2017 has brought with it so many opportunities for me to grow as a man, a professional, a lover and as a friend. And yet it was August 29th, when Eddie and I got calls from the hospital and police regarding our friend Nick, that I got the biggest challenge of them all. Nick, my friend of over 28 years, first person I ever had sex with and my constant compass along life’s paths and voice of reason fell. Nick suffered a hemorrhagic stroke on the way home from the grocery store. CCTV shows that he was not discovered until upwards of an hour where he was rushed to the James hospital. His survival and recovery have been nothing short of miraculous. This post is an effort to collect my thoughts enough to send out an update because every time I take a moment to write about him I end up crying. Tonight, is no different but it’s time to start accepting the fact that Nick’s life is going to be dramatically reduced while we all wait to see what the next 10 months look like during his one year recovery window.
I met Nick when I was still a 20-year-old forestry student at OSU. We struck up a conversation out on the Oval one afternoon near the Main Library on campus. He was a library science guy and faculty member. It’s funny, he loves the university, his students, bad new age music which I made fun of him for, dinners, time with family and friends, reading copious amounts of periodicals and amassed a collection of books totaling over 1000 volumes. His views on life, politics, history and people were so broad and deep that he quickly became one of my most important, and brightest, guiding lights. The zenith by which I guided myself at times in the dark areas of life.
His knowledge and loving distaste of Columbus, it’s people and the gay scene… well, I’ve never met another individual with the depth of knowledge that comes close to his. And while our romantic relationship was very brief, I had the attention span of a 20-year-old, he became something like a father figure crossed with a best friend to me. He gave me help, strength, alternate perspectives, and always this crazy unconditional love that made him nothing less than the biggest cheerleader I’ve ever had in my life. I’ve made many mistakes over the course of my life, and I know that without him those would have been worse.
He’s always come to our parties at Hunter Ave when Eddie and I were just two young guys with an eclectic collection of friends. Men and women who all seemed to be connected by some vibe, creative energy, free spirits, spark. Together we wove the fabric of a great life as close friends. Crying together when we needed to, laughing, always partying and eating great food while spinning up these deep conversations over coffee and red wine talking into the next day as the stars spun all around us.
Writing this is really difficult for me but it’s time to start talking about it.
He can still speak and has great long term memory recall. Short term memory is difficult for him. And while formerly very active and a voracious reader/thinker, he’s now a fall risk that has made the huge accomplishment of taking 20 steps which wiped him out physically. Lying in bed under constant supervision for his personal needs. Unable to read or seemingly comprehend news articles. I’m noticing moments where he seems to “check out” when we talk now and I get back canned answers or gestures that remind me of Eddie’s dad when he could not hear something he’d just smile and laugh.
The group of friends surrounding him is however, amazing. There’s his friend Gini, his old boss Marsha, Gini’s son Johnathon, Lorrie and myself as the POA’s he chose. There was some humor that together we make on Hell of a caregiver. It seems the common thread between all of us is strength and extremely powerful personalities… and our love for Nick.
After Nick’s mom died he was hurting. Badly. Eddie and I were living in Clintonville at the time and we created a new tradition that continued all through our Dallas years and return back home where Nick would dine with us for Christmas eve and stay with us for Christmas Day. If that’s not a family I have a grossly underdeveloped concept of that word.
It’s challenging for me to be faced with the task of shutting down his current life and finding a new one for him in senior living with 24-hour care. To see the after effects of this kind of brain event and how much of ourselves it can strip away. Almost like a fire burning through the trees leaving huge black scars where life once thrived. I’m glad it’s the group of us who are working together and I do not feel alone here. It’s more that I am trying to allow myself to let Nick find Nick. To be there for him through all of this and, maybe if I’m lucky, provide a compass for him toward his future. However long that may be as the recurrence rate for this kind of stroke is high and a second event would be devastating.
So we are starting the process of closing up his home and finding him a new, less independent but safer, place to live out 2018 in. One note there too. Nick is a hermit. He loves his apartment and the life he’d built. He’s pretty OCD and very fond of patterns. I can’t imagine what it’s like for him to have lost those or to recreate new ones while he waits for his brain to rewire over this 12-month recovery window.
We used to go to Yellow Springs, The Winds Café, walks outdoors, coffee shops, the Tradewinds was a favorite haunt of his (and ours), Barney’s and Neiman Marcus joking, laughing and talking all the while. It was when his friend Tom died a decade or so ago and then his father where I saw just how graceful of a human being Nick was. He took both losses in stride but always honored the people, love and time as if it they were points on a map to navigate by. For him, loss was painful but he never allowed it to cloud or define him. Always moving forward. Fighting harder. Living better. He’s my fucking role model faults and all.
Of all the fears I’ve faced this year and the challenges I set before myself this unexpected one has been the biggest. The one that hurt the most. But also, the one with the most love and memories. This is that part of love that becomes painful because it makes you realize just how much a person is a part of your emotional life chemistry when they suffer. However, with all challenges there are gifts in the process. He’s still alive. I’ve met all his other friends again and have become closer to them in the process. I started trying to reclaim part of my own life from the wild reaction I had as part of my own acceptance path after having had a heart attack to a core place. my foundational ground zero.
His sister told me that Nick said that he would trust me with his life years ago. Which reminded me of “Rage, rage against the dying of the light” from the famous Dylan Thomas poem. I may get that tattooed on my chest next year now that I think of it.
If I’ve learned anything from Nick, it’s that times like this should remind us of just how short, precious and beautiful our connections to one another truly are. That we are not alone or strong of our own selves… it’s the love, memories, voices and time that make us better human beings. Together always.