Friday, January 25, 2013

Memorial: #deathbecomesher

So, a couple of weekends ago I attended the memorial service for that young man who committed suicide on New Year’s Eve in San Francisco. The whole day was kind of like Sex and the City meets Jeffrey meets Harold and Maude.

Earlier that morning, a small group of us had gathered for brunch before going to the service. Most in the group had known the gentlemen fairly well. As they shared stories about him, I began to get a clearer picture of his personality. Not everything they said about him was flattering and one man said that he really couldn't stand the guy for the longest time, because he found him to be too full of himself and a bit of a snob. However, he added that over time he grew to appreciate the young man’s particular form of bitchiness. As we ate our food, we all indulged ourselves in our particular forms of bitchiness, making wise cracks, etc. When something like this happens, you have to find ways to laugh. I said that we should start a Twitter hash tag called #deathbecomesher and live tweet the whole event.

The memorial service was held at a club in South of Market. Having only been to this venue at night to dance, I could scarcely imagine what it was going to be like during the day for this event. Thankfully, the roof had skylights, so there was plenty of light throughout the space. When we walked in, someone in our group said in their best California teenage girl voice, “Oh my god, this is just like being in a club.” I looked around. Everyone was dressed in various shades of gray or black, so I dryly added, “Yea, a club in LA.”

We immediately went to the bar to get drinks; there was a choice of complimentary sparkling wine and punch, and the regular bar was also open. We went for the free sparkling stuff. A guy behind me asked, “Does anyone know what’s in the punch?” A gentleman beside him answered, “Vodka, pomegranate…oh, and GHB.” Everyone giggled. Then he whispered loud enough for only a few of us to hear, “And, it’s on the rocks.”

I had heard the phrase “on the rocks” tossed around a few times that week whenever anyone spoke about the suicide. I concluded that this was because the poor lad never made it to the water when he jumped off of the Golden Gate Bridge, landing instead on the concrete area surrounding one of the support columns. The first time I heard someone use the expression, it was something like, “We all had drinks last night in his honor, and of course everything was served on the rocks!”

There were other expressions of comic relief that week too. One night, at the bar the deceased had worked, I watched someone put a Band-Aid on his laminated photograph that was part of his memorial announcement. When the bartender saw it, he removed it, stating “It’s too soon.”

As our group filtered towards the stage in the club, we each spoke with various people we knew. It was the usual chitchat: “How are you?” someone would ask; “I’m okay,” another would answer; “Good to see you,” someone would say; “I wish it were under better circumstances,” someone else would reply. As these verbal exchanges were happening, I could hear music coming from the speakers hanging above our heads. It was house music, not too loud, but you could definitely hear the beats. I whispered to a friend, “I’m so glad the soundtrack to our lives is playing in the background.” On the right of the stage, there were two life-size photo cutouts of BeyoncĂ© and Britney Spears. I looked at my partner and said, “I think I’m going to need some more bubbly just to get through this.” He obliged me.

The program consisted of a number of presenters, both family and friends. As I listened to them, I was deeply moved. People spoke about their sorrow and their anger, and they talked about their joy and their memories too. Listening to that young man’s mother speak about her son was heart wrenching. I cried. When she screeched, “If I could have only been there for you that night,” I understood her guilt and her pain. It was one of the most crushing moments of grief I've ever witnessed. Instead of feeling like a cheap voyeur, I felt privileged.

While listening to the procession of speakers, I thought about a friend who had passed away almost two decades ago. He was someone I had worked with and had known for about ten years. After he found out he was positive, he was dead within 6-8 months. His memorial service remains vivid in my memory. It was appalling—simply no other way to state it. Those of us who attended that service were subjected to a lecture, one that went on for over an hour. It was about “lifestyles” that some deity called God condemns. I don’t recall if homosexuality was ever mentioned specifically, but everyone in that building called a church understood what that pathetic excuse for a human being called a preacher was referring to as he shouted at us. When he finished, a man seated behind me exclaimed in tears, “He didn't even say his name!”

I still get disgusted and infuriated every time I think about Kevin’s funeral. When he died, he wasn't that much older than the guy whose memorial we were attending now. I leaned over and whispered in my partner’s ear, “This should have been the service Kevin had.” He looked at me and said, “I know.” It wasn't too long after this that an aunt walked on the stage and began to speak.

“We had only recently reconnected,” she said.

“We had been going to monthly dinners,” she said.

