There is no term for what Tate and I were to each other. This didn’t bother me throughout all the years that people looked at us askance; “Are they married?” “Is he her father?” “Do they have some kind of arrangement?” This happened most often when we were looking for a new apartment or taking the other to urgent care. In later years it would happen when he would bring one of the kids to daycare or school. We just laughed. And yes, we knew we were a pretty odd site.
Here is what I said in a speech on his 60th birthday, just one week before he went to the hospital for what we later learned was lung cancer.
“To me of course, Tate you are many things; my artistic partner, my business partner, my housemate, my comrade, the third parent to my children, a member of my family, and most importantly, my best friend.”
And yet even that does not say it all because basically, at some point early on in our friendship, Tate and I decided that although we were not romantically involved, we wanted to share a life together. This life wasn’t to be exclusive. I wanted to marry and have children eventually. He too wanted to find someone special. I like to think we helped each other make those dreams a reality along with all the other dreams we worked toward because we were better people together than we were apart. So when Steve and I began to talk about forming our own company in a new city, I knew that I did not want to do it without Tate. We were a unit.
Tate and I never took vows or held a public event to announce our commitment to our life together. But we did, along with Steve, make some very intentional ground rules for our relationship and our work. Chief among them was “No Warehousing.” This was short hand for talking about conflicts, annoyances or hurt feelings as they came up rather than stuffing them away (in an emotional warehouse) until they burst out when you least expect (or appreciate) it. Tate and I were really good at this. So good in fact that many have said we fought like an old married couple. I cannot deny that our bickering sometimes sounded like an episode of All in the Family. But I can say with certainty that there was never anything unsaid between us. We said it, we hashed it out if we had to, and it was over. When people ask how we were able to live and work together everyday for 15 years without getting sick of each other, that is my answer.
Tate taught me to live beyond judgement. Not without it, but beyond it. After all he said, judgements are just thoughts and thoughts can always be followed by new thoughts. Furthermore, he explained, thoughts are just messages and they may not even be our own. They may be messages from the many outside influences in our lives. The first time he taught me about all of this, it was in the context of discussing racism. He said something like:
“If you are walking down the street and upon seeing a couple of black guys coming your way you decide to cross that street, you could admonish yourself for being a shameful racist or you could say, ‘hey – that was weird. Where did that thought come from? Do I really fear for my safety? And if so, why?’ Break it down. Was is a racist thought? Sure! But does that mean you are a racist? Well that depends on what you do with that thought. And what you do next after that. If we could all just talk about the ugly parts of ourselves without so much judgment and shame, we’d be able to get a lot farther in what we call “race relations.”
I’m laughing to myself now because I make him sound like such a sage. He was. Certainly not in all ways. He was a slob. He was horrendous with money. He could defensive to the point of paranoia. He often made terrible first impressions and he made some mistakes in his life that he sorely regretted. But actually because of all that, he was the wisest person I’ve ever known. Tate’s wisdom came from his weaknesses and pain. He wrote one of my favorite lines in Ebeneeza – A Hartford Holiday Carol, in which the Ghost of Holiday’s present says to Ebeneeza, “The pain that makes us most of us human you allowed to make you cold, callous and unfeeling for those in need.” Tate’s pain didn’t just make it him human. It made him generous and beautiful and loving. It made him someone I wanted and needed in my life forever.
Another pain that was Tate’s to bear was the world’s reaction to his size. He wasn’t just a black man in America or a big black man in America. He was a fat black man in America. This last part seemed for many to be his most egregious offense. How dare he make people so uncomfortable with his weight. How dare he make people confront their hatred of fat people which inevitably lead to their fear or hatred of their own bodies. I’m not saying that people hated Tate. But they hated that he was fat and they hated themselves for hating that he was fat and they wanted him to just loose weight already so that everyone could be more comfortable. Yes we can all talk about the health risks that come from being overweight and they are very real. But our society’s vilification of fat is also real and it is palpable. Tate and I talked about this often. He knew when people were uncomfortable with his body. Since his death, I have even had a few people say things to me like, “well he was so overweight,” as if to offer some rationale or meaning for his death. If you are someone who has said this to me and I did not stab you in the thigh with a fork, consider yourself extremely lucky. And by the way, although he never “got control over his eating,” in the last 11 years he did change his eating habits, quite smoking, develop a regular gym routine and visit his doctor every three months like clockwork to stay on top of his cholesterol and blood pressure.
