9 Tales of Young Love and Old Memories

Nine residents of Gay and Lesbian Elder Housing share stories of love from the past and present.

BY Daniel Reynolds

August 29 2013 5:00 AM ET

Jimmy Hughes, 74

Jimmy Hughes did not have the easiest time growing up. Despite being an excellent student, Hughes was expelled from his high school for being gay, a black mark that made him ineligible for most types of work. Feeling helpless, he nearly ended his life. But through tenacity and the help of a nun who overheard him praying at a hospital chapel, he was able to secure a position as a surgeon’s assistant as a young man. And for a brief amount of time, he had Johnny.

“Johnny and I, he was a little bit on the shy side, but just adorable,” Hughes says of the man he loved. “And his father absolutely hated us. I never was quite sure, but I think he might have been ‘mob,’ because he worked out of Vegas. He was a card guy. And he threatened us both.”

One day, Johnny called the hospital while Hughes was assisting in surgery. A nun insisted he leave the procedure early, in order to accept the call.  He did, and, upon picking up the phone, heard the voice of a frantic Johnny.

“I can’t live without you,” Hughes recalls Johnny saying. “And my dad, he is going to kill you unless I promise never to see you again. And I know he’ll do it, and you know he’ll do it. So I’ve taken a bunch of medication. And I just want you to know how much I love you, but I can’t live without you.”

After the call, Hughes rushed over to the house where Johnny lived. Neighbors were in the street, as well as Johnny’s grandmother, who warned Jimmy not to go inside.

“You gotta get out of here,” Jimmy remembers her saying. “His father’s around, and he will kill you. It’s just too late, Jimmy.”

Hughes left, but searched through the newspapers the next day for news of Johnny’s death. He found nothing. He figured that the family did not want him to attend the funeral.

“I couldn’t tell anybody about [what had happened],” Hughes says. “And it kind of made me afraid to get into a relationship again with anybody.”

Decades passed. Five years ago, Hughes was visiting San Francisco to attend the city’s gay and lesbian film festival. While having dinner with friends, he saw a man outside the restaurant with a familiar face.

“It was Johnny,” he says. “But it was a young Johnny, so it couldn’t be him. I was 69 at this time. I dropped my drink, and I went outside to this young fellow.”

“Forgive me, but you look like someone that was very, very important in my life,” Hughes said to the young man.

“I’m Jimmy,” the young man responded.

“Jimmy?” Hughes asked.

“Jimmy,” he repeated. “I’m named after my father’s best friend.”

“What’s your father’s name?” Hughes asked.

“Johnny,” he said.

As they spoke, the young Jimmy revealed that he was gay, which was the reason he was attending the film festival. His father, he said, was very understanding.

Realizing that Hughes may be the man he was named after, he gave the older Jimmy his father’s phone number, which allowed Hughes to call and confirm that the young man's father was indeed the partner he thought had died long ago. Eventually, Hughes was able to pay him a visit.

“It was a very difficult visit because of the emotion, and because I had to respect his wife at that time,” Hughes says. “But I was so glad that he lived.”

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