I must request that you indulge me in something.
I need to take a break from the madness; my madness and remember someone who was very close to me. Someone I miss a great deal.
Walter Minter Tarpley was my best friend.
We had a strangely initmate love/hate relationship that only a gay man and a straight woman can have. Our disagreements could divide a nation; our good times often bordered on criminal, but life with Walter was so much fun. My life with him was amazing.
He didn’t believe in much, except that a good time was had by all . His circle was small and I always felt quite honored to have stood at one of the corners. Circle in a square; square in a circle and somehow, it…we always fit. He could be extremely cavalier at times and his carelessness bothered me, but then again, he made me realize that I wasn’t really the hip, happenin’ chick I thought I was. He was liberall; Tim Robbins liberal. I was Conservative and becoming more so as each year passed. It had gotten to the point that I was inching toward being politically on par with Elizabeth Dole, save for the fuel injected Southern hair.
We argued about the ever growing abyss between the two parties, but we learned to sway the topic if politics reared its head. And despite our differences, we cared a great deal for each other. Our first outing together was Halloween in 2005. We made a vow that we would always spend Halloween together. We had a wonderful time that night and the next day, I had a tough time working because I kept laughing at the things we’d done..said…felt. I remember thinking that day that we’d be friends forever; but forever only lasted two years.
He died on July 4th 2007, a mere nine days after being diagnosed with AIDS-related pneumocystis pneumonia.
We used to go out and make merry every Halloween and frankly, I can’t let another one go by without honoring my best friend and remembering how his life cand death, altered the course of mine.
I wrote this post exactly ten years ago years ago. I republish it today.
Twenty years ago, I dreamed of meeting one special man that I could be friends with for the rest of my life…one man to laugh with, cry with….share my most intimate thoughts with.
He was given to me on a warm and sunny August day in 2005.
Walter came into my life quite by surprise, but hardly by accident. He sent me an e-mail at the radio station where I worked. It took no time at all for us to become friends and when we did, I found that I adored Walter. He was devilishly handsome, brilliant, crass but polished, opinionated, fearless, acerbic, openly gay and hilarious.
To me, he was Perfection.
He was also a tortured soul. As was I, when we met. One would think that two fractured people would just create a pile of emotional shards. But that wasn’t the case with us. We seemed to provide the bonding needed to keep each other together. I think it was laughter that served as the consummate adhesive. We became best friends.
My relationship with Walter was rather cloistered. Few people understood our connection. I’m not sure even we understood the degree of our closeness. That was fine with us; we preferred it that way. When other people listened to us speak, it was as if we were speaking Esperanto. We jokingly said we spoke “TarKen”; our own language which was interspersed with many expletives and the requisite “Filthy” and “Dirty”, all spoken in a feigned British accent we used.
Few “got us” and that was OK. We held on to each other, only letting go only when the other stepped free, but even so, the bond was never completely broken. We were content knowing that we’d found each other. We were happy to have found a certain “punctuation” to the paragraph of our lives.
We just clicked; my cup to his saucer—mismatched, chipped and crazing down the center, but still beautiful, even in it’s damaged state. Perfectly flawed.
Walter entered my life at a time I needed him most. He brought joy and laughter where there was none. He helped me learn to live again. In fact, he was best time I’ve ever had. He felt like home. Comfortable, safe and secure. Like a hug, accented with the aroma of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, wrapped in a soft, familiar blanket. He never dismissed me or made me feel anything less than extraordinary.
He was never aloof, nor did he ever exist passively in my life. He was a willing participate–fully involved, concerned and more importantly, he was there when I needed him. We were good about being there for each other. Walter understood that Life is inconvenient. So is Love. Neither will ask for permission and both can be obtrusive. Still, he was never too busy for me, even when I was. He was kind in the sense that he never decreed me as anything other than one of his very best friends. What an incredible honor!
Make no mistake, we had issues. We had our disagreements which were legendary. And vicious!! Imagine a film recording of Joan Crawford telling off the board of Pepsico on a continuous loop that plays at painful decibels.We never stayed mad at each other; at least, not that long.
Ultimately with Walter, I always felt loved. Unconditionally so. I could be thin, pudgy, hair perfect or teased up to a dizzying Elsa Lancaster’s Bride of Frankenstein height. I could be sans make-up or with a full compliment and wearing something that fashion-wise, would’ve have been considered only luke-warm from five seasons earlier. That didn’t matter.
To Walter, I was always just Laurie. No pretense.
To me, he was always Walter. No pretense.
One night he asked me why I couldn’t have been born a gay man. On that particular day, I had to fire six members of my staff. I was crying in his arms. I was wearing this silk blouse with, pink feather scuffs. I looked up at him, mascara streaming down my face and said, “Take one look at me, Walter. Look at what I’m wearing then take a gander at my make-up! I have to ask you, what makes you so sure I’m not?”
Our friendship was enduring and so incredibly special. We had this idea that we’d grow old together. That we’d live long enough to comb gray hair, use our AARP discounts at dinner, complain about arthritis and those damn kids and their crazy music. We thought surely one day, I’d be Blanche to his Baby Jane. Aging wouldn’t matter as long as we could view the process through each other’s eyes. Together.
But the Universe had other plans. It gave me Walter, but the one thing it couldn’t give me was a relationship with him that could be measured in years. He was only in my life for a mere 23 months. That was all. Even though I have many brilliant memories that could rival the most dazzling, star-filled constellations, I felt this was and still is so incredibly unfair. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. I’m still not. My first hello to him–seemingly uttered just yesterday– still resonates on my lips!!
I wanted more time. No, I needed more time for one last look at his wonderfully handsome face; one more chance to absorb the warmth of his smile; to hear that wicked, wicked laugh; to read his soulful eyes; to feel the touch of his hand.
I grapple with the Divine more than I care to admit and when Walter got sick, I felt angry. When he died, I felt cheated. I’m told that people are put in our paths for special reasons. Sometimes, it’s to force us to give of ourselves and sometimes it’s for us to receive. If so, then that means sadly, tragically, these beautiful, divine human gifts must also leave our lives for special reasons. Why Walter left mine is something I’ll never, ever understand, but I know why he came into my life. And that was to save my life and as a result, I’m a much wiser and richer woman for my all too brief experience with this angel.
I love Walter and always will.
His death cannot negate my feelings or the relationship I’ll continue to have with him. The love lives on because I do. And I live on because this precious man gave me a reason to do so. His friendship in many, many ways gave my life back to me.
I went to his memorial service and saw his ravaged body lying in the coffin. He would’ve hated that. He would’ve loathed how his make-up had been applied and how badly he looked. I made myself look at him, I needed to see him one last time. I fought the urge to cry as I touched his withered and drawn face. I stood there and actually mustered a smile for a few fleeting moments as I thought about the strange, cyclical nature of life and how for every mortal journey, death is the final destination.
This was Walter’s time to die, but unlike so many people, Walter also knew how to live. And for an all too brief moment in time, his beautiful life intersected mine.
And I am so incredibly grateful.
Twenty years from now, I’ll dream of how I met that one special man who I wanted to be friends with for the rest of my life…one man I laughed with, cried with…shared my most intimate thoughts with.
And I’ll remember how he was taken from me on a warm and rainy July day in 2007.