June 4, 1989 my friend Don died in a car crash. He was 25 years old. Never before Don’s death had I suffered the death of a man I was so in love with.
Don was born in Albuquerque on April 25, 1964 — about a month before I graduated from high school in Illinois. Then, I was a very religious 18-year-old farm boy. I had never visited New Mexico. I did not know that some men are in love and make love with men. I did not know that I was gay. If anyone had told me then that a baby boy just born in Albuquerque would become so precious to me, how could I have understood it?
I met Don when he was 16. A few months later I told him that I am gay. He was attracted to me and wanted to have sex with me. I was very attracted to him and I wanted to have sex with him, but I turned him down because he was under 18. I did not want to risk getting arrested for having sex with him. He was deeply hurt and I was torn inside. I have his letter expressing his anger for my refusing sex with him because he was under 18.
June 22, 1983, when he was 19, he and I made love in Denver where he was living. The next morning, a woman friend of his asked me where I had slept. Don spoke up: “He slept with me.”
How attractive Don was — lean physique, sexy voice, intense, passionate, curious, yearning for love. Don’s mother was Chicana, his father Italian. Don and I never lived together as partners. He drank booze and smoked cigarettes. I hate booze and cigarettes.
But I deeply loved Don and I was in love with him.
His mother asked me to be in charge of his memorial service and to be an honorary pallbearer. I poured my heart into songs I sang — “Amazing Grace,” “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” “Cordero de Dios,” “Yo Te Amo Mucho.” I poured my heart into what I spoke. People wept. His mother later told me no preacher, no priest would have done a better job. The next night Don’s memorial service, his Anglo stepfather told me, “I never understood until last night.”
Apparently, he meant he had never understood a man being in love with a man until he experienced the deep feelings I expressed for Don in that service. Don’s lover Kyle, whom I met for the first time at the funeral home, told me he had seen a picture of me that Don had. Kyle had asked Don who that was. Don said, “He and I are very close.” Kyle asked Don, “What does that mean?” Don told Kyle, “You know what that means.”
Don’s brother and sister gave me more than 30 letters and cards I had written Don for years and he had saved. As I later read them, I was so glad to see that I had clearly expressed my passionate, romantic affection for him. How terribly sad if we love someone and that person dies and we never told them how much we loved them.
Deep grief is a precious agony, showing us how much we can love someone.
Before they closed the lid of Don’s casket, I chose to be the last to say goodbye. I kissed his hands, I kissed his forehead, I kissed his lips and I wept. Earlier I placed a small card near his hands for others to read, “To my beloved Don — With eternal embraces and passionate affection — From Don Schrader.”
When my mother died in 1982, seven years before Don, I mourned tremendously — alone on our farm with sobs and yells. She was my all-time closest friend. Don’s death matured me to weep freely in public. Worse than suffering such loss would be never becoming close enough to anyone in life to feel such pain in parting and to shed tears with no shame.
I have gone many times to his grave at Fairview Cemetery on Yale Boulevard S.E. I kiss the grass above his lips, above his hands, above his cock and above his feet.
When my mother died in 1982, when my dad died in 1994, I chose to be the last to kiss their lips before their caskets were closed.
As the old song says, “Save the last dance for me.” Never be ashamed to show love for someone when they are alive or when they are dead.