Some Things I Have Been Needing To Say

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.

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  1. #1 by baldinij on July 20, 2012 - 6:15 pm

    I love you Julia. This was beautifully written. I’m so happy I was able to be apart of Hartbeat and Warrenton’s lives. You are in my thoughts daily.

  2. #2 by Amos on July 20, 2012 - 6:25 pm

    Well said…

  3. #3 by Anonymous on July 20, 2012 - 6:30 pm

    The term has become trite because people over use it but it sounds like you and Tate were and are soul mates in the truest since of the word.

  4. #4 by Velina Brown on July 20, 2012 - 6:32 pm

    The term has become trite because people over use it but it sounds like you and Tate were and are soul mates in the truest sense of the word.

  5. #5 by Susan Ginsburg on July 20, 2012 - 6:52 pm

    You can measure a child’s growth by penciling lines on the wall, or notches in a pole. How do you measure your grown in consciousness? Beautiful, Julia.

  6. #6 by Susan Ginsburg on July 20, 2012 - 6:52 pm

    Growth…

  7. #7 by Rebecca G. on July 20, 2012 - 7:07 pm

    You 2 certainly had a unique & beautiful relationship. We think of you often & hope you are finding peace and comfort…

  8. #8 by Chinma on July 20, 2012 - 7:44 pm

    Beautiful. A great tribute to Tate. Our prayers are with you.

  9. #9 by Martin on July 20, 2012 - 7:44 pm

    I love you Julia. Thank you for being his friend and for taking the time to write so many loving remembrances. He has truly deserved every one. You mentioning the “negatives” of Tate just reminds me how funny he was… how anything that might be bickering or conflict was so easily defused when he would feign surprise and widen those big laughing eyes. And then how he would address it. I also remember him telling stories about his times in Asia where his largess was even more foreign… and recounting how people would point and laugh at him. Gentle Tate. How I miss you. Please accept a big hug from me and send one as well to Tessa and Elijah. They must miss him so much.

  10. #10 by riplady on July 20, 2012 - 8:27 pm

    Julia, that was indescribably beautiful and honest. I loved the pure honesty the best. He was so lucky to have you and all the Hartford people. This would have been good to read at the memorial. Greg had a lot of things going on in that mind of his and I only got to know it for a short while when he lived with us in California. I always recognized it as unique though. I always knew he lived with pain also though. I understand that better than a lot of people I imagine. It is sad that you have to go sleepless missing him but extremely joyful that you has such a relationship as well. Val Little

  11. #11 by Elinore Liebersohn Koenigsfeld on July 20, 2012 - 9:30 pm

    Tears in my eyes, I’m moved and think you were both lucky, so so sorry the luck could not last. Interesting, not just lucky, but you both worked hard to develop your relationship, and managed to do so living in the real world, interacting with so many people.
    I only met Tate a few times, last time we talked a good bit at the “play in the park” in Hartford. I liked him so much and invited him to visit us in Israel. He said he had always wanted to go there, and would come some day. Thank you for what you wrote. Especially you keep something of him alive in you.

  12. #12 by Mari on July 20, 2012 - 10:14 pm

    Wow Julia, this is so hard to read but so beautiful at the same time. I wish I could bring him back for you, for me, for all of us.

  13. #13 by Elvy Stepinoff on July 20, 2012 - 11:28 pm

    keep writing about Tate. Your words are so healing for you , for me, and probably all who knew him. Thank you.

  14. #14 by Matt on July 21, 2012 - 12:41 am

    It was always clear that a powerful bond existed between you and Greg. I was never sure exactly what your relationship involved, but it wasn’t my business and it didn’t matter. The bond between you two was simply radiant — beautiful — and it lifted everyone around you: Truly, a contact high.
    Greg’s weight, by the way, never made me uncomfortable, and I don’t believe other people I know felt uncomfortable about that, either. I did worry about a precious person falling ill. That was a serious threat to his health, I did not want to lose him. But of course, something else came along and snatched him away.
    Lots of love to you Julie!
    And peace,
    Matt

  15. #15 by Anonymous on July 21, 2012 - 2:11 am

    Amazing tribute Julia, thanks for writing/posting. Hope that you, Hartbeat, and everyone else who Tate touched feel like the other parts of your being/definition/reason are still present in his absence. Love, Erik

  16. #16 by Anonymous on July 21, 2012 - 4:37 am

    Thanks for this, so very much.
    Love, Hannah S.

  17. #17 by Keiko Carreiro on July 21, 2012 - 5:12 am

    Dear Julia,
    Thank you for so generously giving me that. I miss Greg, and I miss you. Thank you for being such a wonderful friend to a wonderful friend…I see him in every park that we do a show in this summer and I hear him grunting as I lift something heavy saying”OOOOOhhhhI’m ooold”.
    And you know we could never give him an honest days’ work for an honest dollar…He told me that I worried too much about everyone else and that I should just get busy and squeeze out some puppies. I wish I had followed his advice sooner. He was a wise man…yes a sage and a silly man both. It’s good to love him. XO, Keiko.

