Well, the walk on the beach together in six months isn’t going to happen after all. We lost my brother Len on Monday following an illness that took him down with warp-speed. Basically six weeks, from “I’m not feeling so good” to a withered shadow.
“It’s a blessing he didn’t hang on and suffer for months,” everyone comforts. And, of course, it’s true. We honored him by letting him go when he was ready. But as it reaches the end, that knowledge doesn’t make the reality any less harrowing.
This journey is one that everyone has booked, of course, even if the travel date and means of transport remain open-ended. While most of us silently harbor the irrational hope that the whole death thing doesn't really apply to us, no one has yet figured out a way around it. Even someone seemingly as immortal as Len.
I don’t know about Len being “in a better place,” as many well-meaning friends have assured me over the past few days. Not to rain on anyone’s parade, but I’m kind of an evidence guy and have yet to wrap my brain around the spiritual hypotheticals of afterlife.
This much, however, I do know: Until the concluding chapter, it’s hard to imagine a better place than my brother found right here. Life for Len was a moveable feast of weed and food and friends and fun, a hedonistic, ritualistic pleasuring of the senses. The man did not get shortchanged.
He also had Kyle.
Len met Kyle 13 years ago, when he was 57 and Kyle a comparative child of 28. Kyle had yet to come out as a gay man to his parents, his family and the world. He used the occasion of falling in love with a man 29 years his senior to crack open the closet door, making the disclosure that much more fraught with potential judgment.
Yet Kyle didn’t care. He’d decided it was time. The world could think what it wanted. He knew what he knew.
As the relationship took root and quickly turned to co-habitation, Len was the adoring mentor to his much younger lover, doing all of the cooking, taking care of the place, meeting Kyle’s needs and keeping him comfy. It remained much the same until Len started feeling ill late last year.
The dynamic radically shifted by necessity as Len’s health speedily and traumatically plummeted. Kyle snapped into action, taking Len to his multitude of doctor visits, dispensing meds, cooking and playing an increasingly demanding nurse’s role for which he was wholly unqualified.
But Kyle got help. His lovely mother, Gisela, flew in from Washington state to lend a generous and loving hand. I did what I could. So did my sister Romi, traveling in from Seattle despite having to get around on crutches while recovering from surgery to repair a leg broken in a moped accident.
Romi and I had always been on warm, friendly terms with Kyle, whom we found a sweet, interesting and intelligent guy even as we quietly puzzled over the age gap. As we grew closer and closer to Kyle during these past agonizing weeks and observed a near-heroic level of devotion, our own ignorant musings melted away.
Kyle couldn’t fathom how this could all have happened so quickly to such a magnetic life force as Len. None of us could.
But witnessing firsthand Kyle’s indomitable strength, love and commitment amid the most shattering circumstances imaginable has been one of the most profoundly moving experiences of my life. And I was able to see, as my brother had long seen, the kind of man he fell in love with.
I fell in love with him, too.
“Lost a lover, gained a brother,” Kyle announced the day Len died, placing a reassuring hand on my shoulder and flashing a smile through the tears.
On Wednesday, my sister decided to make it official, formally asking Kyle if he would do us the honor of being our brother. He said yes, despite being warned that familial membership means he might have to endure inclusion in the occasional column like this one.
Lost a brother. Gained a brother.
I still don’t much know where Len’s hanging out these days. But I can promise we’ll make sure that Kyle gets to a better place.