How Does One Say Goodbye to the person that knows you better than you know yourself?
What can I say about a life filled with puppy kisses, disco, and laughter?
I was one of the lucky ones.
I shared much of my life dancing and laughing along with a best friend.
Your definition of a best friend may differ from mine. However, I feel we can agree that a best friend is a person who you value above other friends in your life, someone you have fun with, someone you trust and someone in whom you confide.
I would like to tell you about my best friend, Van.
Van Boone has not only seen every episode of The Golden Girls, but he also has them all memorized. He has been the Dorothy to my Blanche although I have no doubt that he would argue that I was Rose and he was more the Blanche.
Apart from knowing all things Golden, he knows from fashion, he is a Virgo. His real name is also James, he was adopted but is close to his birth mother, he’s a great cook, excellent at Trivial Pursuit, he’s an animal lover and an activist. He has been my partner in crime for over 20 years.
We have shared several homes together while co-parenting several dogs and cats. We have seen each other through good times and bum times while somehow maintaining our brand of humor.
We met in 1996 when I was 27 years old and barely surviving. I was going from boyfriend to boyfriend, job to job, roommate to roommate and jail to jail. I am not at all proud of that misguided life. I was not willing to listen to anyone that offered me advice. I know I had matured and had grown up in some sense, but I had regressed where it mattered the most. I am confident that the destiny I had settled for was not going to be pretty even though I had friends, close friends, that were there for me at that time, they could not stop me from continuing down that destructive road. I am thankful to them for trying to intervene and help.
Life changed for me one alcohol-induced November evening in a local gay bar in Dallas called The Village Station when my butt intervened, and my destiny changed its course.
I was wearing very tight jeans that night, you see, I was quite proud of my young physique. I had participated in cross-country and track in high school, and I continued running well into my thirties with glorious results. I had maintained a 28-inch waist during that time, and I had beautifully molded strong and impervious legs with a behind so round, so firm, you’ve got to fall down on your knees and cry out at its magnificent regal beauty.
Well, as the story goes, one look and Van had to stop and get to know me better.
I don’t remember too much about that first meeting except that we went to a diner down the street and he had offered to buy me something to eat, and I ordered two entrees.
For the next twenty years, we were never apart. It would be 2014 when we would stop living together. I had decided to take a leap of faith and live with someone with whom I was romantically involved. It was not a smooth transition, and things moved too fast as we tried to get things prepared for our departures. I didn’t have a chance to say a heartfelt goodbye before he and Dexter moved to Louisville, Kentucky, where his birth mother lives. I guess it was for the best. I didn’t know how to say goodbye.
The late 90’s feel like another life altogether. Van and I had tried being a couple the first three years that we knew each other but eventually realized that although we loved each other, that love was not romantic love, after all, it was more comfortable, casual, and transcendent. That was enough, although people would still think we were a couple for the next two decades because we acted like we were married.
We worked together as head bartenders and trainers at The Olive Garden, Don Pablo’s and waited tables at Mondos before I ventured into retail and eventually got a hotel job where I found my calling in the hospitality industry procuring business for properties in Dallas. Van stayed in restaurant work as a successful General Manager until he became too sick to perform his usual duties, that was around June 2016.
I have no doubt our chance meeting that night in November, along with my butt, plus his continued friendship altered the course of the destructive trajectory I had reserved for myself.
He saved my life.
I wouldn’t recognize that until many years later.
Lately, I have been looking back considerably at our timeline together in a state of nostalgic delirium. I’ve been thinking of our first apartment, first pets, road trips, and concerts we attended; wondering how many more tours and shows would we have the chance to share. Would we have time to Thelma and Louise it to West Texas again?
You see, my friend Van has cancer for the second time and has decided that he will not seek radiation therapy or any other aggressive treatment this time around. He has been through this before, quite recently.
It is no secret that he has been HIV positive since the late 80’s and one can get a sense that we have been living on borrowed time and that this friendship might not have happened at all.
I knew of his decision to forgo any treatment before he got his results and before anyone else knew. I didn’t argue with him. He had made up his mind, and I didn’t irritate him by asking too many questions or trying to coerce him into changing his mind. He was going to Barbara Bush it. He had decided.
The first time he went through treatment he managed to maintain a healthy attitude and did his best to soldier on through the necessary ordeal. He did as well as expected, but it consumed him. He had been losing a lot of weight before being diagnosed, and he had become frail. I did not experience the physical pain that he suffered and had tried to describe to me during that time, so I was not about to try to talk him into going through all that again. He knows how I feel without me having to say a word. He can also be sure that I would walk through fire if I thought it would help.