  18. #18 by Karen Kessler on July 21, 2012 - 8:52 am

    Thank you for your relationship with Tate. Missing you. Love, Karen

  19. #19 by Jack Dougherty on July 21, 2012 - 1:03 pm

    Julia, thanks for sharing your relationship with Tate, which gives many of us another way to remember him. – Jack

  20. #20 by Anonymous on July 21, 2012 - 2:17 pm

    I never thought about how it must be hard in some instances to describe what that relationship was- but words and labels are way too limiting in this case I think. I agree about the contact high- even the bickering. I’m very sorry you’re hurting so much.

  21. #21 by Caitlynne on July 21, 2012 - 2:17 pm

    I never thought about how it must be hard in some instances to describe what that relationship was- but words and labels are way too limiting in this case I think. I agree about the contact high- even the bickering. I’m very sorry you’re hurting so much.

  22. #22 by Nina on July 22, 2012 - 6:16 pm

    Julia, this has been on my mind ever since you posted it. It seems the English language is just threadbare in ways to express loving relationships, especially when they’re outside the conventions of marriage and family. It’s as absurd for you to call Tate your “friend” as it is for Karen to call him her “boyfriend”–these words are too puny and everyday to encompass such bone-deep love and connection.

    Here are a few words that lap at the edges: soulmate, fellow traveler, companero. Or brother, an honorific I’ve always loved, since it welcomes someone into your chosen family. (Karen and I have called each others “sistas” for years.) Or maybe we can invent a word that echoes the syllables of Hartbeat: heartmate.

    Whatever you call it, such love is a beautiful thing. It may not feel that way right now, but you’re very lucky. A bigger heart is a great thing even when it hurts.

  23. #23 by Anonymous on July 23, 2012 - 9:26 pm

    Karen…So much of what you have said hear makes me realize that we should become better friends… Talk more…I mean’t Tate when I was 24….I don’t really need to say what he mean’t to me and how he has been and still a force in my life…He lived with us off and on more on during my 20’s .Being the only great big black man hangin out with a small white women 6 years younger in Napa Ca.. at times was just hysterical…Times we would go shopping at Valleragas (grocery store), Tate with ratty clothes and shoes falling off his feet walkin with a hot white girl…We would just laugh and even draw more attention to ourselves than was already there…Many, many nights we stayed up late or till the next day…talking about everything and anything…We called it getting to the heart of it…Was good for both of us…He helped me through racism, dealing with feelings, lovin art , buliding my confidence, respecting myself and others and so, so much more…we eventually went our seperate ways, moved on so to speak…But this man and I have kept in touch for 30 years…Why you ask??? All of the above…A bond and a relationship I will always treasure…Don’t have too many of those relationships in my life but this one I will always have…I am so glad you were and still are so much a part of his life…I can really relate to everything you said…Bless you Karen…Please stay in touch…I honestly feel that if we lived closer we would become very close friends…We don’t but I would like to stay in contact with you.
    Ginny
    (816)223-0246
    E=mail gill.ginny4@gmail.com

    • #24 by juliabrosenblatt on July 26, 2012 - 7:33 pm

      Hi Ginny – this is Julia actually and I’m the one who wrote this post not Karen. I feel as though I know you though because Tate talked about you and Gil and your kids all the time.

  24. #25 by Lisa Marlene Myrick on July 25, 2012 - 5:26 am

    Dear Wonderous JuliaRosenblatt,
    your generosity of spirit and pen is wonderous as you write these thoughts and experiences, for Everyone. To read all about what keeps you awake at night when missing him is extrodinary. Neither of us can fathom the lives and souls moved even still people are touched by your words.

    Admitledly, I am most envious your being there with him, for him, for each other, all those years. I had so few. I am endlessly grateful you found each other. Somehow you did, made a deal, made a plan, then built your lives. You went into business, honed your craft, learned about life and art and life and art… Julia, You got the gold ring, you know, you won the lotto….

    But, I must critique:

    regarding paragragh 9 sentence 3 — LOOK OUT YOUNG LADY
    en garde — i stab you with my fork…..
    putting titles such as those on him – from anyone – even you my sweet – deserves a good stabbing —
    I never want to picture those words attached to him again – DELETE –
    i pray i can forget — never did i think those words to describe him. ever.
    now i have to forget….
    May we just continue to love one another as we love ourselves. it’s our only hope…

    lisa

    • #26 by juliabrosenblatt on July 26, 2012 - 7:40 pm

      I am sorry if I offended you Lisa or made you feel like you had to defend him. Those “titles” were ones he used himself, they didn’t come from me. He didn’t see them as inherently negative terms and neither do I. I was only speaking of prejudices and fears that he/we encountered from some people, certainly not all. As you know Tate had tremendous love for others and especially in later years, he had that much love for himself.
      Peace.

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