Equal Marriage - To Where You Are

A family wedding sanctioned by government

To Where You Are

Steven was the oldest of four and I the oldest of eight. His family was religious, mine went to church for weddings, funerals and once so I could get a badge for cub scouts. Steven entered Bible college at a young age and became a full fledged Pentecostal Minister at 17. At 17 I was in high school trying not to get beat up because someone might think I was a faggot. We were from radically different worlds.

After school I went o­nto work for the BC Forest Service, starting a career, coming out as a gay man and getting to Vancouver whenever I could. I became a union and gay rights activist. Steven took up a traveling revival show that landed in parking lots in communities all over BC and Alberta in the 70's preaching fire and brimstone. From there he was married, went to the deepest south of the USA to preach the gospel. Steven and his wife came back to Canada a little disillusioned with the Pentecostal movement and took up running grocery stores. They had three children and soon after the birth of the youngest they split up.

Steven was gay. He moved to Vancouver and made up for lost time and soon was diagnosed with AIDS. During this time I had two relationships with men, each lasting six or seven years, gone onto being an elected union and community leader in small town BC. I traveled to Vancouver often was excited to join in the gay scene there. Luck or fate seemed to protect me as I did much of what Steven had yet I did not contract HIV.

In the early years of Steven becoming HIV positive, he was all over the map emotionally. Told by his doctor he had two years at most. It was a tough time and as he lived beyond the Doctors expectations, Steven came to believe he had a life to live. He turned his anger and self pity into positive energy. Living each day in the present, not the past.

As this was happening with Steven, I was living life as an open gay man, enjoying my siblings and their children. I came to regret that I would never be a father. My nieces and nephews were that more special to me as a result, yet I had this need to have my own children. My partner at the time was not interested and I resigned myself to being an uncle. That said, being called Uncle Rick is pretty sweet.

Steven's and my life collided with a soft beautiful smile. I was in love the second I saw him. I had just moved to Kelowna and was looking to meet other gay men. I heard about a coffee shop that had a "gay friendly night". I wondered in and ordered a coffee and went about to meet people. Most seemed a little shy or stuck up. I was new and I guess they were sizing me up.

I went outside to have a smoke and then the smile that would shake my world was flashed. Steven I discovered was a major tease, though I did not figure that out until much later. He was the first person to speak to me, offering me a chair. I sat down and commenced what would take me six months of dating to get to where I asked him to be with me for the rest of my life.
I choose a bed and breakfast in a small remote town, arranged for a bottle of champagne on ice in the room at 11that evening, for the fire to be started in the fireplace. We went out to enjoy a wonderful meal, a truly romantic evening and were back just after 11.

The fire was crackling, the champagne was waiting to be uncorked and I having spent an entire evening with the man I loved managed to keep my plans secret till now. I just about tossed my plan out the window at dinner. Steven’s smile, our conversation, holding hands, sharing our love, could there be a more wonderful feeling or time.

Steven knew something was up, it was not a regular thing for us to go off on a weekend trip, to treat ourselves so well, see Steven liked to do it but it was hard for him to let someone spoil him so, he went along mostly because I whined lots. His little sly grin when he said okay, Ricky needs this weekend. I directed him to a side chair, he sat down and I knelt before him and asked him if he would be my partner for life. It happened so quick. Steven surprised me with what he said next.

"I may only live another two, three years, I may be very sick for long periods of time, I can’t promise you any more Ricky." I can still hear his words. “Are you sure Ricky?” I said I was very sure. He said, “ Yes Ricky”. Shivers run up my arms now, across my back, tears appear and I wipe them away slowly as I recall this moment. We hugged and the tears came on. Steven told me that night he had just one wish before he died, "I want to love and be loved. I know it has happened.” I had almost forgotten the champagne, I opened it with all the flair of a movie star, poured it into our flutes, I leave the rest to your imagination.

Our life began together like it started, only this time there were two amazing smiles and some tears marrying our souls and bodies, overcome from our love. My new partner Steven was just 6 days younger than I. Something he never let me forget. One day in February shortly after I met him I asked Steven out for a picnic on Okanagan Lake.

