February 19, 2009


Sunday is February 22, which means it’s Washington’s birthday. It is also my ex-boyfriend John’s birthday. He would have been 41 years old this Sunday. In 2001, John passed away after a long battle with cancer.

I miss John. I wish he could know Matte. I wish John could see that even though he and I didn’t work out, I found someone who fit me. I wish I could have told John when I had to put Jasper to sleep. Were it not for John, Jasper would have been called Pyewacket or Figaro. But John thought his beautiful green eyes were reminiscent of jasper stones, and they were.

John and I remained friends after we ended our 7-year relationship and I moved back to California from Lexington, Kentucky. When I talked to him on the phone one day, about a year later, I know it was hard for him to tell me he was getting married. When I retorted, “Is she pregnant?” that didn’t go over too well. But, I mean, after spending seven years in a relationship with the dude, to have him meet his future wife just six short months later, and propose six months after that? Well, what was I supposed to think? But, she wasn’t pregnant. They were just ready to spend the rest of their lives together. I joked with him that if I’d known it would only take six months to for him to know that he wanted to marry someone, I could have saved myself six and a half years. We both laughed.

I was invited to John’s wedding, but I did not go. Even though I was close with everyone in his family, and they were like my own family, I just couldn’t do it. I wished him well, at least a small part of me did. But I was also jealous. My feelings would change very soon.

Soon after his wedding, my friend Julie called to tell me that John had been diagnosed with cancer. It was a rare form, and they weren’t sure how to treat it, but he would try anything and go anywhere to get the best treatment available.

John came to California to visit and was completely bald from chemo. I joked with him that it was too bad he wasn’t bald when we were together because I thought bald guys were hot. When I met his wife, I hugged her. I felt like I knew her already. She was much younger than he was and what she was going through, caring for her sick husband, well. I was no longer jealous of her. Instead, I was empathetic and supportive of what she was going through.

When they later discovered that his wife was pregnant, everyone was elated for John and his wife. Cancer treatments, especially those as intense as John was getting, often render people sterile, so this was quite a miracle. He showed me the video of his baby, this tiny little blob, floating around in his wife’s womb, and I saw a changed person in John. Yes, he was fighting cancer, but he was not letting that keep him from being happy and living his life. I had never seen him this kind of happy before, not even when we were together. And I was happy for him, and the impending birth of his first baby, Cletus the Fetus, as John called him.

His son was born and he was adorable and not named Cletus. But John wasn’t getting better, and when his son was just two years old, John succumbed to the cancer that ravaged his body, but never his soul.

John was the youngest of seven children and his brother was the oldest. Two boy bookends to five girls. I can’t remember who suggested I see come to see John in December of 2000. It could have been his sister Patty, who is still one of my dearest friends, or John’s best friend Craig, or maybe my friend Mary Beth (another close friend), who went to high school with John. I’m so glad I made that trip and got to know his wife better and meet their son. John felt well enough to take us to a brewery tasting room and show us the woodwork that he helped design. We went to one of his favorite restaurants, Atomic Cafe, and spent a lot of time visiting and reminiscing. In the photos from that trip, everyone is smiling.

The next time I would go to Lexington would be for John’s funeral.

Sometime in 1992. Photo by Frank Becker.

Friday night, Matte and I will gather for some poker with some of John’s old friends and remember him, like we do every year around his birthday. There will be Newcastle to drink, and possibly Togo’s sandwiches made of turkey and avocado (John’s favorite). The soundtrack will include REM, Guadalcanal Diary, and Concrete Blonde, with a smattering of Wire Train, Ocean Blue, the Rolling Stones, the B-52s, Toad the Wet Sprocket, and Ultravox. We’ll remember how John would wear the same thing to every one of our poker nights: Birkenstocks and a shirt he bought at the flea market. The shirt depicted the Pope, making two peace signs with his hands. I might break out my old Birks and maybe my University of Kentucky sweatshirt to wear. While John won’t be sitting at the table with us, he will be there, mocking our bad poker hands, and singing along with Michael Stipe, “got my Sprite, I’ve got my Orange Crush.” At least, that’s how we always sang it.

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