Images of Jacques

(Material that mostly appeared earlier on Facebook, now lightly edited and amended. Material with heading names or initials originally appared in FB.

The topic is decidedly adult relationships. No body parts or sexual acts, but unquestionably queer.)

The background: Living in almost complete isolation for many months now, I have been missing Jacques, painfully (though it was 1998 when we last shared a bed, and he’d been slipping into incompetence for years before that). I’m desperate to talk to him, embrace him, smell him, just enjoy the negligent pleasure of being with him and hearing his advice. He was a very good man.

(Early on in our relationship, I wrote his parents a letter about why I loved their son, which was all about his moral qualities, and they were totally charmed. We all understood that he was smokingly hot sexually, but that that alone would have been no basis for undertaking a life together, which is what we were doing.

In these awful times, I miss him terribly.

Our first sexual connection, initiated by an astonishing profession of his love for me — I was doing exercises at home, where he was visiting — when he picked me up in his arms, kissed me, and told me he loved me — was almost 44 years ago (in December), though we’d been friends for some time before that (he knew that I was gay — this was public knowledge — but I didn’t know he was, though I was immensely pleased to discover it).

Some years later we privately performed our own version of the wedding ceremony (uttering “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part” — but pointedly not committing to cleave only to one another or to have either of us obey the other). We viewed these words as a binding commitment. And so they were.

J. supposed he was committing to taking care of me, helping me in what he saw as a difficult and demanding life as a distinguished academic. As it turned out, I ended up taking care of him as dementia ate him away. But my commitment was just as firm as his.

And so the first photo, Jacques and me after having been declared domestic partners by the city of Palo Alto in 1996:

(#1) The domestic partnership photo

The photo was taken by our photographer friend Robert Emery Smith (aka ModBob), who did this as a gift to us. There was a ceremony at P.A. City Hall, attended by friends and family of the partners (many children; Elizabeth was there), and then a sort of party afterwards for us, with lots of socialization (a number of us were into our second or third domestic partnerships — these being entirely symbolic — but we were generally agreed that this was the best one so far).

Bob just said, “Look at one another”, and so we did and we were so happy in the moment and connected to one another, and lightly holding hands, so it was all done in a couple of takes. Long ago I posted about this photo, and its depiction of us as very close to being equals (I held all the power in the outside world, but he was far more powerful physically (and two inches taller than me)), but we adjusted to achieve as even a balance as possible, because respect for one another was central to our relationship.

The photo was extravagantly admired by many readers.

J dancing with the kids. Jacques, this time as a sweet dad, horsing around with his son and his nephew:

(#2) My favorite photo of J ever

Hana Filip: J’s son is the little guy in the red sweater, right? All three are adorable.

No, the really little one. (Kit’s been following these threads, but I’m sure he doesn’t remember this occasion in (I think) Maine. A side pleasure in all of this is that Kit and I (and his wife Adrienne Shapiro) are now adult friends (I note that Kit is now 52).) But yes, they’re all totally adorable.

AZ: Pure joy. Also: note those calf and thigh muscles. J was lean but astonishingly strong — he could casually throw me over his shoulder and carry me around.

Michael Covarrubias > AZ: I came to the comments to remark on that definition between the vastus medialis and the adductor longus. impressive.

AZ > MC: I forgot that you’re a bodybuilder, but of course you would be attentive to the details of his muscles. And the definition was indeed impressive. We did work out together, daily for years, not to craft our bodies, but to get the work-out high and to keep fit. (J’s body seems to have been mostly a gift of nature, though his family’s preoccupations with tennis and sailing might have helped some.)

AZ: And J liked to cruise guys in the locker rooms for sex. I remind you that we didn’t include the “cleaving only” clause in our commitment ceremony, because we didn’t expect that. We had both come to gay identities through the subterranean world of gay cruising for sex, and that was a source of pleasure for both of us, which we recognized and respected (my cruising grounds were mostly t-rooms and the gay baths). And I remind you again that people are very complex, and that there are many ways of crafting decent and honorable lives.

MC > AZ: your memories of respect, admiration, and joy are incredibly touching. they feel very present.

Back to photo #2: J’s pleasure in the company of kids was one of his signal qualities. I love to watch sweet dads with their kids — this isn’t a sexual thing, but a reflection of the pleasure I got from being raised by a sweet dad, who treasured me despite the fact that I was unlike any child he’d ever experienced in his life, and consequently helped to provide me with a warm and happy childhood (when other fathers might have rejected me and allowed me to wither and die).

Julian Lander: Relevant to fathers and their kids: I was out walking today on the Lower East Side, and I saw this perfectly enormous man (not fat, but well over 6 feet with shoulders in proportion) walking hand-in-hand with his very young –probably not yet 3 years old — daughter. Both the difference in size and the attention has was paying to her brought a smile to my face.

AZ: Oh yes, it’s dads and their kids, not just their boys. Remember that I have only one child, a daughter, who I treasured as a child. And a grand-daughter.

JL: I remember. I’m very sentimental about parents and their children. I am in the happy position of having a niece (she’s 10) with whom I am as close as one can be given that we don’t see each other in person very often (she lives too far away). But I keep track of what’s going on with her–I talk to my sister a few times a week, and I generally speak to my niece about once a week–and she accepts me as another loving adult in her life. (Which I realize sounds like not much, but I take it as a sign of our closeness that my presence in her life is not remarkable to her.)

