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In sickness and
in health

In sickness and
in health

Ceramics

Coming out while coping with mental illness might seem lonely. But this man found understanding and love that lasted a lifetime.

My lover, John Evans, died in late January of this year. He was a cardiac patient; he inherited the heart disease that runs in his mother's side of the family. He died suddenly at home in bed, and I don't think he suffered in any way--it was so sudden. He had been in the hospital the year before when his heart failed and he was put on a ventilator. I thought that we might have to withdraw life support, as this was John's will. But just when I had given up hope, he began breathing again on his own. This was nothing short of a miracle. But he had to deal with brain damage and loss of memory. He got somewhat better by using oxygen at home, and his memory returned partially. He still had a problem with short-term memory up until the time he died. We all knew that he might not live much longer and were prepared for his possible death.

As for John, he was making plans for the future and went on with his life in hopes that he would continue to enjoy the things he loved: antiques, carpentry, and interior design. He bought a condo and was remodeling it. John was an experienced carpenter and loved this kind of work. I wasn't good at this, and John did most of the work himself--me handing him his tools.

But there were aspects of our lives that were unusual. We both had severe mental disorders: my schizophrenia and John's manic-depressive (a.k.a. bipolar) disorder. For both of us these conditions were so severe that we had to take disability. I was on Social Security disability, and John was on disability retirement from the Baton Rouge, La., public library system, where he had worked for 10 years as a librarian before his illness became so acute that he could no longer do the work. I taught English in college for two years until I was first hospitalized for schizophrenia at the age of 25. Later I also developed multiple sclerosis.

Like me, John experienced stress in confronting and accepting his homosexuality, and the stress exacerbated his illness. He was married and had a son. This was an extremely difficult situation for John. My career in the university system was cut short. But we had these problems in common, and we understood each other's difficulties. We were both in the same psychiatric hospital in 1980. But we only exchanged a few words during this stay. I would occasionally see him at the public library, but I didn't even know his name. I remember that when I saw him there I would say to myself, Wow! He was a handsome man with a full black beard and large, deep brown eyes. We did not get together until many years later, through a mutual gay friend. It was a long, hard road for both of us to find each other.

After his divorce John had a much younger lover who left him after only one year. John went into a depressive phase that lasted for eight years before he met the mutual friend that brought us together.

Our first date was on the Saturday after Thanksgiving in 1997. From that point on it was an intense, loving, and mutually satisfying relationship. I never knew I could love anybody as much as I loved John. (I told friends I always wanted to be married to a construction worker!) John was an atypical librarian and a unique person. He had his loves, such as antiques. He had a wonderful collection of Oriental decorative porcelains. He was largely self-taught about antiques and interior design.

I always said that John tried to improve the quality of life for other people and always went the extra mile. Fortunately, he and my mother got along very well, and he helped her decorate her town house. She misses him almost as much as I do. Unfortunately, even though John left me usufruct of the condo, I could not afford the mortgage and am living with my mother--and with an uncertain future. John's son will use the condo as rental property and plans to sell his father's antiques.

But I have my memories of John, all very good, and my friends and my mother are there for me. I am grieving, but this, I think, is understandable. I have my writing--my short story "Mysteries of Von Domarus" is largely autobiographical--and I write poetry and literary scholarship and criticism. Even though my schizophrenia cut my career short, I have more publications than most professors. In many ways I am very lucky.

Advocate Magazine - KehlaniAdvocate Magazine - Gus Kenworthy

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