But I digress. Tate was so much more than that his size. He was artist in the truest sense. He lived his art, whether it paid off or not. His love of theater came from his love and respect for the human condition. With theater he was both a workhorse and a scholar. No task was beneath him (though he could grumble louder and longer than an angst ridden teen and crotchety old man put together). He could quote playwrights from the mainstream Western theater canon as well as he could quote Brecht, Fo or Fugard. He taught me most of what I know about being a working artist.
He taught me much of what I know about being an adult. I was 22 years old when we met.
So here I am. It is the middle of the night and I am once again awake trying to imagine living this life that we built together, without him. While I have not found a term that encompasses all we were to each other, I have found something that I forgot to say to him say to him in that birthday speech:
“Tate, you are part of my being, my definition, my reason.”
And now you are gone.
I just wanted to remind everyone that there will be a memorial service for Tate (Greg, Uncle Greg, Uncle Ham) tomorrow at 2pm. It will be at Charter Oak Cultural Center in Hartford CT. Parking is available in the lot across the street (corner of Charter Oak Avenue and Prospect Street). There is also street parking available. If you are coming from out of town and need help with any logistics, or if you just have questions about any part of tomorrow’s events, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hope to see as many of you there as possible.
Many of you have asked for details about Tate’s memorial, and we have set the time at 2pm on June 30th. It will be held at Charter Oak Cultural Center, which is just south of Downtown Hartford for those coming out of town.
Charter Oak’s Executive Director, Rabbi Donna Berman, made some thoughtful suggestions for the memorial program drawn from different traditions. We’ve planned a memorial that will honor both Tate’s life and enduing legacy. Please join us on the 30th from 2-3pm.
At the close of the memorial we would like to offer coffee and dessert. We are looking for some baking volunteers, if you are interested please email me at email@example.com.
Also, if you are coming from out of town and would like accommodations, please email Julia at firstname.lastname@example.org. We have had several generous offers to host Tate’s friends and family who are traveling for the memorial and can match you with a host.
I want to thank you all for the unbelievable outpouring of blog comments, emails, phone calls and facebook posts/messages. It has been so beautiful and heartwarming. Speaking only for myself I want to tell you that although I am not responding to them I am taking them all in. It is just too hard for me to talk or even write right now.
That being said, we have heard people’s desire to gather sooner rather than later so although we will have the memorial on June 30th (more on that in a minute) we are inviting people over to Lucy and Leon Rosenblatt’s house this Saturday. Some people call this calling hours. In Jewish tradition it would be like sitting Shiva. It will be just an informal time where any of you who want and are able, can stop by. This will be from 2pm to 6pm at 286 Steele Road in West Hartford, CT. I know this is last minute for a lot of you so please do not stress if you are unable to stop by. And if you are from outside of CT and need to make a choice about when to make the trip, the memorial is definitely the one you should choose.
The memorial service will be at Charter Oak Cultural Center in Hartford on Saturday, June 30th. We have not set the exact time yet but it will be in the afternoon. I believe I mentioned this before but if you visiting from out of state, and we hope you do, please let us know if we can help with arrangements.
I think many of you know already that Tate passed away the night before last. It was just hours after my last post about moving him to an actual hospice facility. At about 5:30pm the nurse told us that his blood pressure had dropped and she didn’t think he would make it through the night. We gathered around his bed, as we had been doing for days, and said our goodbyes. The we (Steve, Maureen, Karen and Michael) told him we would be back after dinner. We needed Taquila. 15 minutes after we left the room, the nursed called to say that he had died. We rushed back to the hotel. Desi returned with Ashley, Jennifer and Carole. We sat with him for a while and cried.
