The Other Bill

We are two middle aged lesbians with two small non-shedding dogs. That is how it began. I was half way out, half way in and this would be my half way house; a place where I could transition from a fraction of a person to a whole.

When I began my apartment search after the end of a twenty two year marriage, I was looking for less of a place to live, and more of a place to begin a new life. Fearful of discrimination, I discarded potential apartments because of many perceived defects. The owners lived next door and would question why men stayed overnight, or the landlord was homophobic because he spoke of nothing but sports or the neighbors were so close they might hear me with someone. I must have anticipated a much more active and promising sex life than what came to fruition. In the end I was discriminating against myself. If I didn’t accept me, how could I expect others to?

Then I saw the advertisement for a basement apartment posted by two middle aged lesbians. It was close to the city, the price was well within my range, and if this was not an accepting environment what would be? I crafted a reply that summarized my life in four sentences. I was married with children. I am now separated. I am gay. I am homeless. These were not the exact words, but it all basically boiled down to the same.

The house was a colonial at the end of a cul-de-sac in a quiet neighborhood in a suburb fifteen minutes west of Boston. When I walked to the front door I was met by two small white barking fluff-balls falling over one another.
“Rusty, Lucas!” I heard someone yell.

This did nothing to stop the dogs from barking and in fact further incited them so that within seconds they were attacking each other. A woman appeared at the door, smiled and said

“You must be Bill, I’m Nancy. Boys, stop it!” She yelled at the dogs.

She led me to the living room, the dogs stumbling and running in between my legs. As I sat down they jumped up on the sofa and Rusty nervously began to lick my arm as if it were a juicy bone. He would do this for the better part of an hour.

“Do you like dogs?” Nancy asked amused.

“I love them,” I said as I looked down at Rusty’s pink tongue darting in and out of his mouth never taking his eyes off of my face.

“Apparently they love you. We think Rusty is gay,” Nancy said and let out a laugh. That was the beginning of our friendship. Within a month, I moved in the few remnants of my ex-wife’s unwanted belongings, cast-offs from friends and items bought from a yard sale. Somehow, it all worked. I was home.

Many times I would come home from work and find a plate of food, wrapped in plastic with a note from Nancy “chili verde, nuke in the microwave for two minutes” . I would devour the food; knock on the door at the top of the steps to return the plate and spend the better part of the evening sharing beers and stories with Nancy and Brenda. Just as I devoured the food, I devoured their lives and their experiences. They were my link to the history I had ignored and the future that I embraced. I learned that they had been together for twenty five years, Nancy was an accomplished cook, and Brenda was a social worker who passed up a degree at MIT. They consoled me when life became too heavy and celebrated my milestones, no matter how trivial, on the path to recovery. Their love for each other and for me was unconditional.

One evening in their home, I found myself reading a framed handwritten letter. In the same frame was a photograph of a handsome man with blonde hair and a moustache. As I examined it, I became self-conscious. It seemed too personal.

“That was Bill,” Nancy said. “When you moved in my friends said ‘Nancy, don’t fall in love with another Bill’. But I guess I have. He wrote that letter to us on the day he died. He had AIDS.”

“I’m so sorry,” I wasn’t sure if I was apologizing for being named Bill or for bringing up painful memories from the other Bill. Nancy shared stories of her friendship with him, his humor, and his love of life, of his disease, how they stood by him when other friends vanished and of the day he chose his exit from this life. Listening to the story, I couldn’t help but wonder if that Bill could have been me if my life had taken a different turn.

Eventually I regained the confidence that I thought was lost and through Nancy and Brenda’s encouragement began to date. I found the type of love with Paul that they shared. Then one night I broke the news that I was moving out and moving in with Paul.

“I wanted you to fall in love, just not so soon!” Nancy said through tear stained eyes and together we cried for what was found and for the closeness we would lose.

A year later, when Paul and I decided to get married, I asked Nancy if she knew of anyone that could officiate. It seemed too important to have a stranger perform the ceremony.

“I know someone who would be perfect,” She said.

Four months later on our wedding day, Paul and I stood in front of Jane and pledged our love to each other. The other Bill was with us on that day. In the heart of his sister Jane who performed the ceremony that would not have been possible in his lifetime. There was a sense of completeness. Without sadness happiness can’t exist. The two complete each other. On the day my life became complete Nancy and Brenda celebrated, for the Bill they could not save and for the one that they did.

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