Talking It Over – It’s Time to Say Goodbye

I’ve held onto this column for nearly 17 years, rarely skipping a monthly submission. Now, reading and researching issues of interest to the LGBT community and writing a column has become a luxury. I have a new job. I am a loving caregiver to my 95-year-old domestic partner.
John is the love of my life. We’ve been together since shortly after his wife died in 1986. Edna was my first cousin, so it was natural that John turned to me in his grief.
I fell in love with him when I visited Edna and John in New York State the year I was 14. He was 37, and, no, he was not interested in an adolescent girl, being too busy providing for his wife and two young children. He augmented his day job with a garbage collection route he and his brother-in-law started on weekends.
I remember the sweat rolling down his face, making curls in his dark hair as he hefted barrels of trash onto the waiting truck bed. I wrote in my diary that year, “John works so hard.”
My younger cousin, Edna’s sister’s son Russell, got me a date with Beaver. I hated it. The young man not only looked like a beaver, he talked like one—or so I imagined. I saw nothing good about that date and was insulted that Russell would fix me up with a beaver! John saw my disappointment, and a few days later, with Edna’s consent, took me to a movie and then out for an ice cream soda. He felt sorry for me. I adored the attention.
Edna, however, caught a hint of my growing attraction to John and promptly sent me home to Maryland where I continued to grow up and forget about John. I eventually married, raised two children, divorced, and married again before I got back to John and Edna. When I enrolled in a San Francisco school in 1984 to work on my doctorate, I stayed with John and Edna in Menlo Park whenever I needed to be in academic residence.
Thus, I was with them when Edna was diagnosed with cancer. After she died, I divorced my second husband and John and I have been together since.
Of my three serious relationships, John has given me the most. He has always seen me as a talented, beautiful person who is interested in others and is there to help other human beings. He lifts my self-esteem and has never denigrated me. He even leapt to my defense when I was insulted by an English bus conductor who wanted “the fat lady” to move into another seat. “My wife stays where she is,” he thundered, and no one dared to defy him.
Now, John needs a little help. He has spinal stenosis and his legs are weak. He has fallen so many times, once on his face, landing him in the hospital for two weeks. He fell three times in the last month. He crashed into the TV cabinet, shattering a glass door. The next time he fell, he broke a rib. Still he had a third fall.
Those of you who have done or do caregiving know what a full-time job it is. I jump up in the morning, running to help John with all his needs: bathroom, occasional shower, cleaning his false teeth, helping with hearing aids, getting him up, dressed and fed — you either know or can imagine the routine. I am on call from morning to night, and sometimes my sleep is interrupted with something John needs. It is hard, exhausting work, and even with help, it leaves little time for personal pursuits.
I had promised myself I would give up the column at 70. That was nearly three years ago, so it is past time. I had hoped to see you triumphant with the right to marry, but some other columnist will celebrate that occasion with you.
So much has changed since I came on board in 1990. I was urging you then to come out and be yourself. Gradually, more and more of you came out as you received support from others like me and within your own community. You worked hard to gain certain rights and privileges afforded heterosexual citizens, and I was there with you. I marched in your parades, served on your pride committees, was and am still active in PFLAG, lobbied legislators, and fought onerous initiatives with hands-on efforts. I’ve contributed my time and my money to the cause, and I have received more than I have given.
You taught me how fulfilling it is to be involved in a movement that is just and fair. You made me conscious of just how much I have and how little others have all over the world. You helped me to be grateful. Most of all, I learned to understand and appreciate my son Steve, who came out to me in 1984. Our relationship is warm and close because of my learning from you.
I have a deep love for you and always will. So, I say a reluctant goodbye with a smile and a wink. You know me. I just might come back, now and then, to talk things over with you.
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Kay Mehl Miller is the author of “Talking It Over—Understanding Sexual Diversity.” E-mail her at kaymill@aol.com.

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