An Unlikely Romance

by Don Lawrence

Did I say "unlikely"? You be the judge. I was born in 1947 in Brooklyn, New York; he was born in 1961 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. While he was growing up, getting a BFA in acting, marrying, parenting and dancing Flamenco, I was "coming out" after high school, dropping out of college in the first year, actively alcoholic through the '70's. Then, not too long ago, I retired (early) to North Carolina. Oh! And I'd sooner croak than be on a stage.

And if that's not enough, consider these facts as the basis for a romance: Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis (his) and Limb-Girdle MD and a ten-year-old colostomy (mine). The thing is, romance was not on the agenda. We'd met at my infant website for gay men with disabilities. I had not designed it as a "Lonely Hearts Club. "Really.

It took two months for somebody—anybody—to find my site. The somebody was Bruce. We were the only members . . . until it was too late.

He introduced himself as Scotch-Irish (heavy on the Scotch) and a former Flamenco Dancer, 38-years-old, bisexual, with a "wonderful wife and two beautiful sons." So I'm thinking, Nice. We don't have much in common, but I'm glad for another group member. I had lost my lover of eighteen years to cancer less than a year earlier, and I wasn't really thinking of romance. If I had been, my requisites would have been more like "50-60 years or older, HOMOsexual, and, of course, SINGLE." I mean, Shit, I saw all three versions of "Back Street," so I just knew what I needed, if I needed anybody: someone nice and dull, plain and simple—not a friggin' Flamenco dancer!

The thing was, through lots of emails, an undeniable chemistry was developing. I knew I was looking forward to Bruce's postings—much-too-much, in fact. Neither of us had any idea what the other looked like, though I did let Bruce know, early on in our correspondence—way before the romantic detour—that I am black. Often, people assume I'm something other, even in person, and I'm exposed to comments and thinking about black folks that I might be spared, if my race were more obvious. (Maybe you've heard fag-jokes or comments when your sexuality was unknown to the speaker.) So, to preclude the need for activism in response, I try to make it clear in advance.

What I've found throughout my life is that people relate more on the basis of background and common experience than they do on the basis of race. I don't have everything in common with every black person. I have had a great deal in common with some people who aren't black. I found that Bruce and I shared values, interests, humor, music, movies, idiosyncrasies, sensitivities, sensibilities, politics. Our fourteen-year age difference made this more surprising than did our different races. Bruce's mother and father bore striking similarities to mine (his dad, my father and I even share first and middle names: Donald Herbert). Our respective relationships with each of them were almost identical and formative.

Bruce has brothers near my age. He has absorbed their interests and experiences and culture, so our frames of reference are closer than one might expect. We discovered all of these things during months of e-mailing. Here and there, an oddly romantic note crept in. First, Bruce offered his personal e-mail address, so that we could bypass my 'gayphyschal' website. Then he commented that, "... this is like "You Got Mail." Whoa, I thought . . . isn't that a ROmance?!

Then, he and the family went away for a weekend. We were both sort of dreading the separation. On their return, we had to admit we had missed each other "inordinately," a pet word for both of us. Maybe most significantly, there was the time I, emotionally, shared how much the death of my lover had impacted my life. Bruce e-mailed back: "Sir, if ever I might ease your pain." GULPPPPP! I was a goner!

As we both admitted how important those e-mails had become, as we realized how our relationship was . . . shifting, we agreed on one thing above all else: we didn't want anything to interfere with Bruce's family or his place in it. There couldn't be any happiness for us if that were to happen, so I had no intention of calling Bruce's house, ever.

Bruce describes himself as a "compulsive-confessor." It sounded to me like a rare kind of openness and honesty and it made his wife, Mary, privy to our correspondence from the start. Mary initiated an exchange with me that became a correspondence not only comfortable but at times quite independent of anything to do with Bruce. Mary had always known that Bruce wasn't "straight." They'd had, and have, a wonderful partnership, but she knew that there had been some sexual incompatibility, and she felt that this was a good opportunity for change. She encouraged us. More than that, she urged Bruce to "just come out," offering to "hold open the closet door" for him.