“We went September and October, but I’m really sad we won’t be able to continue them,” she said.

“My daughter is a model,” she said.

“She just finished a photo-shoot at Vera Wang,” she said.

“I’m so proud of her,” she said.

“We weren't sure if we were going to be able to enjoy it, since it was only a few days after the event,” she said.

“She looked so beautiful,” she said.

“I would like to make an announcement,” she said.

“It’s a bit of self-promotion,” she said.

“I will be doing Tough Mudder next year,” she said.

“It’s for a good cause, the veterans,” she said.

“I would love if any of you could join me,” she said.

“Are there any Christians here?” she asked.

“I want to say that I’m so thankful that my nephew was a Christian,” she said.

“I know he is in heaven,” she said.

“Do you feel the urge to pray?” she asked.

“If you ever feel like you need to go to church and pray, there is a church in the Mission,” she said.

“The address is 432…um, what’s the address of that church with rainbows again?” she asked someone on the stage beside her.

I couldn't listen to her speak anymore. The tone of her voice was somewhere between a life coach and a real estate agent, with a dash of a late night infomercial host. I slowly turned around and faced the scores of people behind me. Everyone stood with their jaws dropped, transfixed by the train wreck who was blathering on stage. Some were holding back laughter, while others looked on in shocked disbelief. I glanced at my partner and without saying a word to each other we walked to the bar in the back of the club and ordered cocktails. I pulled out my phone, launched Twitter and typed: Nothing ruins a memorial like Christians #deathbecomesher.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Everyone Leaves

San Francisco is the kind of city that seems like almost everyone leaves for the holidays. This, in large part, is due to the fact that a major segment of the population isn't really from here—split between transplants and students returning to wherever they came from to visit their families. The people who remain here during this period are a mishmash of real locals, orphans, and Scrooges. Also, the homeless stick around. Parts of the city can be a lot of fun during this time, because there is a period where you feel as though you have the whole place to yourself. This holiday season in the city wasn't much different than any of the others I’ve spent in years past. However, there were a couple of events that put a damper (to say the least) on my holiday cheer.

The shooting that killed those students and staff at that school in Newtown, Connecticut before Christmas was not the greatest way to ring in the season. I can’t image that many of the little kids fully understood what was happening to them, only standing about three and half feet tall. A few days after the massacre, I read an article written by an emergency room doctor named Christine Rizkalla. In describing her first experience of dealing with a child that was brought into the emergency room who had been shot, she says:

In the aftermath of the Newtown massacre I've heard people arguing loudly about policy and politics, and it seems that what is missing from almost all of these debates is the central, horrific reality of what it looks like when a child is shot. Outside of emergency rooms and ambulances, very few people have any idea what we’re actually talking about when we talk about a bullet ripping into a small body—even once, let alone 11 times.

I still can’t wrap my head around this incident, as I still can’t wrap my head around the rhetoric of the NRA and their most ardent supporters in relation to this incident, or any incident of the same sort for that matter. It is all very disheartening.

The other episode over the holidays that had a profound impact on me was the suicide of a young man on New Year’s Eve here in San Francisco. I knew him casually from a bar in my neighborhood. He was one of those guys in the gay community that turned a lot of heads, beautiful body, beautiful face, and a beautiful smile. Apparently, around midnight on New Year’s Eve, he left work early in a limousine, which drove him to the Golden Gate Bridge. After he got out of the vehicle, he walked along the footpath, scaled the barrier and jumped off of the platform. His body never made it to the water; instead, it hit and landed on the concrete area around one of the supporting structures of the bridge. It was a dramatic (arrogant?) act. A person who takes a limousine to the GGB on NYE with the intent of committing suicide is not doing so to leave this planet meekly, so to speak.

A week earlier I had had dinner with this chap. He was one of a dozen or so people who attended an orphan’s Christmas that was hosted by a mutual friend of ours. He sat next to me on the couch. He and his boyfriend talked about their dogs. We laughed together. I would've never dreamt in a million years that he was going to be dead a week later. I wonder if he knew; I suspect he did. In retrospect, it seems like he planned his suicide, down to every last detail. His smile haunts me. 

I've spent my entire holiday trying to capture my thoughts on these two incidents, writing and rewriting so I can be rid of them. I've tried to find something positive to hold a candle to, but I can’t. Sometimes, things that happen to other people you hardly know, or know at all, can affect you in ways you never expected.