Donald Alex Has Died.
Who was Donald Alex? He was the man who gave myself to me.
1978. I had a rather promising career on a fast track in the Republican Party. Having come circuitously from a small town in Oregon a tree-hugging member of the party, that was my entree. After an agency or two, I found myself a Director on the President’s Campaign staff and was fairly enmeshed within the Culture of the Beltway.
After the loss, I was asked to run a campaign for state office in Colorado for a friend of one of the President’s sons. So, Denver.
Up until this point, I’d led an aggressively straight life. Underneath this, though, I knew I was gay…though kept thinking I could overcome it, or hide it, or in some way live with it and still have “all the benefits” of a straight life.
I had discovered and been adopted and indoctrinated into the vast and well-established Capitol Hill Gay Underground Network which, as one might imagine, stretched throughout DC and environs. The Closet in DC was huge in those days, and some of the most powerful and recognized people were a part of it. I would drop my dates off by midnight and head to the clubs to lead this exotic, exciting and tantalizing nightlife.
It was exciting, it was fun, it felt good…and it had no integrity.
I didn’t realize how deeply conflicted I was, nor the personal price I was paying by living a closeted life. As far as I could perceive; that’s how the world is.
Then, on one sunny afternoon at Denver’s Southtown Lumber Company (not a lumber yard), I looked down the bar and the most beautiful, blue eyes I’d ever encountered were zero’d in on me. Those eyes, crystal clear and as blue as the Caribbean, poised over a wonderful smile, were an inviting oasis.
“I’m Donald Alex. Alex. It’s Alsatian…” he said. (He certainly didn’t look like a dog to me!) And we talked. And made a date. My first “real date” with another man.”
The Date: I went to his apartment to meet. He later protested that this was not intentional; but when I knocked on the unlocked door, it swung open to his living room, across which he sat. Seated on the end of his sofa, a book in his lap in a tableau perfectly lit by the lamp on his end-table. Right. Coincidence.
It was a romantic date, dinner and on to Licorice Pizza, a huge record store (the vinyl kind) the size of a skating rink. It was a great evening, and there was much love to follow. And what that love did for me was show me I was worth loving and that men can love each other. Far beyond and deeper than any of the lusty crushes through self-discovery — the hidden and protected exploration of something seen as dark and unnatural and irresistible; this was something new. A love that touched my core.
Donald was a special and rare man. With the stature of Michael J. Fox and the voice of Brenda Vaccaro and every lyric of every great Broadway Musical indelible in his mind; he could break into song at any moment – and it would take virtually nothing for him to grab his Top Hat and Cane (always handy in the front closet) and burst into “Hello Dolly” at any provocation.
He was a happy man. Feet on the ground, empathetic, sincere and generous. He gave. He nurtured. He cared.
I spent the rest of the campaign in the closet, and when it was over moved in with Donald to figure out what to do with my life. I knew I couldn’t return to Washington and Republican politics; being well-aware of the fact there was no room at the table for us.
Donald, a teacher in Boulder, said that wherever I could find a new career, he would move with me. “Once you have a job, I’ll quit mine and be with you.” Over the coming months, I looked many places until the weekend in 1979 that a former girlfriend showed me San Francisco; to be seduced and embraced by what is now my Home City.
Donald loved me for who I am, seeing more in me than I even saw in myself. His love was acknowledgement, aspiration, approbation and acceptance all in one. The result of his love was an empowerment and confidence that returned to me — qualities that had been suppressed and shut down through the double life I’d led.
Donald and I, together, grew apart; as what I came to want was to participate fully in the life, city and world around us and Donald wanted to come home every night, have dinner and watch TV together (now, of course, that’s what I want!!).
Ultimately, we separated. He took the crystal, I took the spices. We remained in sporadic contact as we both lived in San Francisco, though once we began moving around, sometimes years would pass before one would reach out to the other. Always friendly, always loving.
Then, a few months ago, I had a vivid dream of him. Just he and I, talking. Whenever I have a dream that features someone from my past so vividly, I reach out to them; just to let them know, to be sure they are okay, healthy, happy…or whatever. I see these visions as an elbow nudge from the Universe.
So, for some reason, this time I called rather than sending an email or text.
Donald was at his lawyer’s office, waiting to go in and finish the plans for his estate. The for-two-years-diagnosed-as-IBS case had revealed itself to be Stage Four Stomach Cancer. He only had weeks or months to live.
“Donald, you can’t die; I still have several unkind things to say to you and hundreds of things to blame you for! I’m coming to see you!” There were a number of laughs among the serious talk we than had. (One thing I have discovered as I’ve watched and helped so many people die is the burden of the Elephant in the Room…people can be afraid of this inevitable thing that’s going to happen, so often tend to skirt around it. It makes for a lot of work for the person dying, as they try not to make the visitor feel uncomfortable. Often, just putting it out there and using it takes some of the weight away. At least in my experience.)
A few days later, I was at Hug Point (near Cannon Beach) and was compelled to call him again. Sitting on a log and on the phone with him, something crystallized and suddenly became far more clear to me the magnitude and depth of the gift he had given me.
“Donald,” I said, “I have to thank you for so much. Not only did you show to me I was worth loving, and point me back toward the world a more confident and empowered man; but, Donald, you gave me my entire life….”
“Because you loved me, I came out, moved to San Francisco, and have lived an Out and Authentic life ever since. I’ve been able to live without denying who I am…and to live with the consequences.
“But much more than that, look at the life I’ve led.
“I’ve been all over the world, creating experiences that move people – some that have changed lives. I’ve been able to give people validation, find community, draw comfort and solace, sow aspiration. I’ve had people tell me about things they’ve seen and by which they’ve been moved without knowing I had anything to do with them. I’ve seen and lived and embraced things I never knew existed, much less thought I’d touch them. …And had wonderful (and not so wonderful!) experiences everywhere.
“I’ve been and been immersed all over the world, and have come away with good relationships and amazing memories from most everywhere (there was that one time…). I could not have written a life as I’ve had.
“Never again have I hidden myself from view. There has been trepidation and hesitation and even fear; none of which has stopped me from moving ahead. I’ve often paid the price for candor and authenticity; always and ultimately comforted, at least, by the fact that there is knowledge honor and confidence inherent even in making a mistake…and I’ve made plenty of those.
“I’ve had an amazing life which is not over, yet; and I’ve done it all at 100%. 100%. Donald, I owe you my life. Thank you for giving myself to me.”
“It was easy, Kile. You were always there; you just didn’t know it.”
Well, I do now.
Donald died on Saturday.
Popular throughout the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies, “IMEX: In My Experience | secrets of making ‘em cheer, weep…and sometimes write checks” is now available in the beautiful and durable Field Edition as well as download from Apple Books. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for purchase and shipping information.
Link to Apple Books:
Unfortunately, the book is not available through Kindle, Kindle does not publish in landscape. Bummer. I am recording this for Audiobooks, targeted for December.