AZ: On the other fathers: even as a young child, I observed fathers who rejected sons they judged to be unacceptable and abused them (and then drove then away or abandoned them). Sad lesson: that could have been me. (Little kids notice a lot more than you think they do.) However he came to it, my own dad totally failed to understand these men who tried to beat masculinity into their sons — and then rejected them if the lesson didn’t take. He allowed me to grow up secure that I was a boy, in fact a good boy, just my own kind of boy. It took me decades to get some insight into these dynamics, and by then, my father had died. But along the way I did get to thank him for giving me a happy childhood, and he thanked me for giving him a second son (Jacques, who became his friend), and, astonishingly, when he needed a buddy to talk to about sexual matters, he turned to me, and I was genuinely helpful, which pleased both of us no end.

Two more photos, showing J in action in the classroom and then just looking lean and handsome, in a head shot and in the male nude photo the head shot is taken from:

(#3) J teaching a syntax class

Ron Butters: Devilishly handsome man.

AZ: Yes, wonderful planes in his Southern French face

(followed by much more appreciation of J’s looks)

(#4) The head shot

Isolating just those planes, and a sweet half-smile.

(#5) J on the beach

The audience for this posting: I should note that my postings about my late partner Jacques (missing him painfully in these terrible times) have attracted extraordinary numbers of views — no doubt because they’re about love and life together, when there’s very little human warmth available at the moment. Not my original aim, but I’m happy to have provided this service.

People then began to speculate on what it would be like to assemble all these commenters in one place.

Gadi Niram > AZ: I’d even dress up for it.

AZ> GN: I would expect no less from you. It’s a wonderfully mixed group. Linguists (of all sorts) from all over the world, lgbtq people ditto, some family (including the family I inherited from Jacques), and, surprisingly, people who long ago went to school (grade school or high school) with my daughter. Just to pick out three prominent clusters. It pains me that I will almost surely never see any of them again.

NCOD and our anniversary. 10/11 is National Coming Out Day, which Jacques and I chose to celebrate as our anniversary — that was his brilliant idea, both that we needed a day to mark our union and we should choose a day that wasn’t entangled with national holidays or other family celebrations (like Elizabeth’s birthday), so he fixed on NCOD, which suited us perfectly. Out and proud, together.

And then to J’s son Kit, who also posted to his friends about NCOD and why it’s important:

AZ: I realize that I present myself now now as a proud queer warrior, but I had decades of shame and guilt and hiding — as did your father, Kit. (For me, these included serious episodes of deep, soul-destroying depression. I didn’t contemplate suicide, but I desperately wanted not to be any more.) I am truly sorry you didn’t get to know him as an adult friend, as you and I have gotten to know one another. As I’ve said, I fell in love with him not because he was smoking hot sexually — hot tricks are easy to find — but because he was an earnest, admirable person: a very good man. So I’m sorry you didn’t have the chance to get to know that person. (Not possible when you were an angry teenager, and then, while you were becoming the person you are now, he disintegrated.) Take pleasure that you are now the sort of son he would have wanted. And, in fact, sexual orientation aside, very much like him.

On commitment and devotion, kicked off by Walt Wolfram:

WW: Nice story and wonderful commitment.

AZ: Thanks, Walt. I have complex feelings about the commitment/devotion. As Elizabeth sometimes said, acerbically, when people commented on our commitment to caring for J through all those years he was dying: “What’s the alternative?” (meaning, should we just have abandoned him? I know that plenty of partners — especially men — when faced with traumatic brain injury or dementia, do exactly that, but that was just unimaginable to us. And I note that Elizabeth had already had her mother die, when she was still in college, so she wasn’t likely to write off another parent.) I know, Walt, that you could never do that to [your wife] Marge, or she to you, if you guys were up against something like this. There’s nothing particularly noble in this commitment to care: it’s the only imaginable moral course of action.

There were of course practicalities in caring for J. After I gave up caring for him on my own (with the assistance, eventually, of a great many friends; towards the end, he couldn’t be left on his own), we had an excellent but expensive dementia care facility to pay: roughly an even division between J’s long-term care insurance, his parents, and me. Oh god, American medical care. But we did it.

Still to come. J’s son Kit has now sent me a small stash of photos reflecting my guy in various aspects of his being, incuding hot trick and sweet dad, which I will display in another posting (Kit has given his permission). But yes, (in response in Michael Covarrubias above) J feels suddenly very present in my life, very alive. Part of this is no doubt the effect that distance provides; I can skip back to the time before he degenerated.

And also, in a separate posting, some very touching comments on the details of J’s and my sexual life, definitely not for kids or the sexually modest, though there’s a nice lesson in all of this. His abilities to engage in sexual acts degenerated and came undone, long before the blessing of anosognosia erased his knowledge of these things; so he was painfully aware of the progressive loss of these abilities, some of which were straightforwardly physical , though some were psychological (he would simply lose focus on what he was trying to do). All of this was deeply mortifying to him, but he never lost his concern for my satisfaction as well as his own.

I should note that J was, like any of us, imperfect in various ways. In particular, he was a mass of destructive self-doubt, which prevented him from finishing most projects that would have been to his advantage — though he was a demon at completing projects on other people’s behalf. Teaching was the perfect career for him, because he was always working to help the students (and he was, in fact, a fabulous teacher); research, more problematic.

One Response to “Images of Jacques”

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