A lot of people have asked why, after all these years, I still blog. I mean, it’s not really much of a thing anymore since so many have moved on to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and a multitude of other venues, but for me it remains a comfortable and familiar vehicle to express myself. I will freely admit that since Obama came to office, I’ve had much less political opinion to express, and Voenix Rising has become little more than a place where I bitch about work, repost funny pictures I’ve found online, and share lots of images of handsome men in various stages of undress. But every now and then I get the bug to actually sit down and write.
As I lay in bed in the dark this morning, after waking up at my usual ungodly time, I reached over and slipped on my headphones and started listening to Röyksopp’s The Inevitable End, an album Ben had been listening to the night before but one that I hadn’t heard from beginning to end.
Almost immediately—and don’t ask me why because I have no explanation—memories came unbidden of a long-departed friend…
Ben Howard Walzer, 1958-1987
It was early summer, 1986. After a rather tumultuous 18 months together, my second partner and I decided to go our separate ways. It was a friendly parting, and nearly 30 years later he remains one of my dearest friends. Even then we knew we couldn’t shut each other out of our lives completely, and since I loved the complex we lived in, when the time came for me to move out, I simply got my own place a few doors away in an adjacent building.
Shortly after I got settled, a very handsome stranger moved in across the courtyard and immediately caught my eye. I’d often see him out walking his two dogs, and we’d exchange pleasantries whenever we passed.
At this point I don’t remember the exact circumstances that led up to it, but one afternoon he showed up at my front door after a run, drenched and smelling of fresh sweat—probably following up on a general invitation I’d thrown his way to stop by sometime (no doubt hoping to get into his pants, but never expecting that anything would ever come of it).
He came in and sat down and we chatted for a few minutes. He asked to use the bathroom. Still not completely sure of which team he played on, I panicked as I had a framed sketch of a naked man in an obvious state of arousal hanging over the toilet.
When he came out a few minutes later I asked if he wanted something to drink. While I don’t remember his exact words now, as he stood there grabbing his crotch through his nylon running shorts, it was something along the lines of, “No thanks, but I would like to fuck.”
We were both 28—young, horny, and obviously attracted to each other. We wasted no time getting to it.
Though that initial hot, sweaty afternoon of monkey sex was never repeated, we became good friends. Like myself, he’d recently split up with his partner and had moved into a place of his own. We had much more than our recent separations in common, so it was an emotion-filled goodbye only a few short months later when my ex and I decided to follow through on the plans we’d made when we were still coupled and move to San Francisco.
Shortly after we left Tucson, Ben and his ex reconciled and moved back in together. Naturally we stayed in touch, and when the group of us who’d moved to San Francisco returned to Tucson the following Christmas, I made a point of seeing him.
They’d bought a townhouse and had completely remodeled it. To this day I remember how beautifully it had turned out—and how happy he was.
Several months passed and the calls and letters abruptly stopped. I didn’t think much of this (as I had become horrible at keeping in touch as well, what with a new city to explore and all), but then in August I received a call at work from his partner. Ben had passed away from AIDS complications a week earlier.
I was devastated. Another friend of mine who lived in San Francisco—whom I’d known since my days at the University of Arizona ten years earlier—had also passed only a week before, and I was still reeling from that.
I don’t have a single photo of Ben, and to be honest I have only the vaguest recollection of what he looked like. Tall, dark and fuzzy is how I remember him; a NJB I would’ve loved to have brought home to mother. Shortly after he passed I asked his partner if he’d send me a photo, but I never received one. Years later I followed up with his family with a similar request and also never got a response.
The only tangible record I have of that sweet man was the photo above that I took of his memorial quilt when it was on display in San Francisco a year or so later.