A Death in the Family
A couple of weeks ago, my friend Bobby died. Bobby was a man who didn’t believe in small feelings. If he was annoyed (infuriated), moved (sobbing), nervous (frantic), or amused (howling with laughter)—you knew it. He could drive me up a wall, in a way that only a member of your family could. But in keeping with the “extra” he gave to every moment of his life, he never just said goodbye. He always insisted on a hug, and always said he loved you, prompting the expected “love you back.”
Bobby was hospitalized on a Wednesday. There was bleeding in his brain, which required emergency surgery. On Thursday, a CT scan indicated very little activity in his brain stem. On Friday, we learned that a complete MRI would be done, just to be sure.
On Saturday, the results confirmed what we already suspected: that Bobby had essentially died three days before. On Sunday, calls were made to line up potential recipients of Bobby’s kidneys, lungs, and liver.
To be honest, we had some doubts about passing his liver on to anyone else; in keeping with his emotional state, Bobby rarely limited himself to just one drink. But tests confirmed that his liver could be donated to someone in need of one, and I posited that his liver was simply superhuman.
Plans were made to turn off the machines the next evening. On Monday, Bobby was early for once in his life: he passed away hours before he was scheduled to. This meant that no one would be gifted with his superhuman liver, but it also meant that no one had to make that painful decision on his behalf.
I met Bobby 10 years earlier, when I joined the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington because I realized that all of my close friends were straight. Almost immediately, I had a little gay family, which consisted of Bobby, his boyfriend (later husband) Matt, our friends John and John (who would eventually marry and divorce and remain friends through it all), and then my boyfriend and me (we would thankfully not marry, and I’ll leave it there).
For a decade, we sang together, laughed together, drank together, fought together, and made up together. We saw each other through marriages, new pets, breakups, newly discovered siblings (another column for another day), career changes, home purchases, and many, many, many cocktails—although Bobby usually opted for a simple shot of vodka. Over time, the family grew and changed, but Bobby and I never left each other’s inner, inner circles.
The last time I saw Bobby was the Sunday before he was hospitalized. It was a boozy brunch that happily coincided with his 49th birthday. When we parted, I had no idea that I’d never see him alive again. After I said goodbye, he hugged me tight. “I love you,” he said. I might have rolled my eyes, but I told him that I loved him back. I’m grateful that those were the last words I spoke to him.
It was just the next Wednesday when I joined seven other friends at the Washington Hospital Center to sit and wait with Matty as Bobby underwent surgery. After he had been transferred to the ICU, I filled out the paperwork so Matt could ask the nurses questions. On Friday, Bobby’s family came to town from Arkansas. Some of us played chauffer, some of us opened our homes so that people could be nearer to the hospital, some of us made enough food for an army.
On Sunday night, Bobby’s father, mother, and sister sat and ate with over 20 gay men who laughed, cried, and told funny stories. It was the first time Bobby’s family of origin had ever met his family of choice, and while it was a truly beautiful experience, Bobby wasn’t there to see it, which just amplified the tragedy.
Bobby and I were born in 1970. Unlike the gay men just a little bit older than we were, we didn’t know what it was like to spend weeks in hospitals and attend funerals on a weekly basis. Having just missed the plague, this was a new experience for me. And as profoundly sad as I was and still am, I’m also so very proud of our little family—the way we’ve carried each other through this, with a strength that we learned from the families of choice that came before us, whether we knew it or not.
Rest in peace, Bobby T. Boaz. I lift a shot of vodka in your memory…and then I pour it into a martini glass filled with cranberry juice with a dash of Triple Sec, because I’m not an animal. And I love you back…always. ▼
Eric Peterson is a diversity & inclusion educator and pop culture enthusiast living in Washington DC. He is the co-host of a weekly podcast about old movies.