Monday, September 29, 2008

Things I Miss, 2

I miss caring for and tending to Reginald.

I miss cooking for him when he could keep some food down – always iffy, since he was on chemotherapy from last December through April, and on multiple antibiotics continuously from then on. I miss getting him cans of Ensure or Gatorade when those were the only things he could keep down.

I miss rigging up and administering IV drip medications, and changing surgical wound dressings.

I miss the rare good days in the hospital – the days when Reginald didn’t have too much pain or nausea, and I would sit reading or working on my laptop while he slept or worked on his own computer.

I miss driving him around town to doctors’ visits – over the last several months, when he wasn’t in the hospital, he saw one or another doctor almost every day.

A few days ago I was talking with someone on the phone and mentioned that there were some health care smells that I’d as soon never smell again, alcohol swabs, wound prep swabs, saline solution. That wasn’t quite right: I long to smell those smells, but while nursing him at home or being with him while nurses tend to him in the hospital. I miss the less pleasant bile and vomit smells, too, and the task of emptying and cleaning vomit basins.

To be clear: I don’t miss the bad smells and the vomit and other fluids themselves. Even less do I miss the suffering, pain, and nausea Reginald felt for so long. But much of the past year, all I could do was tend to him the best I could and show my love by doing so. I often felt miserable to not be able to do more – nursing him often felt like the least I could do when it was the most I could do – but I miss being able to at least do that.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Things I Miss

It’s been a bit over two weeks since my dear Reginald passed. It hasn’t fully sunk in, I don’t think. I know he’s gone, but I find myself several times a day thinking things like, “I’ve got to tell Reginald about that…” At the same time, I miss him profoundly.

Most of all I miss our love. I miss how much he loved me and while I’ll always love him, I’ll miss being able to say it and show it to him. I’ll always treasure the time we had, or for that matter that the last thing I said to him was “I love you” and that the last thing he said was “I love you” to me – but that’s not enough, and I don’t think it ever will be.

One form our love and communion took was conversation, and on a daily level, I’ll miss that about as much as anything. We were nearly continuously together every day, and that because we wanted to be, and we talked all the time about nearly everything.

We talked about writing – about different literary forms, about the skills and experience of writing poetry, ethnography, fiction, essays, blogs, and other forms, about different forms as art or not art, about the relation between writing and society. We discussed music, something we’re both passionate about – from Britten to boy bands, the state of the music industry and music recording, why some people still seem to viscerally react to Schoenberg, what we liked or disliked about various music. We talked about politics and paleontology, generally agreeing that politics was probably more important but paleontology more interesting, finding debates about punctuated equilibrium or whether sauropods were likely endotherms, ectotherms, or homeotherms more interesting than Obama vs. McCain. We discussed race and racism, food in its many varieties and proper cooking of each, The Simpsons, the relative merits of science fiction television shows, whatever either of us was reading (which gave plenty of topics to explore), culture and history.

Not only did we share wide ranging interests, but he was always smart and knowledgeable about whatever we discussed. (Reginald’s knowledge of world history was particularly formidable. I’ve never encountered directly or indirectly anyone else as knowledgeable about history in general – and I include the writers of world histories. His many world history books are filled with marginal notes correcting the small errors of detail he found.) I don’t think I’ll ever have another conversation as interesting, challenging, or deep as the one we had the last 8 ½ years.

Our conversation, as with that of most couples I presume, was also larded with references that only made sense to the two of us. I miss already being able to say things like “No zombie turkey” or “It’s not yummy” or “Nothing Cake” or “Are you going to the thing?” and make any sense to someone, at least not without such convoluted explanation as to obviate their use as a shorthand – and a shorthand for a range of past shared experience that wouldn’t be explained anyway even with the most elaborate of explanations.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Reginald Shepherd, 1963 - 2008

Reginald Shepherd, who was my partner, best friend, lover, confidante, and so much more, died this past week on September 10 after a fight with cancer. The following is a short piece about Reginald I wrote for his memorial service, which was held yesterday.

Reginald Shepherd, 1963 - 2008

Reginald Shepherd was born April 10, 1963 in New York City and passed away September 10, 2008 in Pensacola, surrounded by people whom he loved and who loved him.

Reginald was the son of Blanche Berry, who was originally from Macon, Georgia. He grew up in Bronx, New York, along with a sister, Regina Graham. He moved to Macon and lived with his aunt, Mildred Swint, after the death of his mother when he was fifteen.

Reginald earned a B.A. degree from Bennington College in Bennington, Vermont, and M.F.A. degrees in Creative Writing from Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and the University of Iowa in Iowa City. He taught literature and creative writing, most recently at Antioch University and earlier at the University of West Florida, Cornell University, and Northern Illinois University, and he was remarkably dedicated to his students and the craft of writing.

Reginald was a magnificent writer. He published five books of poetry (Some Are Drowning; Angel, Interrupted; Wrong; Otherhood; and Fata Morgana) and a book of essays (Orpheus in the Bronx), and he edited two poetry anthologies (The Iowa Anthology of New American Poetries and Lyric Postmodernisms). He recently completed a sixth book of poetry and a second volume of essays that will be published posthumously. Among many awards for his writing, he most recently earned a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2008 and won the 2007 silver medal for poetry in the Florida Book Awards.

Reginald met his partner, Robert Philen, in December, 1999 in Ithaca, New York, and ever since, their relationship has grown, based in conversation, compassion, sharing, friendship, passion, and profound love. The two have lived in Pensacola since July, 2001.

Over the past year, Reginald faced tremendous adversity and continuous pain from a series of illnesses related to cancer, but he faced it all with profound strength and courage, tenacity, love of life – and gentleness, dignity, and innocence. He fought long and hard against the illness, but as one nurse who worked with him toward the end put it, “He remained a gentleman to the end.”

Any of us who knew Reginald are devastated and heartbroken at this loss, and we will miss his unique combination of verve and vivacity, wit and intelligence, tenacity and strength, gentleness, empathy, and sweetness, generosity and innocence. We will also, despite our profound sadness, remain ennobled, happy, and blessed by the time we spent with him.