Thursday, March 12, 2009

Saying goodbye to an old friend...

I've had an incredible string of really wonderful things happen to me lately: getting accepted to pharmacy school in Hawai'i, establishing and re-establishing contact with old friends and relatives, getting a well-overdue raise from one of my jobs plus retroactive pay, and now eagerly anticipating my last interview for Touro in the East Bay.

Then I got a phone call from a friend of mine stating that a mutual friend had suddenly passed away last week from cancer. There was literally no anticipation of it. Tak had just turned 60 a few months ago, had an amazing muscle-bound body that people in their 20s would envy, and had the gentleness of an old soul. According to my friend, he didn't feel well while wintering in Hawai'i, went to see a doctor, and found out that he had metastatic bladder cancer that had traveled to his lungs. He had enough time to go back to his home in Vancouver, went into a hospice and died a week later, the day before I turned 35, last week.

As I tossed and turned trying to damn the unfairness of it all, I realize that for me this is the best way to send him off.

I had met Tak through a mutual friend while taking part in KinkyGAM and was immediately drawn to his body, since the first time I met him I was volunteering for FTFA at the Folsom Street Fair. He was wearing just a pair of white briefs, while I was in a pair of speedos to drum up money for fundraising. He had virtually zero body fat and was cut and ripped like any bodybuilder. When I tried coming on to him, he told me his age, and I was stunned when he told me he was the same age as my dad. We kept in touch through e-mail, and then decided to get together when we were both in Hawai'i later that winter as I was running the Honolulu Marathon.

During that time in Honolulu, I became annoyed that Tak seemed to lecture and nag me every chance we got, asking me questions about where my life was headed--like a father. I got so pissed at him that I didn't e-mail him for months later, but he was the first to vocalize what I had been doubting all these years. When I told him I was considering going back to school for my PharmD, he gave me priceless nuggets of advice, wrote me a letter of recommendation, and was one of my strongest supporters. Our friendship eventually became a close mentorship, as he prepared me for what lay ahead for pharmacy school, and he also told me bits and pieces from his life as well. Our e-mails after that point always ended with "Love" or "Hugs," since we really did love each other as friends.

In order to express his sexuality in the late 60s, he moved to San Francisco for college and thrived, even as he dealt with the racism from the gay white community at the time. He then moved to Texas to grad school, completing doctoral degrees in both optometry and pharmacy, eventually setting up a successful practice in Vancouver, and retiring very young. He was able to spend his winters in Hawai'i, summers in Vancouver, and occasionally come down to San Francisco and LA.

I find myself now thinking how unfair life can be--that someone who was so healthy and took such great care of himself was cut down so quickly by cancer, even though he had survived colon cancer years earlier; that someone who I expected to continue advising me as I started pharmacy school suddenly isn't there anymore; that someone who gave me so much practical advice about other parts of life, who made friends with anybody and everybody, who was such a giving and kind person had to leave before I was ready to let go.

And now I find myself having to do just that.

The last time I saw him in real life was rushed, since I had to schedule him in between working, moving to my new apartment in SF, and seeing him for dim sum. He sat next to me, ordered dim sum in Cantonese for me (even though I knew how to do it anyway), served me, and joked about all the other queens at the table. When I had to leave too soon, he hugged me, and held my hand, saying, "I'll see you next time--it's so good to see you." I still sent him e-mails every so often, updating him on my progress, getting the interviews to the schools, telling him about my evolving personal life, etc. The last e-mail I sent him was telling him that I had gotten accepted to Hawai'i. He didn't respond right away, which I didn't think was all that unusual since he usually takes about a week or so to respond. The phone call I got today from my friend brought me back down to reality--and made me realize that I still have to appreciate everything and everyone around me now.

I find myself trying to rationalize this--that people enter and leave our lives at the appropriate times and moments, that they provide a certain something in your life that you can't provide yourself; but part of me just wishes that this wasn't so abrupt.

I know Tak is in a better place, and that hopefully he didn't suffer long, and that he died knowing that he was loved by many people around him.

Including me.

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