We are planning a memorial service here in Hartford for the end of the month. We will try to nail down a date today and then we will of course post it here. Anyone and Everyone is encouraged to come. We will help people with arrangements as best we can.
I want to start off by saying that for those of you who have been trying to figure out the meaning of the title for my last post “men,” you can stop troubling yourselves. It was an accident pure and simple. I have no memory of the word that I was trying to write but I remember that I started to put a title in, realized I didn’t know what I wanted it to be, and decided I would come back to it after I finished writing the post. Then of course by the end of the post I was tired and weepy and hit ‘publish’ without going back to the title. Oops.
Now for the important stuff. Although he is still in the hospital at CTCA, Tate’s care has officially changed to hospice care. That means that the goal now is comfort. They stopped the antibiotics and removed the NG tube. Today we picked a hospice facility for him to be moved to called The Arc. It is just a few miles from O’Hare airport and it is a lovely facility.
Up until three days ago, Tate was able to talk a bit. That evening he had this beautiful hour or so where he was quite lucid, able to talk, laugh and even crack jokes a little. His room was filled with family and friends and he was holding court. At one point toward the end of that hour he said, “I have a million hands on me.”
The next day he was mostly unresponsive. He was in pain and agitated in the morning so the nurse gave him Ativan which we think knocked him out for most of the day. Then yesterday he was more alert. He couldn’t really speak but he tried to mouth some words and managed a ‘yeah’ or a ‘no’ when asked a question. And although it wasn’t a full smile anymore, he was able to half smile when things came up that made him happy.
Today he has not opened his eyes. We are told that he can hear everything so we continue to read him every email, letter, text etc. that we receive including the comments on this blog. I know he is listening and feels the overwhelming love that you are all sending him. I know that.
People have been driving and flying in to visit him and say goodbye. I know that whether to do so or not is a hard decision. I truly think it is a personal choice that everyone has to make (and most people don’t have the option at all). Whatever you choose is okay. It is okay with us and I am sure that it is okay with Tate. No one planned for this. No one thought it would end anywhere near this soon and no one thought it would end in Illinois (no offensive to Illinois or CTCA – everyone here has been amazing and we are eternally grateful.) This just wasn’t supposed to happen. None of it.
Our hearts are breaking. Our bodies are tired and hurting. But this does not compare to what Tate is going through so the best we can do is comfort him, love him, and let him know that it is okay to find peace.
As some of you may know by now Tate’s condition has taken a drastic turn for the worse. In just one week he has gone from being able to walk and carry on full conversations in pure Tate style, to being bed ridden and mostly unresponsive. Steve, Karen and I flew here this morning to be with him.
There are several factors involved here. 1. His calcium levels got really high (a byproduct of the cancer in his bones) 2. He contracted at least one infection (a common occurrence when the immune system is so compromised. 3. The cancer in his brain has spread through the meninges – the covering of the brain – causing a lot of swelling. 4. The tumor in his lung has grown back enough so that it is in his throat which means he is unable to swallow fluids or solids. He mostly sleeps but opens his eyes every so often. He smiles when she sees us. He has said a few things including, “I love you too.”
When Dr. Stevenson came to us today he said, “I come to you humbly, with my hat in hand, to say that I have tried everything to try to get him back to where he was even a few days ago, but I cannot do it.” Tomorrow they will try one last treatment of radiation and unless that seems to make some major improvement, he will transition to hospice care.
I cannot wrap my head around how quickly this has happened. And I cannot bear to think of life without him. But I do know that Tate has always felt very strongly that he does not want ‘extraordinary measures’ taken to save his life and he does not want to be in this world if he is not ‘himself.’
If you would like to send him a note, you can always email it or mail it to Desi’s house. The address is 1545 West Jackson Boulevard, Chicago, Il, 60607. We will read everything to him.
If there is a silver lining to any of this it is that in the last four months Tate has been able to see and feel, in the deepest way, just how much he is loved. Thank you all for that.
We will continue to keep you posted.