Atlantis Alumni

Monday, September 19, 2011

Belated Requium For A Friend

Dan and I usually have a requiem festival as a way of remembering family and friends who have died. Listening to the great composers as they struggled to put their feelings about death into words and music gives us comfort. Tonight, I played some of my usual late summer – early autumn music (not requiems) while I had a cocktail as is my custom. But when the selection ended I searched for something to put on the stereo while I had my dinner. All at once the lovely Faure requiem came up in the rotation at the very same time it occurred to me that September a year ago was the last time I was supposed to see my long time friend Al Bulliner. He had suggested coming out to Cherry Grove for a day and we had made plans, but Mother Nature intervened and storms came. Al never did visit that September. Al died January 10, 2011 of heart related problems.

I met Al in 1978. My first lover, Michael Mather, introduced me to Al and his then partner, a sort of retro guy from the South named Benny…right out of the 50s. Al was a bright guy who had doctorates in chemistry and law, and when I met him he was hoping to be made a junior partner in a Philadelphia law firm. Al was pretty much closeted as a gay man back then, or at least he worked hard to keep his personal life separate from his professional life. I guess the word for this is compartmentalization. Al was an expert at this. We had a lot of fun times out at the bars together but one time as I was walking down the street in center city Philadelphia he approached with another man, probably an associate. I said hello but he ignored me. The two didn’t mix…his professional life and his gay life.

Al changed partners and Tommy replaced Benny. I changed partners and Dan replaced Michael. We were all friends and had a weekly get together in those days. One time there was a dispute about the check. I wasn’t happy with the way Al behaved and we became estranged. It was only after months, perhaps years, when I wrote a letter to try to patch things up, when we got back together as friends to some degree. It was never to be as close as it was before.

The years went by and Al changed partners again, this time his love was Michael. Al became a successful corporate lawyer and became quite wealthy. Dan tells me that Al gave me credit for helping to bring him along in terms of dealing with his sexuality. Maybe I did, but in the final analysis Al was still an expert at compartmentalizing, keeping his various life activities separate from one another…his fraternity meetings, his job, his old friends, his newer friends…all different and separate facets of a complicated man that I really didn’t know. He once famously said of me: “you can only get so close to Jim Kelly.” However, as Dan and I often said to each other…he was projecting. In fact, you could only get just so close to Al.

In the final analysis, it has to be the good times that you remember and cherish, and there were plenty of them. Al and I traveled together in the Poconos, the Hudson Valley, Rehoboth Beach, Fire Island…there were lots of good times that Al and I shared with our partners, plenty of laughs and plenty of fun. It’s enough to say that I regret that he wasn’t able to visit me out on Fire Island last September, and that I miss him. Maybe if he had made that visit we might have had a serious talk about things. Maybe we would have gotten past the walls that we all throw up…the defenses. Maybe we would finally have gotten to know each other more intimately. Maybe.

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