Michael's lover of 10 years, dead for the last 7 1/2 years is hanging on the wall in my brand new living room, naked and half-tattooed. We all had portraits done the year before he died while we were on vacation in Hawaii.
If Jeff was an artist, and in many ways he was, this painting would have been done during one of his beautiful periods. He looked like a young Greek hero. Smooth and strong and defined - carved of marble. There were some not so beautiful periods as well, like the time he chose to look (and grow a beard) like a lumberjack with no access to personal hygiene accouterments.
People sometimes ask me about Jeff and I'm not sure if I romanticize him or not. I share that he was sweet and caring. He bought me beautiful, thoughtful gifts for my birthday and would say wonderful, kind things to me in his own way. Once we were out at some club in the Tenderloin. I was being bawdy and said something about a sex act. He said to me, "You can't do that. You're the mommy." It was unbelievably touching, in a way that was uniquely Jeff's.
This was a man who had been featured on the side of a milk carton, had started doing porn before he was legal. Was diagnosed with AIDS before he could legally drink. Or vote. I know he saw terrible things that I will never see, but I know he also saw beautiful things that I took no notice of.
Jeff was a handful. He could be mean and was skilled at noting the spot that you were most vulnerable. He was a drug addict, although clean and sober in his last 3 years, the years before were very difficult. Even in the clean and sober years, he could be a total fucking pain-in-the-ass.
The fact that he had been skillfully climbing out of a hole dug by crystal meth when he was diagnosed with cancer was unbelievably painful. He had been going to school, he was on committees for youth living with HIV.
The problem with someone dying is that they are always going to be just that. It never changes, the being dead part. Those of us left are changing every day, but there's no way to make the dead do anything differently. They never come back, they never comment on your post, they don't take back anything they said, they aren't proud of you for everything you've done since they've been gone.
I can hear him though. And Michael hears him constantly.
"Why aren't you talking about me?"
He is a presence in our house, and in our marriage. He is part of us. Not just part of me and part of Michael, but part of the "us", the "we" that married people talk about. I married a man with a dead partner. It is a commitment in and of itself.
Jeff hangs, his tattoo forever unfinished, on my living room wall. He is held in time, in Hawaii, nude but for a pendant on a piece of leather. There is no anger in his face, no worry, no questions. He is pristine.