My friend Kerry died on Monday. He was an ex-Mormon, a gay activist, and a talented graphic artist turned landscape architect. He was literally wrapped in love by his partner Olivier, his many friends, and the hundreds of people whose lives he touched. Among them were the participants on the Recovery from Mormonism bulletin board where he was a permanent fixture for many years, posting under the moniker Flattop SF, and later as xyz. He was 53 years old.
He was raised in Chicago in a strict LDS home. He told me that when he left his Mormon mission in the late '70's and later came out as a gay man, his believing LDS family rejected him in the name of god. He also told me that his brother tried to kill him twice, and that his mother shunned him--until recently, when her bishop gave her "permission to love him."
I have a hard time processing this sort of thing. This week, efforts to sum up my thoughts have ended in long and tearful walks along Ocean Beach or drives along the seawall. I need time and distance before I can write intelligently about such a tragedy. In short, I'm a lousy eulogist. The best I can do is take it one memory at a time.
When Kerry and Olivier decided to move to Massachusetts so Kerry could pursue a PhD at Harvard, they threw a big going-away party at their house here in SF's Castro District. Mark, our daughter Emily, and I were among the lucky guests. It was the first time we saw Kerry in something other than an ex-Mormon setting.
We arrived to find the beautiful multi-level home mostly packed up, the living room filled with stacks of Kerry's beautiful paintings.
"See all the crap we still have to pack," he half sighed.
As I thumbed through the frames of artwork, sadness overwhelmed me. It was true, he was really leaving us.
We climbed down his back steps to the sunny terrace past cascading antique roses and fragrant hybrid teas. He offered us seats on his charming patio. Around us roses climbed up sturdy rectangular trellises that Kerry had designed out of thick rebar. When he noticed that the sun was in our eyes, he rolled over a carefully pruned climbing jasmine housed in a spiffy metal planter he had fashioned on wheels.
Mark, Emily and I drank wine and snacked on crackers and brie. Our ex-Mormon friends from Lafayette were there as well, eager to reminisce about all the good times we'd shared together. Then, little by little, more people trickled in. Some were neighbors, some were work colleagues, some were his classmates from Berkeley. All were thoughtful and well spoken, and the conversation sizzled with intellectual excitement and depth. Kerry encouraged me in my writing. Also he encouraged Emily in her studies. Olivier helped Emily practice her French.
At one point a handsome young Brazilian man joined the party. Kerry led him over to where our group was sitting and said, "I'd like you to meet the gayest guy in the Castro."
"It's true. I am," the young man confirmed.
"How wonderful to be the best at something!" someone replied.
We all laughed, lifted our glasses to him in a toast and fell back into conversation. The discussion ranged from politics to art to literature to philosophy to religion. Mark and I contributed some, but listened more. Kerry was a lively participant throughout, as self-deprecating as he was intelligent. He compared his upcoming stint at Harvard to the Reese Witherspoon franchise, calling it, "Legally Grey."
When we left, he and Olivier walked us out. We hugged and we wished each other well. We promised to keep in touch. We sort of kept that promise.
Of course I wish I'd written him more after he'd left, made more of an effort. I wish I'd known he was in trouble. I wish I'd been of some help. He'd been such a help to me--with my writing, with my recovery from Mormonism, with the rebuilding of my self-esteem. He'd encouraged Emily in her studies, and he'd introduced us to the "gayest guy in the the Castro."
I heard from him last just under a month ago. It was a cheerful exchange. Olivier was in Paris. Kerry was in Massachusetts, "eating junk food and watching bad TV--LOL." He encouraged me in my writing again.
And now he's gone. But in the Castro, there are some roses climbing on sturdy rebar trellises that are there to stay.