Monday, December 28, 2015

BEYOND "FRIENDS"

My first reaction: I hate Facebook.

It is responsible for a culture that waters down the term Friend. How does someone have 842 Friends? Or 216? Or 167?

I have gone out of my way to limit who I invite or accept as a Friend on this beast. I have resisted the temptation to “recruit” more so drive up my Likes for my goofy and scenic photos. Whenever something I post has more than ten Likes, it’s a monster hit.

My world is small. And, sadly, through Facebook, I learned that it just became smaller.

Dear, sweet Cory has died.

I opened Facebook this morning, delaying the start to my writing, expecting to see photos from the weird weather my family and friends are experiencing in Texas. I got the update. Massive tumbleweeds blowing across highways, shared news links of tornado devastation, shots of the snow dump in the Panhandle. I also expected to see belated Christmas and Boxing Day posts of people in dreadful sweaters and poor dogs looking sheepish sporting felt reindeer antlers. Ho ho hum.

But then the shocker: “RIP my brother Cory.”

Please, no.

Another post and another. I felt a surge of pain, deep sorrow and regret. Truth is, I’d been a terrible Friend.

For years, I Googled Cory and followed his career from afar. Only a couple of years ago did I finally invite him as a Facebook Friend. He accepted and that was that. No personal messages. His posts rarely included him in the photos but I always looked, always read, always smiled. Dear, sweet Cory.

I met Cory in 1991 at a weekend training session for volunteers who wanted to be part of the Buddy Program at AIDS Project Los Angeles. Cory was going through the two-weekend training with his then-partner. At the time, I was a Pepperdine law student, looking for something more meaningful than the contrived stresses that came from studying and discussing already-adjudicated legal cases on a pristine Malibu campus. I often escaped with my textbooks to El Matador State Beach, a less frequented slice of heaven north of the popular Zuma Beach. Increasingly on weekends, I found myself driving from the Pacific Palisades along the winding Sunset Boulevard into West Hollywood, doing “laps” in gay bars, rarely getting noticed. Life was all fluff and yet I could see how AIDS was destroying so many men around me. I needed APLA more than the Buddy Program ever needed me.

After the training ended, the volunteers were split into two ongoing groups which were required to meet monthly with a facilitator. I was part of the West Side group. Cory was too. There were about fifteen of us in all. Eventually, our facilitator introduced me to a new Buddy Program coordinator who became my first love. I was too inexperienced and insecure for it to last. Members volunteered to host the monthly meetings which often included potluck feasts and lasted for hours. Supporting Persons with AIDS was intense and draining. We leaned on each other. We laughed and cried together. We formed a special bond, a motley group of over-our-heads do-gooders, attempting to help the terminally ill navigate the cruelties of AIDS, the agonizing side effects of the drugs of the time and the discrimination and dissociation from agencies and families.

Somewhere around the time when my first love crashed and burned, Cory and his partner broke up. There was always special between Cory and me. I was in awe of him. He was a gentle, loving soul with a master’s from Harvard, working as a top executive position in an entertainment network. In time, a small group from our group met more often socially. The hugs and warmth were something I’d never experienced. I knew that Cory liked me and I desperately wanted to like him in the same way. He invited me out to dinner, just the two of us without the others. I called another group member, fretting over whether it was a date, hoping it wasn’t. I didn’t want what we had to change.

As he drove me home and pulled up to my Palisades apartment, Cory leaned in and kissed me. I pulled back and awkwardly retreated to my place. I cried. I wanted so much to want him. And yet I knew it could never be. Cory would do everything to take care of me. I knew I would too easily let that happen and I still had too much growing to do. On my own.

Cory has always been the one I wish I could have loved. The shallow me of the time concluded I just wasn’t attracted to him. In reality, I knew I was not good enough.

I last saw Cory in November 1994. I took him to lunch the week before I left my L.A. dreams and moved to Vancouver. As so many people who find their way to Southern California, I had Hollywood dreams. Writer. Programmer. Agent. Cory had met with me on a few occasions as I talked excitedly about insights that I’m sure came off as na├»ve. He always acknowledged my ideas and offered encouragement. If you want it, you can have it. Even during that last lunch, the invitation was still there. He would be there in whatever capacity. As a mentor, a booster, a friend.

For so long, I liked to say I lived with no regrets. Regrets are rueful steps backward. Missteps are part of the journey. Keep moving forward. In time, I allowed myself to admit that leaving L.A. was a mistake. That last lunch with Cory provided one last opening that I walked away from.

Maybe things were better in the era before the internet and social media. I'd have always wondered about whatever became of Cory, the fond memories continuing to mix with the rueful what-ifs. I certainly wouldn't have to face this day of aching and further regret. How I should've reached out. Could've. Would've. Facebook continues to give us an open window to Friends who may best be left in those nostalgic chambers of the brain.

Aside from the Facebook invitation, I never contacted Cory again. He was too good, too important. He was an infinitely better man. Two months ago, his students at the university where he came to work as a professor started posting “Thinking of you” messages. I Googled and found a posting on the university website, indicating Cory was taking a medical leave of absence. I wanted to know more. I wanted to send Cory my love and support. But I didn’t. We were Facebook Friends based on a last contact from two decades ago. I didn’t want to insert myself at a time when he needed to focus on the love of those closest to him as he fought whatever the health issues were. More messages of support popped up over the past two months and each time I searched the internet for information. I wanted to know, but I knew not to insert myself in a clearly difficult time.

And now he is gone. The Facebook posts of love and memories continue to pour in.  “Numb.” “Devastated.” “Heartbroken.” Every post provides anecdotes of Cory’s love, laughter and unwavering support. Perhaps this is one of those rare individuals who can never have too many Friends. He was that giving. What was he…55, 56? Too soon, for sure. And yet I was too late.

Dear, sweet Cory. I miss you so.

     

1 comment:

oskyldig said...

I'm sorry to hear of this unfortunate loss in your life, however distant it might be.

I just wonder why you felt at the time that you couldn't, or wouldn't explore the possibilities with someone that you acknowledged shared a connection.