We met in a bar (a lot of my stories start like that). Ron had had a short affair with my ex, Tom, who had just moved to Boston. Ron promised Tom he would return to Madison from Milwaukee a month later and report the goings-on. He did that, and that night I picked him up. It started out just being a roll in the clover, but he came back a couple following weekends for more rolls in the clover and pretty soon things were under way.
When we first started seeing each other, it was a weekends-only affair, because he was living in Milwaukee, working in a steel mill. He would speed to Madison Friday afternoon and leave early Monday morning. We crammed a lot of living into those weekends. We also drank a lot, mostly gin, and usually a couple bottles of it. A quart of gin every day for two people is a hell of a lot of booze. But in 1962 I could drink that much with very few ill effects. Ron was three years younger than I, and more used to drinking, so it was not hard for him either. In retrospect, it was almost certainly a bad thing to be doing, because in the end he would turn out to be an alcoholic, with all the miseries that attend it.
We stayed together too long, I think. There had been a long series of social involvements -- fancy parties, smart dinners with very high-grade competitive cooking, much consumerism, and a reputation as one of the town's longer-standing stable couples. The former were just silly, but this last was a real trap, because we bought into the idea that we could be role models to other gay couples.
We didn't fight much, though, until near the end when he was so often blotto: Ron was one of those people who got very abusive when he'd had too much to drink. But we didn't deal with it, really. Rather, when there was trouble we glossed it over and each withdrew into his own world. There were lots of warning signs, which however we paid little attention to.
Ron had long wanted to go to college. He had enlisted in the Navy right out of high school, but was eventually discharged for being gay, a humiliation he never fully got over. I encouraged him to try college, so he moved to Madison and we started living together full time. At first it was really pretty hard for him. He was a little older than most first-year students and most of them had had a better high-school education, especially in reading and writing. He could barely write a simple declarative sentence. But I was willing and able to help him learn how to write.
This was the only way I got involved in his education, because I thought it would be important to him to have done everything himself. Five years later he graduated with a major in East Asian history, a curriculum that required a senior thesis. He did the project without any input from me, and it was both highly articulate and well written (the topic was "The Rise of Shinto since the Meiji Restoration in Japan").
Ron had had a life-long struggle with his father, who from all reports was a complete shit. When he first started college Ron asked his dad for financial support and got turned down flat. He had therefore looked forward with extra zeal to graduation day so he could tell his father he had got through just fine without any help. Fate prepared a cruel trick, though. On graduation day the phone rang early, while we were still in bed. It was Ron's sister, saying that his dad had died during the night. It was the only time I saw Ron cry, not with grief, but with bitter defeat.
While he was in college, Ron worked in a record store, where he was highly capable. After finishing his degree he started to manage a record store in a new shopping mall, but curiously he was not at all liked by his employees, who thought he was authoritarian and arbitrary. He had indeed become a rather hard-nosed businessman, not much fun to be around. I retreated into the darkroom in the basement most nights to make art, while Ron watched TV and downed six-packs.
We lived together for another five years after that. When at last the breakup came, he really went off the deep end with drinking and pills. He was managing the local gay bar, living in an apartment upstairs from it, and in general being fairly dissolute about everything. In 1978 he moved to San Francisco, where he's still living. We saw each other there a couple years ago, and in 1996 he made his first trip back to Madison since leaving. It was awkward, because we have nothing at all in common any longer.