He thought I was crazy but he came along. I packed all the stuff down to the snow covered beach, it was sunny and the picnic was warm pasta I made that morning. He laughed and told me I was nuts. But he was there, we laughed, ate, and shared a glass of wine. As were leaving he reminded me of his much younger age. He wasn’t laughing as he carried the bulk of the stuff back to my car with me claiming at my advanced age, we wouldn’t want to take any chances.

Our lives went on, normal as they can be with HIV. We were family. We talked about our past, and it seemed we were at many of the same places at the same time, yet we never met. Fate said Steven, we were meant to find each other. He believed we each had something the other needed in this life. I soon learned how true this was.

I became a Dad! Steven's youngest, Stephanie, came to live with us. We were overjoyed to have her. Stephanie added a new dimension to our love as we shared our lives with her. I now knew what being a Dad is like, being an integral, trusting and reliable part of a young person's developing precious life. Steven gave me one of my greatest desires, to be a father.

Steven's son Mark was a big part of our lives as well, visiting us often. When work took me to Mark's home town Steven's former wife Lynn, and daughter Sarah-Dawn did all they could to make me welcome. My Mom became Steven's Mom, my Dad and his wife Carol became parents, my nieces and nephews called Steven the “Weird Uncle” as he sang all the children's songs and played in the lake with them.

We watched the marriage debate and did our part writing letters, joining rallies, talking to people, in support of the right to marry. We should have the right to join in marriage. We lived as a couple, were recognized as such by family and community, only the government failed to see us as such.

Our life was normal, fulfilling and full of love and then came June 3, 2002.

I rushed Steven to hospital. He was suffering agonizing pain. We had been in to emergency three previous times in the last two months and the pain was becoming worse. That night a cancer specialist was on the AIDS Care team. She suspected cancer right away.

Steven was admitted, in the days ahead we heard Steven might live six months, he had cancer and it was very advanced, beyond treating. It was a cancer I soon learned was 100 times more common in HIV positive people. Six months to live, it was not to be. It became days.

Two days before Steven passed away, before he slipped into a coma, he pulled me close, and gave me that same smile he had when we met. He asked me if I remembered what his one wish was before he died. I nodded yes and he said, "Ricky, I know what it is to love and to know I am loved." Tears and smiles shook our souls and bodies.

Steven passed away in my arms o­n a sunny Vancouver morning at 8:30, June 9, 2002, in St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver. I miss him. On July 12, 2002 the Ontario Divisional Court said couples like Steven and I had the right to marry.

Our growing family, two years after Steven passed away...

Sometimes it’s hard to express feelings when you are so close to something. A good friend Cody gave me a CD of a Josh Groban song, "To Where You Are". It says it for me. How can Stephen Harper say we were not a family, that we were less than someone else’s family…

"...Fly me up to where you are
Beyond the distant star
I wish upon tonight
To see you smile
If o­nly for awhile to know you're there
A breath away's not far
To where you are..."
from - To Where You Are

Josh Groban


scout said...

oh rick, what a moving story, thank you...so full of all the human elements that touch our hearts...and that's what counts.

i'm sure you still miss him but so glad you have your extended family.

the neocons can't think beyond the ice in their veins.....it's sad they are this way and cover us all with their cold, cold hearts.

bruce said...

It’s funny, I was thinking recently you that haven’t mentioned Steven in a long time.

He was a Minister? Good grief. At least he had the sense and honesty to deal with himself. His coming out must have been a trip and half.

It just shows a major problem with religion, a lot of Homosexuals are drawn to the church for various reasons. They might hope that service to God will keep them straight or they might rely on scripture to justify their own denial. It’s been shown that Homosexuals have a natural receptivity to spirituality and often seek guidance through religion in hopes of resolving internal conflicts, simple things, like who they are. Unfortunately, they too often find themselves seeking guidance from places that lack the understanding they require.

I don’t consider Steven’s situation all that unusual, I think it happens more than most people let on. Until churches deal with it, they continue to do too much harm in the name of God.

Anonymous said...

That was a great story, sorry for what you have gone through but you have a family now too. You seem to be doing well Rick.

I guess the moral here is to keep fighting and love and to get to know your neigbors. The more we do that the better off we will be.

Rick Barnes said...

Thanks. Yes get to know people. its harder to hate people you know.

jody said...

Thank you.


Darla said...

yes rick, steven is still very much a part of our family, he was one of a kind. still miss that smile, the impish grin.
proud to call you my brother