First and Last Gifts

My favorite days in the diner were the snow days. I loved opening the door and seeing the half moon of slush under the awning. Turning on the lights and being the first on the street to be open. Listening  to that first pot of coffee brewing, while the front windows began to fog up.

My usuals, including a group of about ten from the phone company that came in daily would have a slow start about them, nobody wanting to go back into the weather; only comforted by the aroma of hot cheap coffee, fried eggs and sizzling onions from the home fries. These were the days that I relied on the generosity of the same old faces because the office people wouldn’t make it in the storm.

I remember one snow day in particular– I’ll call it my favorite. A regular face in the diner was a man named George. George was a friend of the family and grew up in the neighborhood. He was about 6’4 and dark Italian. Black if you like. He had thick dark hair combed back, sprinkled with salt & pepper perfectly. Dark eyes and a crooked fucked up nose from too many long nights. He wasn’t a big talker and spoke with his eyes constantly.

At times it could be unnerving to be in the weeds and have him speak at me with his face and posture. His unmistakable posture he commanded his space. And he always had my attention. I was so enamored with his presence. Like I said it wasn’t a talk thing and it wasn’t a lust thing. Make no mistake, we were attracted to each other, but it wasn’t lust. It was old soul shit.

The first time George and I were friendly outside of those paneled walls was on an early December snowstorm. The type that you’ve been hoping would come before Christmas. The snow was heavy, wet and crystalline white. The storm had passed and the world was still quiet. My day was done and George offered me a ride home. He drove past my apartment and went to a local park and had a snowball fight. And then he dropped me off. That was pretty much it. Gay right? It was like the most normal thing we could have done. I never questioned it, and I probably haven’t done that since with anybody. I don’t really like games, I am definitely a soloist. This was the act that solidified an amazing friendship. A friendship that had absolutely no expectations.

{An odd pairing that most would label as hot and dirty, it wasn’t}

George was at a point in his life where he had been sober for some time and was fortunate enough to open a sober house for men and to pursue photography, that he so loved. He had moved quite some distance from the city and was working with adolescents struggling with substance abuse and jail. I remember the first time I saw the scars on his arms from years of abuse.

{I am sure I gasped}

He had quit smoking when I met him and had also become a vegetarian. He let me smoke freely, cooked meat for me, and made coffee in a French press. The first time I met a French press. George introduced me to quiet. He put on Barry white and we listened to it. He took me to natural landmarks and just waited until I got it. He lived fully and modestly and I thoroughly enjoyed what eventually became weekends together.

I always knew he would bring a gift when he picked me up or I drove out to see him. The first gift he gave me was a can opener wrapped for Christmas the week after the snow ball fight. The last gift he gave me was convincing me to meet for coffee when The Girl was two.

George started traveling the country without a map and eventually we lost touch for a few years. When he called me in the late spring as I sat in my parking lot overweight, and mostly avoiding old friends, his voice was so different. So old and frail. So new. It wasn’t the same voice and I couldn’t place it. He told me he had been in a diabetic coma for three months and had to learn to walk and talk again.

{He had been through another trial that took a toll that couldn’t be undone}

Over the next six weeks I rescheduled and canceled furiously. Mostly, all I knew was that we were both very different. I wanted to keep my memories of the friendship, the desire, the lust we never consummated; for fear of losing what we had.

{I was afraid of disappointment in his face, and he in mine}

I finally met him for ten minutes for a cup of coffee. The Girl was in a bucket seat in the back, in the minivan. We drank our coffee, he said I had really big boobs and that was about it. I was so far away from myself at the time I didn’t even know what to say. Two weeks later his sister, who I’d never met; so kindly called me and told me that George had passed. He had contracted an infection in an abrasion and died from complications.

I got dressed, called The Mute to ride with me and went to say goodbye to my friend. The pictures were the man I remembered.

George is one of many loves that came from that diner.

“The difference between involvement and commitment is like ham and eggs. The chicken is involved; the pig is committed.”  Martina Navratilova

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