Dinner With Eric

I had dinner with Eric on Saturday.

Eric lost his partner Tina to cancer last year. I keep being a little bit startled all over again every time I realize they were together more than a decade, because I knew each of them before they knew each other. I tend to think of myself as a loner who’s been fine with moving on when things weren’t going anywhere, or going anywhere I wanted to go, and who’s never spent enough time in one place to have old friends as a regular part of my life. But then I add it up and realize I’ve been in the San Francisco Bay Area now for 17½ years (it’ll be 18 in July). And I met Tina, and then Eric, about a year or a year and a half after that. At my age that’s only a modest fraction of a lifetime, but there still aren’t too many people I’ve accumulated that much history with.

I met them both through the WELL, which is still my favorite online hangout. When I first came to the Bay Area and discovered the WELL, my relationship at the time was in the process of (blessedly) falling apart and I didn’t have much of a social life yet. The WELL was (and still is) a community of smart, literate people, and despite a lot of initial shyness on my part (I used to be cripplingly shy; nowadays I’m still very shy but I’ve taught myself how not to be crippled by it) it wasn’t long before I was mostly fitting in, making friends and acquaintances. The WELL even led to one wonderful, if too brief, love affair. And a few very close friends, one of them being Eric.

For several years Eric and I were frequent companions. We went hiking together many times, sang in a chorale and a madrigal group and several impromptu Christmas caroling groups together (he’s a tenor, I’m a bass-baritone), and had lots of long talks about life and love and politics and society. When Eric divorced his wife, we had many long talks about the issues that were coming up for him around that. Some of it was just comparing notes as to how relationships looked from the somewhat different perspectives of a gay man and a straight man, and some of it was that I had made a breakthrough in my own attitude toward relationships not that many years earlier, and broken up with my partner at that time (I don’t mean to imply cause and effect there — the breakthrough and the breakup were occurring more or less at the same time and I don’t think either led to the other; they sort of fed each other), and I was able to give him some support and understanding in his own similar-but-different breakup and breakthrough. Years later, after my surgery, when I made the frightening change from freelancing at home to working in offices, Eric was able to do some serious supporting in return, and he was something of a mentor to me, giving me tips about getting along in the business world, warning me what to expect and how not to let it throw me.

The WELL is still a big part of my social circle, though since then I’ve found my way into other circles that are satisfying other parts of me — these days it’s the Billy Club — so I don’t show up at the social gatherings as often as I used to. Not too many WELL folks are into theater or opera, there are not too many people who share my particular spiritual interests (which I guess I’d have to characterize as a mix of scholarly and mystical, and yes, I know that’s pretty much self-contradictory), and the gay community on the WELL is a beautiful bunch of people but a smallish group. But I still log on several times a week to chat about current events, what we’ve been up to, and so on.

So on Saturday evening Eric and I went to Britt-Marie on Solano Avenue, which is a wonderful restaurant that I don’t think I’d been to in eight or nine years, and we caught up. We chatted about Eastern religion and the grieving process and cooking and what’s up with Dave and his bookstore and what’s up with Eric’s daughters — good Lord, his daughters are now grown women with careers and I remember them when they were in high school. And a lot of other stuff that’s way too personal to blog about.

One of the cool things about Britt-Marie is that, in addition to the great food, they have an unusual and interesting selection of wines available by the glass. I know little about wine, but Eric suggested a zinfandel to go with my lamb dish and it was terrific and I ended up having a second glass of it as well, which is maybe one glass more than I ought to have since I drink fairly little these days and get tipsy more easily than I used to.

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