It all started on August 6,1996 when I took a lovely man camping and kayaking at Montague Harbour Provincial Park. I’d met Roberto a couple of months earlier at a party thrown by a friend and, after hearing about my on-water adventures, he’d asked me to teach him to kayak.
It ends next week, a few minutes past midnight on October 26 when he boards a Toronto-bound flight to seek his future in his chosen creative field.
For the past six years, I’ve been in love with a wonderful man, a man that some Xtra West readers have met but about whom I have seldom written, at his request. At his request, I’m still not sharing his last name-it’s tough being involved with someone who has my job.
Roberto’s a massively talented and creative man who holds a BFA with a major in visual arts from Emily Carr. He’s a guy who can identify a species of lumber from five paces, who can feed a slab of wood through a loud and aggressive machine to capture the best grain to match the design he’s got in mind. He’s someone who can stand in front of a blank canvas for a day and then, when the inspiration hits, shovel on crusts of paint until his completed work makes me want to sing.
Roberto’s a man whose great love is sculpture, specifically the sculptural qualities of one-of-a-kind hand-made furniture. And he’s off to Toronto next week to sculpt a future as a furniture-maker out of the raw material of the rest of his life.
For more or less the first three years of our love, we carved out a life together in a tiny brick-lined studio condominium in Gastown. It was his first time living with a lover. In fact, I was his first lover. We lived the tao of everyday love: first one up makes coffee, I cook the dinner, he paints. We talk. Ultimately, our living space proved too small, we got cabin fever, broke up, he moved away.
Two months later, we were back together. But smarter this time, living separately. Like most successful gay couples, we lived outside the box, making the rules that worked for us. We’ve found our own pace, sometimes monogamous, sometimes not, but always we’ve made sure the other partner felt deeply loved.
When Xtra West readers have met him, they’ve often expressed surprise that I’m in a longterm relationship. The frankest among them have told me they’d figured me for a single man and a slut judging by the causes I’ve championed, the features we’ve run in the paper. Aah, grasshopper, but never assume the fine details of a journalist’s personal life can be read by the tea leaves that pour out when you shake a newspaper’s content.
I’ve enjoyed great highs with my man and, like everyone I know (okay, like every fag I know), we’ve had our hissy-fits. There’s a good few years between us and that causes frequent challenges. More profoundly, since pretty much the beginning of our time together, we’ve both known Roberto would someday make this move; it’s sometimes too tempting to hold back when you know a love relationship has an expiry date-great wisdom comes with knowing that you should not hold back but putting that into practice is difficult.
There’s also been a ghost between us-the ghost of my best friend, Michael Allen, who died of AIDS in 1996 just months before I met Roberto. I didn’t have a chance to mourn when Michael died and for the past six years a big part of me has been a widow. I haven’t been as free with my laughter since Michael died and my lover could often touch a deep-down sadness, not a fair situation for someone in love for the first time. But this summer I finally made the time and found the space (Jasper’s wilderness) to mourn Michael, and I feel, just like the cliche goes, like a great weight is lifted. I laugh more. We’ve been making the most of our remaining months.
Roberto is not my first lover, nor my first gay lover. He is one who taught me much about myself, about relaxing into love, about sticking to things through the rough times because love is worth it.
And now I’m returning the lesson. I love him deeply enough to let him move on to the career and personal challenges ahead. I’ve stayed in touch with some of my past lovers and boyfriends as we’ve added each other to our circle of supportive friends. When you invest years of love in someone, it’s a horrible shame to remove them from your life when the original relationship ends. A break-up, after a suitable mourning period, is an opportunity to re-cast the relationship in a new mold. I know I shall always love Roberto; I’ll be there always in friendship. And I shall carry in my mind always the fact that he, and others, love me.
It’s the gay way that I learned two decades ago when I befriended Michael Allen.
And Roberto: I love you, babe.
We have a tuned-out community. Gays and lesbians rarely vote except as a defensive gesture against immediate threats. But when we do get out and walk into that cardboard ballot stall, we have sufficient numbers to actually change results. Yes, we do.
This election is that rare thing in democracy-a watershed moment when Vancouver citizens get an opportunity to choose between significantly different futures. Change is in the air.
And change can benefit us. Local political parties are already talking about making Vancouver a fun place, about improving policing, about gay-bashing, about subsidizing the Pride Parade, about later bar hours, about getting puritanism out of planning decisions, about advisory committees to school boards and erecting a monument to Aaron Webster in the park. Our issues.
One last thing: you can take two pieces of identification to the polls on election day if you’re not already registered. The ID must prove who you are and where you live; one must have your signature. Easy as pie. It’s actually easy to make a difference and this is the election to do it.
We’ll tell you more next issue.
Gareth Kirkby is Managing Editor for Xtra.