Saturday, February 23, 2013

Love is gray
(with a white spot)

February 21, 2013 was a great day that went terribly wrong.

Back in 2000, just before I met my now husband Carl, he had rescued a six-week-old kitten, gray with a little white spot on his chest. When we started chatting online, he showed me some pictures and I actually came up with his name: Stone, because of his gray color. It was many months before I finally met Stone and his daddy in person, and the first thing the kitten did was chew up the edges of the boots I had left sitting on the floor. But I wasn't mad or upset. It was a kitten ... what can you do?

Two years later, Stone and his daddy came to live with me and after a 12 hour drive and arrival at their new home, I was surprised to find Stone curled up next to me in bed. He barely knew me, but he was comfortable enough with me to sleep next to me instead of his daddy. I thought that was so adorable, but I felt bad too. I didn't want any resentment because the cat had suddenly chosen me over the person that had taken him in in the first place. Not to worry though; we just had a one night stand, and Stone really never slept next to me like that over the next 11 years.

We had many, many good times with our little kitty. He was always a source of entertainment, of joy and love, and he had some mischief in him as well. One day we smelled something odd, like cat pee and electricity ... which was exactly what it was! He had peed on a power strip. Thankfully, it was early in the afternoon instead of the middle of the night so we found the power strip and unplugged it before there was any real damage (although the carpet did get a little scorch mark on it). Unfortunately, this incident of marking his territory became rampant throughout the first floor of the house and we had to take action. A visit to the vet showed no physical reason for this to happen, so we had to put him on mood altering medication. The pills helped, but they really screwed up Stone's digestive system. It got so bad for him that we finally took him off the pills and we decided we would deal with the spraying if it happened again.

But, he seemed to be a brand new kitty after a change in his diet -- I became Stone's personal chef, preparing him a healthy batch of food once a week consisting of ground turkey or beef, some veggies and vitamins -- and we were all one big happy family again. Stone was a lucky cat, getting a chance to travel to Florida, spending the night in Savannah and doing some shopping there as well (we carried him around town in his carrier), hanging out in the back yard when the weather was nice, watching the squirrels come up on the porch for some peanuts, trying to grab the birds on the windowsill huddling under the awning during a rain storm, and just being loved in general. He was such a cool cat that he'd pose and let us put silly hats and sunglasses on him for photo shoots!

The peeing issue returned, more meds followed, rugs had to be torn up and furniture replaced, but we got it all under control again. But shortly before the new year, Stone suddenly decided he didn't want to eat the food I had prepared for him anymore. I thought maybe he had a bad batch of ground turkey, so we got some cat food at the store (he'd not been able to eat any commercial cat food without getting sick) and discovered that some of his digestive problems were gluten-related. We found several varieties of gluten-free and grain-free foods which he would nibble at or just walk away from. We didn't know what his problem was because he seemed to want to eat, but when we put the food down, he walked away. His behavior was otherwise normal. A visit to the vet showed some elevated enzymes in his liver due to not eating, so we tried other foods and eventually liquefied his food and gave it to him with a dropper.

I could see he was losing weight, but I held out hope that there was a simple answer to whatever issues he was having with his food. Maybe his teeth hurt. We had them cleaned, he ate two bowls of food right after, and then slacked off again. After a couple of days of not eating, we had to go back to the vet again on February 18, 2013. They admitted him, gave him a feeding tube, and also some solid food which they said he was eating. An ultrasound was scheduled for the 20th to see what was going on internally, and we went to see him the evening after that procedure was performed. He was very doped up, but looked like he had gained a little weight. He let us hold him for a bit, but I don't know if he really was aware of who we were. On the 21st we were given some good news -- he had a blockage of his bile duct that was operable and arrangements were made to get him to a facility for the operation. Thinking I would see him later in the evening, I went to work while his daddy and my father took him to be cared for. Then I got a call ... the diagnosis was completely off-base. The blockage was more severe than we thought, most likely cancerous with more cancer in his body, and even if we did the operation he would need chemo which would diminish his quality of life and maybe extend his life for weeks or months, a year tops.

To say that we were devastated is an understatement. We had to make the most horrible decision any pet owner has to make. Do we act selfishly and try to force him to eat, or do we let him go? After many, many questions and answers with the doctor, we had to make the only, best decision possible for Stone. We had to let him go. Our hearts were shattered in a million pieces because we started the day with a pet, a member of our family, that we thought would be home soon and ended the day with nothing but heartache. We cried for at least 24 hours, looking to place blame on the vet for promising us hope, and taking on guilt myself for not being there to support Carl or say goodbye to our baby boy. It's just been the most awful time I've ever been through.

But, we are healing slowly. I still get teary-eyed reading the supportive comments from my friends on Facebook, and remembering the uniqueness of our cat, the way he would give high fives, the armpit massages, how he would "talk" to us when we asked him things, the funny positions he would sleep in. But while remembering the good times, I look back now on the last month and a half and realize that I knew he was sick but I didn't want to admit it. I am the King of Denial when it comes to illness. I just figure that whatever ails you, you'll always get better.