I lived next door at the time of his cancer treatments so I would help out with laundry and housecleaning and walk the 4 fur babies. We have Dexter Clinton Boone, the eldest at age 9, Dixie Carter 3, and two of the nine puppies they had together: Bowie and Bailey.
I remember well the night the puppies were born.
Van texted me that Dixie was having the babies. The back door to my apartment is one step away from his door.
We watched three puppies come out of mama bear, one puppy-bear was already cleaned up and suckling by the time I got there.
We googled “what do I do when my dog has puppies,” just in case something went wrong and a baby got stuck on the way out. We just wanted to be prepared.
After about an hour or so, no more babies had come out, so we assumed she had squeezed all the puppies out. We took her out to the courtyard to pee, just as the website I had Googled told us to do. She did just that, and we took her to lay in her large crate to feed the babies.
“Wow!” I said,” Four puppies is not too bad.”
Van agreed, and we were very grateful for that small litter. I returned home and went to sleep.
The next morning, I stopped in to check on mama and counted nine puppies.
“Oh My God Van! She had five more while we slept!” I happily shouted.
We couldn’t believe it, and we apologized to Dixie for not being there for her. Good times.
Unfortunately, he doesn’t live next door anymore. He has rented a room in a Northeast Dallas residence and was able to take Dexter with him. He is receiving disability benefits, and although he wants to work, his health will not let him. He had no choice but to move somewhere affordable and I couldn’t afford to continue helping him financially.
My place is too small to accommodate Van, myself, my partner Michael and his cat and my four dogs; otherwise, we would be roomies again.
So now what? Where do we go from here? Do we acknowledge this? Do we avoid the topic?
We embrace it. Carefully. We can’t hide from this.
He had assigned me Medical Power of Attorney a couple of years back after an alarming episode where he was missing for over 24 hours. Thankfully, he was eventually found by local police and taken to a nearby hospital. He had lost his way in Dallas, a city he knew well, and he had not been able to communicate with anyone.
I feel privileged that he delegated me this directive of Power of Attorney. Although in some measure, I think I could fail and that it may prove to be too much responsibility. No matter what happens, he chose me which means he trusts me. I will make sure that his choices are clear and heard. I can do this if it ever comes down to the wire. We had always joked that we would pull the plug for the other in our old age. I am sure we had a conversation about preserving just our heads just as Rose Nylund and the girls did in a dream Rose had on an episode of The Golden Girls. I still laugh out loud when Blanche Devereux screams, “We’re heads!”.
We had imagined ourselves in our rocking chairs at a Shady Pines type of home for the elderly, many decades from now. He once posted a meme on my Facebook page that read: We would be friends until we were old and senile and then we’d be new friends. I still get a kick out of it.
We do not know the when or how much time we still have together, does anybody ever really know? Besides, Lazarus here has come back from the dead so many times that I don’t despair much.
EU·LO·GY FOR THE LIVING
Van Boone instantly became an honorary Navarrette when my parents first met him. My mother will always consider him her son too. He is family, and just like family, we have had our share of fights. We have shed tears together at the loss of our pets. We have celebrated many many birthdays and holidays together. We’ve shared the most excellent group of friends possible. We’ve eaten our share of cheesecakes.
Van is no longer at the mercy of the alcohol that once had power over him, no small feat to be sure, and I am proud of him for that.
I hope there is time for another road trip. I still remember the laughter we shared one night in the Davis Mountains while anxiously awaiting the mysterious Marfa Lights to dance in the night sky as we joked about how our cat Shelby Lynn sounded like the alien spaceships from the sci-fi film Close Encounter of the Third Kind as they attempted to communicate with the earthlings through music.
Is there another concert in our future? We already saw the big names we wanted to see like Erasure, Lady Gaga, and Elton John. We saw Cher in concert around 1999 and heard she is touring again. I would like for us to see her again together if he is strong enough. I think that a Cher concert would be the best way to say goodbye to our concert days together.
Will Van bust — a — move at bedtime in Roswell, NM again?
What more can I say about a life filled with laughter, great friends, and cheesecake?
We were two of the lucky ones.
I chanced upon the word Boon Companion while surfing the web, I was not looking for this, and I had never heard of it. I was pleasantly surprised at what the word meant.
noun — an intimate or close friend; best friend
THAT YOU ARE, VAN BOONE