Two writers, two lovers

Things past: As the world changed around us

We could have been Cassady (left) and Kerouac, but Fate had other plans.
We could have been Cassady (left) and Kerouac, but Fate had other plans.

We howled our youth and immortality into the wild New Brunswick night, careening from party to party like drunken dervishes, college boys off on an endless spree.

Beer boys, in love with the warp and woof of words, guzzlers of endless cans and bottles and mugs, so certain that our path of dissolution would lead to the palace of wisdom that we courted every folly we could find, being chased, cursed, and even beaten by those who had no access to our magic world of alcohol. Our secret knowledge was beer-fueled and secure, impenetrable by anyone else.

We were in love with the idea of each other, young and drunk and 20, and it was enough for that time; we knew nothing else. Jack was tall and handsome and graceful as an egret, dressed in the best of those tweedy times: perfect Bass Weejuns, thick herringbone jacket, worn khakis, elbow-patched crewneck sweaters, endless Oxford button-downs— a New York prince ambling through our tank college town, courted by gay professors and football players alike.

My first love

He would vault through my basement window in the seething fraternity house, clutching a sheaf of his latest prose, also graceful and ceaselessly romantic.

He was my Thomas Wolfe, while I was a Truman Capote manqué, slight and baby-faced, and with all the talent of a radish, rapt and burning, booze-fired, crazy until I would black out. So much hidden, so much unknown, so much yearning.

I was so love-stricken, my first heartbreak was so unbearable unless quenched in beer and Jack's mere presence, which by itself constituted proof of my rejected worth. He was my love then, my heart's mate, never touching, always sure, though, of each other, drunken silken cords binding us across reason and rationale. Never spoken, love hovering always like a hummingbird, wings brushing our souls.

Years of absence

And, as souls will, we slowly parted into the dry outside world, Jack to marriage with a ballerina and a move to London and work as a critic at the British Film Institute. Our one reunion in New York ended in drunken clamor and misunderstanding, barely remembered afterwards.

Then years of absence and mystery until finally I found him and called and we talked, almost formal and best at recalling old times, the present blurry in our new discomfort. Jack was divorced and had been in a gay relationship for ten years. That he told me.

Then a letter and the words "Kaposi's sarcoma" buried in the middle— a puzzlement, because he'd been monogamous all those years. But the death sentence had been passed in those early years of the epidemic.

"'That's enough'

We met once more in New York and it was as it had been, though neither of us drank any more. There was closeness and, yes, love. At one point I asked Jack how it felt to know he was going to die. He answered simply: "I have work I enjoy and I am well loved. That's enough."

The night before he died he called me to say good-bye. I was having dinner with my girlfriend and her mother. I took the call in the kitchen and Jack and I wept together at our lost love, now found.♦


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