Scott’s History, Part 4

7 Feb

In a span of roughly ten years, Scott lost five people he was close to, including his mother, Jean, and his many acquaintances from the bars in downtown Minneapolis who died of AIDS. The death that hit him the hardest was that of his mother. She succumbed to breast cancer on Mother’s Day, May 14, 1995. His mother felt lucky to have made it into her sixties, because on her side of the family the longevity was poor, both of her parents having died in their forties. For Scott, however, it was very hard to take. The family realized that she had known she probably had cancer, but had avoided going in until it was too late. I think Scott felt a little angry with her on that account, and powerless because once she was diagnosed it was too late to do anything about it. She was the hub of the family and the person who liked and knew him the best, so he was distraught.

He told me once that down at the bars the word was that “the mother always knows.” After the breakup with the last girlfriend he was to have, Sue, his mother said : “She wasn’t the one who called off the relationship, was she?” In losing his mom, he lost the person from his family who was trying to figure him out, and the one who was likely to be the most sympathetic. She had never been to his apartment, mainly because it was often so messy, and it hurt him when his sister said that one of his mother’s last requests was to be driven by it.

Like him, his mother loved to read. He had figured out that one of the reasons she didn’t go to the doctor about her breast cancer was because she had macular degenerative disease and was going blind. She also was an omnivorous consumer of pop culture, telling him that she didn’t “like Angie Dickinson anymore because of the nude shower and car scenes in Dressed to Kill, a 1980 film with Michael Caine. Her feeling was that Angie Dickinson had become trashy. She also decided that Doris Day had become “icky sweet,” after having been a fan of hers for many years. The other people in the family probably thought the way they gossiped about movie stars was silly, but their love of movies and their obsession with the stars gave them a connection.

After his mother died, Scott was the one who went over to the family home and brought food to his father. The father didn’t initiate their getting together. He saw the rest of his family less on the holidays than he had when his mother was alive, because he didn’t have a standing invitation to come to his sister’s house. Jane, his sister-in-law, was the one who was the most solicitous of him and she and his brother and children lived in Alexandria Bay, Minnesota. His mother had been the one who made sure that he had Christmas gifts he liked. While his Aunt Ivanette did send him gifts every year, for some reason she didn’t know that a 6’ 5” man would not be able to wear a size medium shirt. And, of course, he’d lost the person who knew his favorite foods like the yellow cake he preferred for his birthday.

The death that hit him the second hardest was Tim’s death on March 13, 2002, not that he was surprised considering Tim’s drug use. He’d been closer to Tim than his other friends in the gay community. The detail that stands out most in my mind from the calling hours and the funeral was the wrinkled trench coat Scott wore, almost a bad omen of things to come. Scott usually kept his suit in good shape, because he sang so often at weddings, but he’d spilled something on the jacket and forgotten to take it to the cleaners. He wore dress slacks, a dress shirt, and a trench coat to cover up the fact that he didn’t have a suit jacket on.

When Scott leaned over the open casket at the funeral home, he was overcome and began sobbing. Tim’s father went up to him and threw his arms around him. I gave him credit for that, since older men sometimes don’t show their emotions well. Scott was bothered because Tim’s hair, although still long, was shorter than he’d ever seen Tim wear it, but what could he do? At the funeral, which took place at an Assembly of God church, there was the usual call for people to come up and say a few words. Scott has always been good at speaking extemporaneously, so he went up, still in the trench coat, and told a story about Tim, which made everyone laugh. Tim’s father thanked Scott.

We accompanied everyone out to the cemetery in Rosemont, making note of the route. Once we were there, we purposely stood at the back, thinking it wasn’t our place to stand at the edge of the grave. I remember mentally configuring where we were in relationship to the rest of the cemetery. Scott pointed out the girl cousin Tim had been closest to, and I remember feeling sad that Scott didn’t have more people to point out, but I also took note of where she was in relation to the casket–somewhat at a distance like we were. On the way back, Scott said that we should think about where we were to make it easier to come back when we were on our own. We went home feeling that we had done the right thing, even though it was under such dreadful circumstances.

Several months later Scott was feeling sad, so he called Tim’s mother to commiserate with her. Tim had often reminisced about how much he and his mother enjoyed smoking down in the basement on a window ledge near the furnace. They had had the same special kind of relationship that Scott and his mother had had. Scott’s mother was also a closet smoker, although Scott attempted to hide the fact that he smoked as well. Scott was shocked at the response he received from Tim’s father. He said coldly: “My wife is not available to talk to you right now,” and hung up. At first Scott couldn’t believe the unkind way he was being treated, but then he realized that Tim’s parents had probably gone through all of his pictures and seen some of both guys in drag, attending various masquerade balls and parties. They undoubtedly thought that Scott had been a bad influence. Scott did try again several months later, but this time Tim’s father said he was never to call there again.

Shortly after the funeral, we went back to the cemetery in Rosemont, so that Scott could have a more private visit. Tim’s headstone, a full-length, ostentatious granite ledger marker, was in place. It was obvious that the family had money. Scott told me about how he had contacted a woman down in South Beach, who explained that Tim’s parents found out he was in trouble with drugs and came down to sell at least one of the condos. They stayed at Tim’s condo with him, not thinking about a possible negative outcome. She had surmised that Tim’s reaction to his life falling apart was to take a drug overdose. The parents had found him dead in the morning when they woke up.

Scott continued grieving over Tim, but it was many months before we visited the graveyard again. We couldn’t figure out why we didn’t immediately find the grave since it was close to the edge of the front of the cemetery. We joked about what a terrible sense of direction we both had, but finally went to a nearby house and explained that we couldn’t figure out what had happened–we were sure we had found the right spot in the graveyard. The woman we talked to said that “the couple had arranged to have the casket and the grave stone removed to Minot, North Dakota where they had originally lived and were now living.” Scott said to me: “Well, I’ll never see it again,” but I’m hoping that someday we can travel up there.

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