10 January 2017

Kevin: A Great and True Friend 1950-2017

Kevin (on the right) and I celebrating a Cal football victory last September.


Kevin died. He was among the best friends I ever had and I will miss him for the rest of my life. At this writing I am zipping back and forth through various stages of grief -- with the exception of acceptance because that is simply a long way off for me. I’ve had enough.

My best friend died in 2002 leaving two step sons and his own son, a toddler at the time. My father died six years later and though he was 92 he had been in great health until a fluke fall. Another good friend and former co worker succumbed to pancreatic cancer in 2011. He had been a hale and hearty man who played and coached sports. My brother was taken in his sleep in 2012. Though he’d had health problems his death was a shock. Now Kevin, who also had endured heart problems but who recently seemed to be perfectly fine. He died in his sleep  (just as did my brother). Several former students have also died in the past few years not to mention other relatives and acquaintances.

Life sucks.

I first saw Kevin in a drinking establishment that I was frequenting in the early 1980s. I always sat at a table either with a date, a friend or alone. Often there would be a four or five person contingent of loud, boisterous gay men congregating at the bar. They were clearly having a grand time and I couldn't help noticing their reveling and laughing. Several years later I was at a 12 step meeting when one of those gentlemen walked in. He was new and a bit nervous. Since I recognized him I had reason to strike up a conversation and assure him that he was in the right place. He appreciated me reaching out.

I didn’t see much more of him for the next few months until one faithful day. It was the morning of the annual Big Game (Cal vs. Stanford in football) and I had just boarded the train to Palo Alto. I was alone. All of the people I’d gone to football games with were still partaking copiously of alcohol so I had no one to go with. Just before the train pulled away someone asked if he could have the seat next to mine. It was Kevin. He’d not noticed it was me until I’d looked up and responded.

We chatted for the whole train ride. We had much in common, particularly our love of the University of California and its football team and our struggles to overcome addiction. We arranged to meet after the game and ride the train back to SF and the subway to Berkeley.

That was November 1989, I had one daughter at the time and another arrived 13 months later. My wife and children met Kevin a few times and he always, always, always asked about them. He clearly shared my pride in my offspring.

For 27 years I saw Kevin regularly at Cal football games, men’s basketball and women’s basketball games (in the off season we regularly met for coffee and 2-3 hour conversations). For the last 12 years we sat together at women’s games, spending as much time yakking as we did watching the games. Besides sports and addiction issues we chatted about music, TV, movies, travels, politics and family. Every year Kevin would go back to his native Hawaii to visit family. He spoke lovingly about the islands and his trips as well as his three siblings. I briefly met his youngest sister but felt as if I knew his family quite well. When his oldest sister called me last night with the news about Kevin, she told me how often they had heard about me. I was deeply touched to know that Kevin spoke of me to his family.

Last Friday night the Cal women hosted their first home game in three weeks. I was looking forward to the game and seeing Kevin and catching up. He wasn’t there. This was odd as he usually arrived very early and save me a seat. He’d always email or text me if he was going to miss a game. I emailed Kevin that night and kept checking for responses through Sunday morning. None came. This was a particular concern because Kevin was always quick to reply to emails, especially now that he was retired. I went to Sunday’s game hoping he’d be there with an explanation for missing the game and not responding. He wasn’t. I texted him. I was worried. This was so unlike him.

Last night my cell phone rang. Caller ID indicated that it was Kevin calling and for a second or two I was relieved and happy as I answered the phone. It was not him. His sister had found his cellphone, seen my text and was calling with the news I’d feared since Friday night.

Kevin could talk and talk and talk. He generally dominated our conversations. But he was interesting and always asked me questions and listened. Plus he was family. Those occasions he got on my nerves (which were few and far between) I let it go. Kevin was too much fun to hang out with to let a little thing interfere. And they were always little. Kevin and I never exchanged angry words and I was never upset with him.

I’ll miss our running jokes. I’ll miss our email exchanges (I would always sign off with a Go Bears! But he always out did me with a GO BEARS!!!). I’ll miss comparing the era we grew up in with today. I’ll miss sharing observations about Cal players and coaches. I’ll miss our poking innocent fun at strangers from afar. I’ll miss our frank discussions on alcoholism and sharing stories about our abuse and how we managed to survive. I’ll miss his rigorous honesty and his perspective and his compassion and his righteous indignation about some of the idiots in political power. He hated Donald Trump with a passion and not living through his presidency is the only blessing I can imagine about Kevin’s premature departure. I'll miss his reliability, his story telling, our sharing of reminisces and his warmth, kindness, dignity and hatred of Stanfurd.

I sometimes shared my writings with him and he always responded with compliments. Not everyone I know does that. I was most touched after sending him blog posts about our recent trip to New York. Twice he told me that my writing of that trip was so vivid he felt like he was there.

Kevin lived by himself and was celibate the entire time I knew him. But I never for a second felt that he was lonely. He knew how to enjoy the world and fill his life with pleasure. He was manager of the apartment he lived in and was always doing service for AA. Kevin’s heart problems started last Spring and in partial response he took Tai Chi, Hula and a dance class. He was also — in his own words — a chatty Kathy and knew people most everywhere he went. This was a richer man than most millionaires can ever expect to be.

As I mourn the loss of another person who was close to me, I take great comfort and even joy in having had the pleasure of spending so much time with him. While I struggle with grief and the void his departure creates in my life, I know that in the heavens there is a star shining ever brighter now -- for he is within it.


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