Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Demain, dès l'aube ...

One of the first portraits I took of Gary
Skiing at Chief Joseph Pass, Montana
Winter 1999

Demain, dès l'aube, à l'heure où blanchit la campagne,
Je partirai. Vois-tu, je sais que tu m'attends.
J'irai par la forêt, j'irai par la montagne.
Je ne puis demeurer loin de toi plus longtemps.

Je marcherai les yeux fixés sur mes pensées,
Sans rien voir au dehors, sans entendre aucun bruit,
Seul, inconnu, le dos courbé, les mains croisées,
Triste, et le jour pour moi sera comme la nuit.

Je ne regarderai ni l'or du soir qui tombe,
Ni les voiles au loin descendant vers Harfleur,
Et quand j'arriverai, je mettrai sur ta tombe
Un bouquet de houx vert et de bruyère en fleur.

--Victor Hugo

Gary, Annie Wright, and Billy the Ass
Taken at the Grubstake Restaurant
Ravalli County, Montana
May 2000

The opening lines of Camus’s book The Myth of Sisyphus state that there is only one question worth pondering—whether to commit suicide. When faced with the absurdity of life, does the rational man have any choice other than to end his own participation in the farce? Of course Camus was posing a philosophical question. Most people facing a wall, and seeing no way past, do not pose philosophical questions. When the road ahead is just too rocky to bear, when there is no end to the proverbial tunnel, let alone any light, I doubt that people reflect much on the absurdity of life.

Once when a close friend was wondering if life was worth living, I bought him a copy of Camus. I had forgotten the opening paragraph, and frankly remembered only the very end of the book. “Il faut imaginer Sisyphe heureux.” (We must consider Sisyphus happy.) When I reread the treatise, and saw the question Camus poses, I was aghast that I would give this book to someone actually contemplating suicide. My friend, however, saw the true message, and the crisis passed.

Suicide has been on my mind a great deal these past thirty years. When I first came out to myself as gay, I met a good number of young men who had either contemplated or attempted suicide. I heard of many more that had succeeded in killing themselves because they could not reconcile the person they knew themselves to be with the expectations of family, church, society. There may be valid reasons for killing yourself, but being gay is not one of them, I said to myself. If by being open and vocal, if by being visible as a gay man, I could prevent even one person from doing himself in, I had a duty to speak out as loudly, and as often as I could. Thus began a life of political activism.

Gary watering the dogs
(Faylene and Speedy)
With our friend, Ted Rivers
Taken at Seaside, Oregon
Spring 2000

I must admit that there have been times that I have considered the question personally. For me, always, the dilemma came back to the people who would be left behind to clean up my mess. I was especially concerned about the effect my death would have on my mother. This is not something I normally talk about, so I have no idea just how common suicidal thoughts are in the general populace. The closest I ever came was when Richard was sick and could not summon the strength to go on. A friend who knew such things suggested that 20 Tylox would be enough to allow Richard to go to sleep and not wake up. I seriously considered taking the capsules myself, for without Richard, I did not want to go on. At the last minute, I refrained, and held Richard’s hand while he swallowed the pills and went to bed. The next morning found Richard still alive, very sick, and our white bedroom carpet stained red from his vomit. His system was so used to drugs by that point, that the overdose merely made him sicker. Had I taken them, with no personal history of drug use, I surely would have died.

These days, the one thing that upsets me—the only thing that really upsets me—is finance. I have given up trying to stretch too few dollars over too many bills and have turned all such matters over to Kevin. Before I did that, however, I once again considered ending it all. It’s very hard to see any light at the end of this tunnel, even with both of us working, but with Kevin handling the checkbook and watching the mail, I can at least ignore our situation. I thank God every day that Kevin is part of my life, for without him, I fear that I would no longer be writing you all. He is my rock in these troubled times.

But what of those who have no Kevin in their lives? Those who see the bills piling up, hear the debt collectors calling, who have lost their jobs, are in the process of losing their homes, and have health concerns with the attendant expenses those bring? The ones who fear that they are not in a tunnel, rather a cave with no exit ahead?