Was I surprised? Surprised?! I couldn't believe this was happening, or that I was going along with it. But I began to feel that having all of this develop, gradually, in spite of ourselves, was preordained. The Universe was moving us together, wasn't it? We just had to get out of the way. This confidence in the Inevitable overrode my instincts, which had been telling me to "run for the hills."

And so, last Thanksgiving, I somehow got up the courage to go to Albuquerque to meet Bruce and Family in person. After the meeting at the airport, we picked up my rental car. Mary and the boys (Alex & Drew) helped Bruce into my car, put his wheelchair into my trunk and led us back home in their car. They put us alone, together, for the first time, after months and months of imagining it. Well, not exactly A-lone, but we could hold hands at last.

Back home, I was in for a real surprise. Mary ended all my logistical concerns about sleeping arrangements. She shot Bruce up with his double-blind experimental drug, and packed him off to stay the night with me at the motel. Are you amazed, Dear Reader? As amazed as I was? I can't begin to describe my gratitude and happiness. But wait. She joined us at our room in the morning, for the complimentary calorie blast.

I also can't describe how normal, and comfortable this seemed. (Mary, when you read this, I LOVE YOU!) In a glorious week of acceptance, of hanging out with the family, another event stands out. Bruce and I had the pleasure of picking the guys up after school. One day, we were retrieving Alex from afterschool care early, and he had to be signed for. When we pulled into the schoolyard, he came running over. I said I'd wait in the car, while he and Bruce went in to sign out. "No Don," Alex insisted, "you hafta come in and meet everybody!" This was waaaay beyond the call of duty. I knew then that he wasn't having a problem with us.

In March, Bruce came here to North Carolina for two weeks. On August 23 he returned for good, with lots of room to continue as part of his incredible family, through mutual visits. I'm a little defensive talking about the family issue, because I'd have never chosen to fall in love with a married man. Remember, I was born in 1947. It might as well have been the Victorian Era. I mean, we had . . . standards! But it was the family, Bruce's incredible, one-in-a-million family, that made it OK for me. Alex, eleven, met me at the airport that first time, holding a big "Don" sign he'd made. Drew, fifteen, gave his Dad a "Queer Duck" sweatshirt for Christmas, saying, "It's OK, Dad, I know you like ducks!" How do people get to be this remarkable? I wish I knew

Our disabilities sometimes create physical challenges, but make for a level of understanding and ease that I can't otherwise explain. How do you manage with dual disabilities? Maybe it's a matter of Faith vs. Risk & Kharma. The potentially scary part of a dual-disability relationship involves the unknown and unknowable progression of disease and incapacity that we each face.

At present, things work just fine. Bruce has more compromised mobility than I, but for now, at least, I am able to compensate. I have some compromised sexual function, but with Bruce's patience and tenacity (and humpiness), that is manageable and even improving. Horizontally, we are all but indistinguishable from any two lovers, except, maybe, that we are obsessive snuggle-cuddlers. One advantage conferred by the fact that we're both disabled is that we discussed all of our physical problems long before romance reared its head. We didn't face questions of "when," "how much," or "how soon" to disclose potentially troubling details. For example, since we've each had experience with messy incontinence issues, and will again, it's not the embarrassment it might be. Right now, we are relishing the present, the very unexpected chance for happiness that Providence has dished out.

Ever since I was a twink I have always thought of myself as practicing "sexual karma." The idea is simple: never say no. I fear rejection so much that I don't make advances. I figured if I didn't reject anyone else, even if I weren't particularly interested, that I might be rewarded with attention from some extraordinary people along the way, people I'd never have imagined for myself.

It's been the case. Bruce is proof absolute.

My advice, to paraphrase a former First Lady: "JUST SAY YES!"

Bruce is, as usual, stretched out beside me as I write this. One advantage of disability is that no one expects us to be out plowing the south forty. My Schnauzer is lying across Bruce's stomach, insisting on continuous petting. One cat is stopping the circulation in my legs and another is curled up at our feet. This leaves a Pomeranian and a third cat unaccounted for. They hang out together. We think they suffer from Species-Identity Confusion Disorder. They seem to be dealing with their confusion just fine.

As for us, well, we're not confused at all any more.

© 2002 Don Lawrence


Don Lawrence says that this article includes everything you need to know about him.


BENT: A Journal of CripGay Voices/January 2002