Christmas was Allen’s favorite holiday. For the fifteen years we were together, he went all out: a tree (had to be artificial because he was allergic to some pines), wreaths, and lights — oh, the lights. He put them up in the windows, along the mantel, and of course on the tree itself. He loved the music, too, but not the traditional Mormon Tabernacle Choir stuff; he introduced me to the George Winston / Windham Hill playlist as well as The Roches, much of which is still ingrained in me. He went all in for Christmas dinner with the family, and when we lived near his parents we were there for days cooking, eating, and sharing, much of it from the German tradition that his family brought to Kansas in the 1800’s and then through the generations. This WASP/Quaker learned a lot about some sugar-bombed Christmas cookies, cakes, and even liquor (before we sobered up, of course). He brought that exuberance, that child-like happiness, to my family when we lived in Michigan and would spend the day with my family and sharing our traditions as well.
After we separated we still kept in touch, trading presents and phone calls on the holidays, hearing the nieces and nephews and their kids and grandkids in the background, and it brought a bright light to the quiet celebration that I now go through living alone.
That’s why this first Christmas after Allen’s death has been more reflective than joyful, more a recollection of happier times even when, at the time, we were just getting by, or so it seemed. But I know that he would be bummed if I spent the day in mourning; “C’mon,” he’d say, “it’ll be fun.” And it will be. I’ll spend the day with my friends here with people who are as close to me as family, as joyful as he was, and the rest of my winter break will be doing what he knew was my true calling; writing, listening, and sharing.
Back on Thanksgiving I wrote him a love note about our lives together, finally able to put in words what it meant and how it shaped me and made me who I am. So here it is.
Allen’s Big Adventure
A Love Note from Philip
Well, Allen, you finally did it. You’re off on the biggest adventure of all; so big that it’s taken me almost six months to put my thoughts together and write them down.
But life with you has always been an adventure, from the moment we met on that spring evening in April 1984 at the dance at Eldorado Springs outside Boulder and our first date the next night – you had me with the flowers you bought from the street vendor on the way to my house – and for the next fifteen years. Sometimes it was scary and harsh, but no matter what, we were together, and so many times, whether it was snorkeling on the reef with the barracuda, or skiing the double-black diamond runs at Snowmass, or sailing on the waves of Lake Michigan, or wandering the streets of Paris in December in jeans that didn’t fit because your luggage was lost on the missed flight, or climbing the steps of Notre Dame to pet the gargoyles, or standing in the Vatican to see the pope bless your mom’s rosary, or climbing to the top of St. Peter’s to see the roof of the Sistine Chapel, or the tower of Pisa, or driving through the night from Boulder to Northport to surprise my dad for his birthday, or riding in the bunk of a semi to get to Hays for the family reunion and being swept up in your family’s loving arms and you in mine, or renting the house on Bross Street in Longmont, or the house on Michigan Street in Petoskey, or owning our own home on Canary Lane in Albuquerque and planting a garden in each one of them, or showing up at the gym with Sam cupped in your hands and making him our companion for the rest of his life, or buying me that 1959 Buick for $150, or wandering through the Painted Desert and the canyons of New Mexico, or going to Montserrat and Jamaica and Tobago and wandering the beaches, or standing backstage waiting for our cue to be the boat in “Candide,” or the many, many other things we did, including the weekend in October of 1992 when we went to Traverse City and began our journey together to sobriety. For every one of those times, you always said, “C’mon, it’ll be fun!”
I look around my house and still see you here. The chairs and table we bought at Sears for the house in Albuquerque. The O’Keeffe prints from Santa Fe. The Gandalf candle in the bookcase. The fish mobile made of palm fronds from Jamaica that hangs over the sink in the kitchen. The shirts in the closet that still fit both of us. The Pontiac in the garage that once had both our names on the title. Our rings in the little carved box that also holds the slip of paper with your phone number on it. The dedication in my dissertation to the man who showed that wisdom is not measured by degrees. The character who shows up in my writing again and again. The hundreds of pictures, mementos, and kitchen utensils; traces, as the old song goes, of love.
We were never married in the cold and unfeeling eyes of the state or in the thrall of a church, but even if it was unwritten or unvowed, we were married in every other way, and despite the mere fact that we separated for reasons I never truly grasped, we never let go of each other. You were always going to be a part of me, and when we talked on the phone, each call ended with “I love you,” and “love you too.” And while we went our separate ways and found new lives in different places and with new friends, our time together was and will always be the best time of my life.
I don’t believe in the superstitions of Heaven and Hell or Life Eternal; those are things the mind has concocted because it is incapable of comprehending its own mortality. But I do believe in the spirituality of everlasting because as long as I and your family and your friends and the people who knew you remember you, you’re not really gone. You’re just in the next room, even if it’s just that little pewter urn next to your high school picture. Your number is still on my phone. Your letters are still in my drawer. I can still hear your laugh.
So when you set off on your last adventure that quiet night in the house you grew up in Longmont last June, I knew in my heart that I was losing a part of me in one way, but keeping it with me forever. Grief does not care about time or distance, and while I may not technically be widowed, I am very sure that what I feel, what I miss, what stops me in mid-sentence, is every bit as real as it gets. And, to quote you, it sucks. But it also shows me how much I truly loved you.
I know that you went in peace and on your own terms, and I know that you were ready to go. Because, as Tinker Bell says in “Peter Pan,” to die is an awfully big adventure.
And Merry Christmas, sweetheart.
Doonesbury — Almost made it.