Gary at the gates to Ashland
Lexington, Kentucky
Taken August 2000

At two o’clock this afternoon (I’m writing at just short of midnight, January 27th, 2009), Kevin showed up at my desk with bad news. Gary Pitts, the man I lived with for nine years, from January 1999 through May 2008, had committed suicide in Denver. Many of you on my mailing list knew Gary. Most of you knew of Gary. I don’t pretend to know the demons that Gary was facing. He had had no contact with me after he left for Denver the end of May. The note he left behind cited health concerns, but mostly financial fears. He had moved to Denver talking about jobs that paid three and four times his salary in Missoula. His best friend lived in Denver and he wanted to back in a big city. I don’t believe he was ever happy in Missoula, nor do I think he ever knew just how much I loved him. The past ten hours I’ve driven Kevin crazy as I ask him over and over if he knows I love him. In Gary’s note, he asked that I not be notified, because I would become a “drama queen” about the situation. If that’s what I’m doing, I apologize. I need to come to terms with this, and the way I approach problems is by talking—or writing—about them. Gary had a much different style, and tended to keep things close to his chest. I often felt as though I was wasting his time when I would try to talk out a problem.

Gary was wonderful with animals. In 1999, when we first got together, I had one MinPin, Speedy. With Gary in the house, we added Faylene, Rocky, and finally Minnie. All four loved Gary unconditionally. I used to say that should he ever leave me, all four would follow him out the gate and only Speedy would look over his shoulder to see if I was coming too. We lost Speedy in 2005. I’d never seen Gary so shaken. Faylene died early in 2008, while I was in California. When Gary told me he was leaving for Denver, I asked if he was taking Rocky and Minnie with him. Minnie, he felt, was too noisy a dog to live in an apartment, but yes, he was taking Rocky. In his note, he asked his friend to look after Rocky and find him a good home. I’ve talked with Denver’s Animal Control, and I’m hoping they’ll let me bring him back to Montana. As soon as I get the word, Kevin and I will be driving to Denver to pick up a little dog who has had too much trouble in his life.

I keep asking myself if there is anything I could have done to prevent this tragedy. But as I said above, Gary wasn’t talking to me, so I knew nothing of his troubles. I honestly believed he was living a fine life, making mucho dinero in the computer industry. That’s what he led me to believe when he left Missoula. And the fact is, there is nothing anyone can do should a loved one cut you out of his life, and keep you in the dark. What I can do is give Rocky a good home. It’s all I can do at this point.

The Restaurant Cat
Taken in Nevsehir, Cappadocia, Turkey
October 16, 2000
Victor Hugo wrote the poem I’ve quoted above when he learned of the death of his daughter. The poem has always spoken to me, and tonight it has forced its way out of my subconscious to the point where I can see the words clearly in my line of sight. My translation of the poem follows:

Tomorrow as the night shall dissipate

I’ll leave, you see, I know that you now wait.

I’ll cross the hills and forests wet with dew.

I can no longer stay away from you.

I’ll walk, my eyes fixed only on my thoughts.

Head down, back bent, hands crossed, a captive caught,

I’ll hear no sound, nor see any sight.

And day for me shall be as night.

I’ll see neither the golden evening star,

Nor sails of ships approaching from afar.

When I arrive I’ll place upon your tomb

Bouquets of green holly and heath in bloom.

One of the last portraits I took of Gary
Gary holding Minnie

Taken at our home in Missoula in 2007


sexlessinthecity said...

I am thankful to have discovered your blog. You provide not only a wealth of literary knowledge, but descriptions rich with life experience, an eloquent sincerity and most of all heart.
-From Lo.

x said...

I worked with Gary for several years in Missoula. I'm horribly saddened by this news. He was one of the funniest and kindest people I've known. I will miss him!

msspurlock said...

I still can't put the feeling of loss into words. I guess because the whole thing is senseless. Didn't he know how much people loved him? One phone call, or e-mail, and we'd have gotten him a ticket back to Missoula, found him a place and eventually, a job. The world needs more people like Gary, yet now he's gone. It's a bitter thing.

ardentious said...

Gary was such a good man. He had so many people that cared for him at Edulog/Logisys in Missoula. I was sad that he chose to move to Denver, but I still heard from him occasionally; now I find out that he's gone? The Earth needed more Gary-type persons on it.

gerumo banga said...

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Leçon IX – Victor Hugo Demain, dès l’aube