Bill and I spent a quiet weekend at home. The weather was cold and cloudy, and there are the persistent fears of the coronavirus to consider, so we hung out with the new dog. I completed my latest jigsaw puzzle and Bill bought me a new one– it’s much smaller, so I’ll probably finish it quickly. Bill also made some killer chocolate chip cookies that could not have come at a better time, since I happen to be enduring a visit from everybody’s favorite aunt. 😉
Just as we were about to retire for the evening last night, I saw that one of my female cousins had expressed condolences to my cousin, Bruce. Bruce lives out in Las Vegas. He’s gay and, for over twenty years, had a relationship with a man named Dustin. Last month, Dustin announced that he had stage four liver cancer. Yesterday morning, he died.
I first met Dustin in 2000. At the time, I was in graduate school in South Carolina. Dustin had come with Bruce to our annual Thanksgiving family reunion. I used to be a regular attendee at those annual parties. But then I got married, and life took me away from Virginia. I came to realize that I didn’t want to spend the time or the money on family visits because too many of them ended in heartache. Now that I live in Germany and COVID-19 is a thing, that sentiment is especially true.
Not that I would have seen Dustin at a lot of our parties anyway, since he lived in Las Vegas. Bruce and Dustin didn’t come to a lot of our family parties either, both because it was expensive and time consuming for them to get from Nevada to Virginia, and because their relationship wasn’t all that enthusiastically accepted in our southern, politically conservative, Christian family.
Dustin was about my age, had blond hair, and was very thin. He had an asymmetrical face and liked to wear jewelry. He told me stories about how he was involved in the fashion industry and had worked with Versace. He said he’d done interior decorating for the Kardashians and other celebrities. He had done hair and makeup for celebrities, too, and told me that he thought I should color my hair deep red to make my blue eyes “pop”. I remember that Dustin wore a dental appliance because he was missing some teeth. Last time I saw him in person, he removed his teeth right in front of me. I quipped that being able to do that probably made him especially popular among gays. He had a good laugh at that. 😉
When I first met Dustin, back in 2000, Bruce’s youngest brother was married to his first wife, who had two children from her first marriage and a son with my cousin. I remember first wife’s daughter was a very pretty teenager at the time who had aspirations to be a pop singer. She’d made a homemade CD. I don’t remember being all that impressed with her music, but I do remember that Dustin was giving her advice. He was very encouraging, but cautioned her against getting fat. Dustin was very outspoken about the dangers of obesity and how much it raises the cost of healthcare.
I didn’t see Dustin in person again until 2014 or so, although we were friends on Facebook. He used to get involved in lively debates on my Facebook page, as well as some family members’ pages. In July 2014, my father died, so we had a memorial for him at Granny’s house in Virginia. Bill and I flew from Germany to attend; we had only been in country for a few months. I haven’t been back to the States since that visit in November 2014.
Dustin told me that he hoped I wouldn’t mind if he didn’t attend the memorial service. He said he didn’t feel comfortable in churches and hated to attend funerals. He said that when he died, he wanted his friends and family to throw a party, not have a funeral. I assured him I wasn’t offended that he couldn’t come. I remember talking to him during that visit. We got along well because we both kind of felt like outcasts in the family. Most of our contact was on Facebook messenger, and we did have some lively Facebook messenger chats with lots of dishing.
Today’s featured photo is a screenshot that came from one of my many chats with Dustin. He liked to laugh about some of the hypocrisy he noted in my family. One of my cousins took issue with the “that post gave me cancer” post. It turned into a huge row. Dustin shared with me about it and we had a good laugh.
I am among the few rare liberals in my family… there are a few of us in the family, but really not many at all. I’m loud and opinionated, like the rest of the family is, but I’m not conservative anymore. Add in the fact that I’m not physically cute and demure, and I don’t put a lot of stock in religion, and you soon realize why I’m not that popular. Dustin could relate. I think some people in the family might have blamed him for the fact that Bruce is gay. It’s a preposterous notion, of course. Dustin had nothing to do with Bruce’s sexual orientation. He was just Bruce’s loving partner for over two decades.
I was shocked last month when Dustin announced that he had late stage liver cancer. I felt dread for him when I read about it. I didn’t expect him to be gone so soon. It was another shock to read that he’d already passed. I worry about Bruce, who is a kind, sensitive soul. I hope he’ll be okay, but I know that he has many friends and loved ones who will be there for him.
Although it had been awhile since my last boisterous chat with Dustin, Bruce told me that I was one of Dustin’s favorites of the in-law relatives. If that’s really true, I can understand why. He could be candid with me. I’m not offended by homosexuality, atheism, or filthy language. And I understand what it feels like to be on the outside. I wish we’d had the chance to know each other better, but life took us in different geographical directions. He was truly a unique individual, someone I’ll never forget. Beneath his flamboyant exterior was a man whom I know went through a lot of pain. I take comfort in knowing that the pain is over for him now. He is already missed by so many.
I’m sure that Dustin’s friends and family, especially my cousin, Bruce, are planning a banner bash to send him off to the next existence. I know that Dustin would rather people remember him and smile rather than cry over him at a funeral. I will definitely miss our Facebook dish sessions.