During those last few weeks of his life, Stone began acting differently. Not personality-wise, just some of his behavior was odd. He was always wanting to go outside. In the morning, instead of head-bumping my leg for his food, he would sit and stare at the basement door. Deep down in my gut, I knew that if I let him go into the basement, he would find a small, dark place to curl up in and he would not be coming back on his own. I just knew that, but I was more intent on fixing him than letting him go. I mean, he was only 12 years old. We could get another eight years out of him, right, because he seemed to be in good health except for the eating? But he started doing other things too, like getting in my lap and letting me cuddle him or letting him give me armpit massages ... something he hadn't done with me in a very long time. He would get up on the box chairs in the living room and sit on the arms right between the two of us. He got in bed and snuggled between us under the covers. In the 11 years he was with us in this house, he's only ever done that a couple of times, preferring to sleep on the edge of the mattress or at the foot of the bed. I know now that he was telling us that he loved us, he wanted us to know that he appreciated the life we gave him, he wanted us to know that he was our baby, but by allowing us that time to love him more he was also telling us that it was his time to go. He wanted us to know it was okay to let go, that we would always have that love in our hearts and that wherever he was in spirit, that love and appreciation he had would never die.

So, when we were given the news that an operation would give us our boy back, we were ecstatic, never thinking that just a few hours later we would never see our Stone again. It's been very hard. I've been through such grief over the loss, over having to make that decision even though I selfishly wanted to keep him with us. I've been angry at the vet for giving us such false hope, for not being there to say goodbye and comfort Carl. I cried for about 24 hours straight just seeing Stone's face in my mind's eye and replaying the telephone conversation, hearing Carl sobbing on the phone while telling Stone that I loved him, coming home and embracing Carl and sobbing while Carl kept saying, "My boy is dead." It's the absolute worst thing I've ever been through. And now I need to write all of this down as my own catharsis so I can move on and celebrate Stone's life, and remember all the good times we had with him, all the love and laughs he gave us. We will never forget him. And we will keep his memory alive. Losing Stone and letting him go has left a giant hole in our hearts, one that can never be replaced ... but we still have more love to give and we will move on with a new little buddy to share that love with. Whoever chooses us will never be Stone, and that's fine. Stone was most definitely one in a million.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Finding love with
The Men Next Door

Getting the Hollywood studio machine to tackle an honest gay love story is a rarity, so it comes down to the indie filmmakers of the world to create films for smaller, target audiences. One of the most prolific indie producers in the marketplace today is Guest House Films, which has produced and distributed a variety of LGBT films with titles like Make the Yuletide Gay, Blue Briefs, Black Briefs, and Role/Play. The quality of these films, and others not from Guest House, vary wildly in quality (writing, acting, production). For the most part, I've been really disappointed with films targeted at LGBT viewers because I've found most of them to be cynical in their depiction of gay men. The message always seems to be that gay men don't want or can't be in a committed, long-term relationship, and as we continue to fight for equal rights for LGBT people, especially on the marriage front, I just find this message disheartening.

Director Rob Williams' Role/Play left a bad taste in my mouth with its depiction of relationships between several gay men, so I was a little hesitant to commit to his latest film, The Men Next Door. The story focuses on Doug (Eric Dean), a 40-year-old man with a group of the worst friends in the world. None of them show up for his milestone birthday party (at this point I was already prepared for the worst from the film), but at least his brother sends him a stripper. Unfortunately, it's a woman (bro thought he would send something Doug didn't already have). Doug manages to get the woman out of his house just as a man arrives whom Doug also thinks is a birthday gift from his brother. Turns out, he's the new neighbor who doesn't mind being mistaken for a stripper and allows himself to be unwrapped. Doug feels a connection with 30-year-old Colton (Benjamin Lutz), but he's also seeing another man, the 50-year-old Jacob (Michael Nicklin). What Doug soon discovers is that Jacob and Colton are … father and son! They try to keep each relationship on the down low, but they all come crashing together at one point and Doug tries to balance both as he makes a decision on who to stay with. The question is, can Colton and Jacob manage to maintain their own relationship while Doug weighs his options?

I hate to give anything away, so I will try to be as spoiler-free as possible, but I have to say that I was ultimately charmed by The Men Next Door because of its more adult and realistic (well, as realistic as you can be with this situation) attitude towards gay men and relationships. For once, everyone involved in this triangle wants to be in a committed relationship. That's real progress for one of these movies! Williams' writing is honest and funny when it needs to be, even when some of the supporting characters fall into classic gay stereotypes. Doug's one female friend, Evelyn (Heidi Rhodes), is a bit over-the-top though, coming off as either insane, drunk, or both anytime she's in a scene. Lutz sometimes comes off as a bit wooden, but he's easy on the eyes. Nicklin and Dean, however, give very good performances and Dean is just so endearing that you really can't help but fall in love with him (and I have no idea if any of these actors are gay in real life, but they all seem very comfortable with each other … and there are quite a few scenes of nudity).

To me, The Men Next Door is Williams' most accomplished film to date from a production standpoint, to the caliber of acting and maturity of the writing. And I'm so happy to finally see a movie about gay male relationships that has a happy ending. In the crowded field of LGBT movies that cast a cynical eye on love, you can actually cuddle up with that someone special in your life on Valentine's Day with The Men Next Door and come away feeling good about your own relationship.

The Men Next Door is available on DVD from and other online retailers. Amazon also offers a digital version for purchase or rent. The DVD is also available to rent from Netflix.