I still thought he would live forever and there was time.

Anyway, a couple of months later, I got a call from his Mom. Doug had been asleep for too long, they couldn't wake him and he was unresponsive. She didn't know what to do. Could I come over?

So I did. And I got down next to him and said softly, "Doug?"

His eyes opened and he looked up at me. Quietly, he asked, "What the fuck is going on? What are you doing here?"

I explained to him that he was dehydrated. (He was - severely.) I let him know that he had some choices: he could drink some water right now, he could go to the hospital, or he could die. He asked for water. Within a couple of hours he was fine.

A couple of weeks later, he rode his bike to my house, drunk (he lost his glasses on the way, after he somehow mistakenly rode his bike into a HUGE drainage canal underneath a major highway that bisects Wichita). He asked me to help him dry out, so we spent an intense week together as he detoxed in my bedroom.

He worked in a bar, and needed the money that came from this job because he wasn't able to get on disability even though they should have allowed him to be on disability. He ended up back at the bar a week after he dried out, and started drinking again.

We saw each other a little more frequently, and I saw that his health was failing. I was gearing up for his first illness, as was he. We both knew that his first illness wouldn't kill him, but it would signal a change in his status.

And for the first time, I started to wonder if he would live forever and if there was enough time.

I started to call more frequently.

And finally, we made peace.

I discovered I was still pretty crazy about him. We went to see "The Lord of the Rings" - the second one. He bought a big pickle, and ate it and drank a coke during the movie. He said it was more than he had eaten in a week. He said afterwards that he didn't think he would make it through the movie without having diarrhea, but he did. When I took him home, he was wiped out.

A couple of days later, I got another call from his mother. He was in the hospital. Severe dehydration. He had been there for hours and nothing had happened. Could I come? So this was it. His first illness.

The hospital was only blocks from my house. I went immediately.

He had been there for over 8 hours. And although he had been admitted with severe dehydration and had been given a room, he had not been allowed anything to drink since he had arrived, and there was not yet an IV drip. Why not? The doctor hadn't had time to see him yet and there were no orders and they couldn't give him anything until there were orders.

I politely asked them to call the doctor.

Forty-five minutes later and a couple more polite visits to the nurses' station, and still nothing. They said they had relayed the messages.

No. NO!

This couldn't be happening now, could it? I mean, I knew this used to happen in 1987, but not now, did it?

I quit being polite. I asked the nurse, in my firmest lawyer's voice, to get on the phone right fucking now and inform the doctor that the patient's lawyer was asking why the Doctor was not allowing fluids to a man who had been admitted 8 hours earlier with severe dehydration. "Tell him," I said, "that I was wondering if they were trying to kill him."

He had a drip within 5 minutes, and I calmed down within 6. All I really cared about was that Doug was ok. That even outweighed my earlier anger at his treatment. If he was ok, nothing else really mattered.

Doug and I still held powers of attorney for each other, even after we broke up. We had talked about it, and although we both had reservations, in the end we decided not to change them. When he was admitted, he was asked if he had a power of attorney, and he answered that his lawyer held it for him. (I had to laugh a little when his mother told me that.)

I gave the hospital Doug's power of attorney, which named me as his legal representative. Although I watched them put it in his file, when I checked the next day (as I tell all my clients to do), it had mysteriously disappeared. I provided them with another copy. This one did not disappear.

I spent every night and as much time during the days with him as I could during his hospital stay. I was teaching, so I left for classes, but came back as soon after class as I could. His mom was there sometimes, and so was his brother. His Dad flew in from the East coast, and eventually so did his younger brother.

His mom talked about how tired she was, and if I wasn't there she called me every night to ask me to please come stay with him. I would have been there even without the calls, but it was nice to get them.

Doug was not doing well - he wanted to go home. When the Dr. came in, I let her know that Doug wanted to go home. I asked her to explain to him what would happen if he went home. She said, "Doug, if you go home you will die." I asked if he would die if he stayed. She said she thought they had a good chance at getting this under control.

After she left, I asked him if he wanted to go home, and let him know that I would stand behind him if he did. He said "Hell no!" He had several times mentioned that he didn't want to go back to his Mom's house. He loved her, but she lived with his grandparents and they just didn't know how to take care of him. They had no idea of what kinds of foods he could tolerate. He didn't want to hurt their feelings, but he didn't feel like he had options once he got out of the hospital.

His mom and I talked in the hall, and I let her know that I would be happy to have him stay at my house once he left, but that I would need some help taking care of him. She said we would talk about it more as it got closer to the time for him to leave.

The next morning, on February 7, after I spent the night with Doug at the hospital, Doug's mom and his brother showed up before I left to go teach. They were kind of quiet and wouldn't look at me. It seemed like something was going on, but I dismissed it. It was a stressful time, so it could have been anything.

I went home, showered, put on a suit and went to teach a business law class. It was the longest day of my life. After it was over, I went back to the hospital.

Doug's room was empty.

I walked to the nurses' station and asked where Doug was. They said he had been removed.

"Removed? Why? To where?"

"His family took him home."

I was absolutely gutted. Although I held his power of attorney, his family had somehow removed Doug from the hospital without telling me while I was teaching.

My mind reeled. How did this happen? This was exactly the scenario I had gone to law school to prevent. And in learning how to legally prevent this exact worst case scenario, which I had, in the end, of course not prevented, Doug and I had somehow lost our way, and in losing our way had also lost each other.

