Thursday, May 17, 2007

Dammit Charlie - I Hardly Knew Ya

While scanning my inbox last week, I saw several posts, originating from a listserve I'm on, titled "Charlie Kupfer's Passing." I didn't think I knew "Charlie," but recognized the names of the posters, which prompted me to read further. I soon realized that Charlie Kupfer, who died of lymphoma, was "hot, smart, funny-as-hell Charlie" that I had met a few times. My heart sank and within an hour I was suffering from a full-blown case of the "fucking dammits."

Last Fall, I went on a New Warrior Training Adventure weekend that The ManKind Project (MKP) chapter in this area offers twice a year. Prior to commiting to the weekend, I was invited to an informational potluck whose purpose was to introduce MKP to more "diverse" [read: gay] types of men. As I arrived, Charlie entered the elevator with me and the two of us rode up together, not speaking. He was my kinda hot -- solid little fireplug of a body, bearded, shaved, big smile; you just wanted to knock him over and start wrestling. Suddenly I was warming up to this whole ManKind-Project thing. He was also carrying his contribution to the potluck, some homemade-looking pasta thing, and I distinctly remember thinking, "Hmmmm, she cooks too."

As one who had recently experienced the training, Charlie spoke about its impact on him. I have to mention that his voice had just enough "queeny" in it to balance all the macho visual; it's a combination I find irresistible. Without going into too much detail, his words were the ones that pushed me off the fence and into a final commitment for the weekend. And for that, I owe him a great debt of gratitude. The experience is not one to easily put into words, but suffice to say I feel the vibrations of the internal work I started there continuing today. [Ironically, both Charlie and I spent that training weekend feeling like crap. He was on staff and had to leave early because he got physically ill and I was having trouble with severe side effects from a recent an HIV medication regimen change.]

After that weekend, I met Charlie once more. We both attended the surprise birthday party of a mutual friend, King, thrown by King's partner, James. These were the men who had invited me to the potluck in the first place. I took a train to New Jersey (which, if you don't know, is not in Manhattan) to attend this party, so that should be an indication about how I feel about these two men. One of the highlights of the evening was collapsing in chairs and couches in King & James's living room with a bunch of other gay men. We talked about McGreevey, the New Jersey civil union debacle, gay parenting, and the "state of the gays," in general.

These were sharp, educated, funny, spiritually "awake," thoughtful gay men, mostly 40+, whose experiences straddled the pre- and post-AIDS gay world. We discussed intolerance within and without the community, monogamy, and bemoaned the absence of the entire missing generation of beautiful, talented, courageous gay men -- our stolen mentors. It was deeply moving and each man in that room impressed me, but as you would probably guess, I deeply connected with Charlie.

He spoke as one who had "earned" his opinions. I didn't know it at the time, but Charlie had been raised in a large, fairly conservative Jewish home. Apparently his familiy had ceased all contact with him for 15 years following his coming out. Like many of us, he paid a price to speak his truth. The topics we bandied about that night were more than hypotheticals, postulations, and posturing. The struggle to be honest to one's very being had cost many of us dearly and there was a deep earnestness and real desire, to find the easier, gentler way for those gay men traveling with and after us.

Charlie's intellect, his unique style of wickedly sharp humor, and his charismatic presence gave his words weight. He sat like a rabbi, teaching and learning at the same time.

I was smitten; he was oblivious.

It strikes me now that the reason I was so taken with him, in such a short amount of time, was that on each occasion I saw him, Charlie "showed up" and "spoke his truth." It's what I strive to do and he appeared to do it so effortlessly, as though he had no other real choice. His example is still a strong reminder of how easy it can be -- show up, speak your truth, let what happens happen. Charlie died largely unaware of how the ripples from his actions affected me. And there's a lesson buried in that statement, as well.

The "fucking dammits" came because I get angry when any gay man dies, for whatever reason, before 50. It pisses me off. I feel like we've paid in advance for the next century and that all gay men should get a "pass" until, at least, 50. I'm so tired of hearing about gay men who have struggled so long and so hard, who are finally in places to start passing on truth, experience, hope, being taken out by one thing or another. I'm over it. Once I realized that Charlie's early death was poking that very sore spot in my soul, I was able to tease Charlie out of the pile of other corpses and independently honor his journey and story.

I wish to hell I had known Charlie better, wish I could have shared more time listening to him, challenging him, wish I could have pinned him down on the ground and made the big hairy-chested hunk squeal for mercy. But none of that's going to happen.

I do, however, have an to opportunity follow his brave lead. And that's why I wrote this piece about a dead gay man I barely knew, who reminded me that at the ripe old age of 40, I was still capable of developing a huge crush (what a gift is that?). In short, I sensed I had bit of truth I to share, and I was determined to show up.

I trust you have now found the peace,
unspeakable joy, and unconditional love
and acceptance that you so deserve.
Thank you for burning so brightly.


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