Wednesday, June 14, 2006


It would have been his birthday today.
I'm not even sure which one. 60? 58?
I don't know.
His name was Phil.

I used to live in Oak Park Illinois.
An iconic, tree-lined town just west of Chicago.
I walked daily to the train to and from work. 6 blocks exactly.
It became my solace. My meditation.
I passed the homes, built in the 1930's, surrounded by picket fences, flowers, bushes, sidewalks with remnants of yesterdays chalkplay.
Hop Scotch, portraits of stick-figure families, giant daisies dancing in green and pink and yellow.

The seasons were my companions on those daily walks.
The lilacs in bloom in April.
Lush green tree-top canapies over the streets in July.
The piles of autumn oranges and reds rising under undressing limbs in October.
Paths through snow mountains pushed to the sidewalks edge in January.
Grey, angst filled winds howling in March.
They were my companions.

About a year before I moved from Illinois, I noticed a person who stood out among the seasonal changes on my daily walks.
He didn't really fit in in Oak Park.
There was no preppy jacket covering an worn oxford shirt that hung out over softened jeans.

The man was bald.
He wore a grey muscle shirt, sleeves torn off many a year ago.
A chain holding his keys hung from his belt buckle.
A mickey mouse earring waving gaily from his lobe.
An ominous linked chain about his neck.
Worn Chuck Taylors on his feet. Ageless.
A somber quietness about him.
He walked a tiny black dog that looked like the pill verson of my black lab Jack.
I passed this large, odd looking guy and his pill sized dog many times and thought that I'd like to know him.
Why? I have no idea.
He had a shy smile.

After months of soft hello's and me petting the pill sized pooch, I said that we should get together for lunch or dinner or something sometime. It took more months for it to happen. I don't even really remember how.
Eventually it did.

His name was Phil. He was in his late 50's. He was gay. Lost his partner Doug over 10 years ago. Well read. Intelligent. Not well spoken. He stumbled over words. Life made him nervous. Somewhere in a portal to goodness in Oak Park Illinois, we became friends.

He had brought tokens of his travels to Mexico and South America to his 3rd floor Oak Park condo. I helped him choose new countertops. We shared rasberry liquer on the back porch overseen by a Mayan Sun. He showed me how he brushed the pill sized dog's teeth.

Phil didn't sleep well. He had started to get sores on his skin. He didn't want to use the drugs. He scoured health stores for remedies made of royal jelly, herbs. He didn't sleep well.

I moved to Las Vegas. We wrote emails, jokes, stayed in touch. In June, I visited Chicago and saw him as he planted a Hawthorne Tree in his front yard. Adding to the canapy. I said I'd be back in a few months. We'd have Thai or Cuban food when I did. We hugged. Said goodbye with a light, over the shoulder wave.
We'd see eachother then.

The last email I recieved from him was July 5, 2005. Less than a month later.


I worried.
After 2 weeks I sent a friend to knock. Ring every doorbell in the building. I felt the panic rise. He hadn't been sleeping. He had been hurting. Fearing.
Then someone.
next door.
No, he's not there.
He died.
2 weeks ago.
Just a day after the last email.

He took his life.
The note.
Pain. No sleep. Dementia setting in. Have to go. I'm Sorry. I'm Sorry.

My heart ached. Knowing he made that decision and told no one. Trusted No one.
He had seen Doug die.
He had seen the confusion, the horror, the pain.
Decided to leave before.
A hard decision that I respected.

This man.
A gay, intelligent, loving, hurting man.
A man who loved life and said goodbye to it when it threatened it's end.
A man who taught me about gentleness. Loving through pain. The subtle joys of unexplored places.
A man who wore muscle shirts and mickey mouse earrings in Oak Park.

Today I think of the memories of my daily walks.
Lilacs in bloom in April.
Canapies of lush green tree tops in July.
Piles of autumn red leaves in October.
Mountains of shovelled snow in January.
Piercing winds in March.
Mickey Mouse earrings.
Chains and Chuck Taylors.
Shy smile.

I am so glad I knew him.

Happy Birthday Phil.


sheri said...

heart wrenching!
The imagery at the beginning was wonderful!
remnants of yesterdays chalkplay.. loved it!
autumn oranges and reds rising under undressing limbs..
loved it!
I am so sorry that you lost a friend.
I think he would have liked this story.

del901 said...

We are measured in this life by our friends, and it was obvious that Phil was a very rich person and the world is a poorer place without him.

Please accept my sincerest condolences. I never knew Phil in his life, but your words made me wish I did.

keysunset said...

Your imagery is a beautiful tribute. Thank you for sharing your memories of your friend.