Although the irony was lost on me at the time, I've spent some time becoming comfortable with it.

But at the time, I was furious. Doug had, just the night before, told me that he did not want to be taken home. He wanted to live.

I called and his brother said Doug was asleep. I probably wouldn't have gone to see him at his mom's house right away anyway. I was far too pissed off.

Later that night, I got a call and it was his brother, asking me to please come over and sleep with Doug as I had done in the hospital. I wanted to, but I was still too angry. I knew that if I got into bed next to Doug, he would have felt my anger towards his family instead of my love for him, and I didn't want that. I decided instead to wait until the morning and talk with him then. Surely when his family heard him say that he wanted to live, they would honor his wishes.

Early the next morning when I went to see him, Doug was in a coma. His family had removed the IV drips sometime the day before. They had placed a couple of rows of chairs around his bed, and the house was filled with people. Most I had never seen before.

I was horrified. This was exactly everything that Doug did not want. I was livid. I asked his mother, too loudly, how she could have done this. His brother told me to get the fuck out of the house.

There was no longer anything helpful I could do, and anything else I tried to do would only have made things worse. It was too late.

I was too late.

I said a very quick, tearful goodbye to Doug, and I left.

And I never saw or spoke to Doug, my Doug, again.

I got the call later that night.

He did not live forever, and our time had run out.

I waited until my anger was at a reasonable level, then called and asked his mom if I could speak at the funeral. She said she was tired and didn'’t want to discuss it.

It took a minute for the words to sink in. "You don't want me at the funeral, do you?"

"No," she said. "I don't."

I was devastated.

I talked with Rachael. She asked what I was going to do.

I told her I didn't think I would go his funeral because I didn't want my being there to create a scene, and I didn't know what Doug's family would do, and I didn't know what I would do.

She said, "Scott, this is a big one. There are no do-overs."

That jolted me right back to reality. And I knew she was right.

So after the call, I took the phone off the hook and I got very quiet with myself. And with Doug.

And in the end, after thinking it through, I didn't go to his funeral. Instead, I had a private memorial at home, and grieved alone. Later, those very few people who knew me best (and oddly, I learned that these were not the people I thought they would be) came by and let me know they shared my grief.

I thought not going to his big funeral was the right thing at the time, but sometimes, especially when there are no do-overs, it's hard to know until later.

That was then.

Now, even though I missed seeing people at his funeral that I would really have liked to have seen, I know I did the right thing.

All of my memories of Doug are intact, and they're not overshadowed by anything that may have happened had I gone to the funeral.

I saw Doug's mom once more, briefly, before I left Wichita. I gave her Oscar; the wonderful, beautiful Maine Coon cat that Doug and I raised. I went to his mom with the intention of telling her that I understood and that it was ok.

But I couldn't. It was difficult to speak to her at all. My skin crawled and all I wanted was to get away.

I hadn't expected that.

I gave Oscar to Doug's uncle, and tried not to look at Doug's mom until her brother brought Oscar's kitty carrier back to me.

That was not how I wanted it to end. I wanted to make Doug proud of me. And I really wanted to be able to feel good about her again. But I just . . . couldn't.

Still, two years is too long to hold a resentment that serves no purpose. I forgive her; partly because I'm selfish enough to understand that anything else poisons me. But also because Doug was her son. I loved him, but so did she. Hopefully, I will never know how difficult it is to lose a child.

***


Almost a month to the day after Doug died, I met Ian. Although I met him very soon after Doug died, Doug and I were apart for almost three years. Doug said, a couple of months before he died, that he wished I would get on with my life and start dating again.
I remember asking him at the time what he meant.
He said that what he wanted most was for me to be happy.
I know this sounds insane, but on some level that is outside of reason, I believe that Doug was involved in my meeting Ian.

After Doug died, and not too long after I met Ian, I suddenly realized that I would not ever have allowed myself another relationship while Doug was alive. Doug and I were married, although we never had a ceremony and, at the time, we both scoffed at the idea of marriage. Although we broke up, I don't believe either of us ever really gave up on the other.

So that's the story.

In the end, I've learned that:
Although love is all we have, our very tiny, little decisions add up. Even though none of them alone mean anything, each one can lead to another, and unless you pay attention to the little things, you can end up somewhere very different from where you thought you would.
We do not live forever. Our time does run out.
But sometimes, if you're incredibly lucky, you get a second chance at love.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Wrecks said...

I spoke at Doug's funeral. I had not planned to, but near the end, they asked if anyone would like to say anything, they could.

I was very emotional, and probably rambled a bit, and don't even remember everything that I said. But I remember remarking that Doug was often angry.

Angry at the government, angry at the health care system, angry that people he knew were dying and angry that people didn't care. He channeled that anger into action. Somehow Doug knew how to use his anger without letting his anger use him.

I will always remember him because of that.

7:16 a.m.  
Blogger Scott said...

Wrecks -
If it weren't for you, Doug and I might not have ever met. I remember the time when the three of us recieved an award for our activism. I made a long speech about how we needed to fight, to grow, to stop eating our own, blah,blah,blah.
When Doug's turn came, his entire speech was: "I'd like to thank Rex for introducing us."
I'm glad you spoke.

10:23 a.m.  

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