This is a story with some sad parts. One night I was working at home, idly watching TV in a mirror over the top of my monitor (yes, you get used to everything being left-to-right backwards). Dan Rather was being stiff, as usual, and suddenly I saw Tom's face on the CBS Evening News. It seems he was then a cause célèbre in a New York hospital where they were keeping him alive against his will, his mind completely gone from toxoplasmosis. But he did in fact die. Not the first, by any means, of my friends to succumb to HIV-related illness, nor was he the last.
But he was special to me, for we had been boyfriends here in Madison in 1961-62, a story that was large in both our lives. I was 26, he was 22. I think it was his first real love affair. He looked a lot like Claude Debussy, I always thought, and he had indeed a kind of Impressionist aura around him.
As it happened, he and I had gone with the painter Allyn Amundson and a couple other art friends to Boston in the summer of 61, where many fine things happened. We stayed with another painter, Jerome Mallmann, who had been our great friend in Madison. Tom was ultimately to move to Boston.
But first we had to have our love affair. It was really quite sweet at first. We met one night in a bar, I invited him home, and he came with me. The next morning he had to leave early, but when I got up, there was a plant for me on the front porch, a small sanseveria, which I still have, though now it's huge. Well, the little present did it (I was always a sucker for a gift, or maybe it just took less in those days, I guess) and we were quite the couple for the better part of the year after that.
When he moved to Boston, I seriously entertained the idea of moving too, but on a trip to visit him there (my first flight in a jet aircraft, what a thrill that was!), it was depressingly clear that there would be no taking up where we had left off. I was quite crestfallen, and I had to wire home for money, which my roommate George Stambolian, later to become famous, had to front me. I saw Monies (our nickname for Tom) a time or two, once after he'd moved to New York. I then lost track. I think he became a photographer. While Allyn was still alive I used to get reports of Tom once in a great while.
But it was great shock about his dying. He was preceded by later boyfriends, but Tom was different on account of a certain kind of innocence. Not his, but mine.
It's funny the things one remembers, years later. He was from Red Wing, Minnesota. We hitchhiked there once. The guy that picked us up at the western end of the Mississippi bridge at La Crosse was a total doll; we were both ga-ga over him. He took us right to Tom's folks' house. Later that evening, Tom and I went swimming at Lake Pepin, the only time I've been in the Mississippi River.
I'll always remember Debussy in connection with Tom, a kind of Romantic underpinning to his lyricism, just as I'll always remember Bonnard in connection with Allyn. Rest in peace, dear Tom, do rest in peace.