Wednesday, February 25, 2015

I Love You, Malcolm


The situation was redolent of déjà vu: bidding adieu to a dying comrade whose life of heralded human accomplishments had been reduced to the figure of a body prone under off-white hospital sheets with his labored breathing accompanied by the sibilant symphony of wheezing machines, determinedly keeping him alive.

“He can hear you,” the nurse assured me, echoing the words of Mark, his lover of more than thirty years. That imposed a certain responsibility on my part; what I said would potentially be ingested, possibly traveling from his ear to some region of his body that could be soothed by mere words. Not texts, mind you, or a gushy Facebook entry, but real words that would land in his physical orbit.

“I love you,” I said. There must be something else to say, something less predictable, a less hackneyed choice of words to impart to a man who wrote dozens of luminous books, delivered thousands of profound sermons, told a million or so juicy Hollywood stories.

“I love you,” I repeated. “I love you. I love you.”

His eyelids fluttered, like a silent movie star’s, like those of Mary Pickford, the astronomical silent screen great, with whom he shared an intense business and personal relationship more than a half a century ago.

“I love you. I love you,” I repeated. There were simply no other words that came forth. And yet, in uttering those three words, over and over and over, Malcolm seemed to be the one who was giving as much as he was receiving.

"..shared an aura of indomitability that radiated from their essence; their shared larger-than-life personas made us believe that they were too big to die, too luminous, too outrageous, too present."

Sitting with him, I tried to enumerate the deaths that piled up this year alone: Tommy, a part of my life for more than twenty years, including a make out session that lingers on my lips; Audrey, the grande dame mother of one of my closest friends; Michael, a costume designer who I once witnessed creating a dress on a male performer who stood patiently in a black sea of tulle; Taylor, the actor-writer-painter who combined artistry and humanity with every breath he took.

All of these people, including my darling friend-comrade Malcolm Boyd, shared an aura of indomitability that radiated from their essence; their shared larger-than-life personas made us believe that they were too big to die, too luminous, too outrageous, too present.

“I love you, Malcolm.” I held his hand even though it was snugly situated under the hospital blanket with its embossed pattern of…what is it, flowers? His hand seemed large and strong, contrasting with the frail diminutiveness of his body.

Do I tell him how monumentally he has affected my life? Do I announce how he has consistently inspired me for decades? Do I remind him of all the giggles amidst the shifting phases of our friendship?

“I love you. I love you. I love you.”

He appeared to be in a state of contentment; no raging at the night or waging a war against time. At ninety-one, with a beloved husband (Mark Thompson), a rolodex of friends who are true-blue and more than a little bit lavender, and a literary legacy unparalleled, activist/man-of-the-cloth Malcolm Boyd seems to be welcoming whatever is next. That seems to be his nature.

“Goodbye, my dear friend.

“I love you.”