|Boys' Night Out at Ayers Rock with Jenny by N. J. Irza|
Thanksgiving was long my favorite holiday. This probably has something to do with the fact that I stopped spending it with my family when I was in college, always electing thereafter to be with friends on that day. More importantly, it lacked the pressure, consumerism, and expectations that haunted Christmas and turned me into a grinch at an early age. Thanksgiving was about gratitude and good food and friends, all things I could support wholeheartedly.
|Bird, by N. J. Irza|
One friend I shared Thanksgivings with was Nick Irza. He and his partner, Jim, were my gay godfathers, and Nick in particular became the father I never had, and I was his princess. Nick was an artist--these are his paintings here. After Jim passed away, we became especially close, and spent most holidays together. He was a wonderful cook, and I had inherited lots of china, silver, and crystal. We made a great entertaining team. On Saturday, November 22, 2006, Nick and I were decorating the Thanksgiving altar at the Episcopal Cathedral. In addition to being a member of the congregation, Nick was an amazing florist. He was feeling unwell and sat down to supervise while I did something simple like put chrysanthemums in brass urns. Suddenly, he said, "I think I'm having a heart attack."
|Spirit Cats, the first painting Nick did after his partner's death|
I looked around and he was white as a sheet, he head gleaming with perspiration. I called 911, and foudn the sexton to tell him what was going on. He called the priest and brought in reinforcements from the altar guild to finish the altar. I followed Nick's ambulance to the hospital and let the medical staff think I was his daughter so I could stay with him. Nick was uninsured, and we were not the medical staff's highest priority. By the time we saw a resident, lividity was setting in. By the time the cardiologist arrived, I knew from the look on her face that he was going to die. They took him to surgery, but were unable to repair his ruptured aorta. He never woke up.
His funeral was held in the Episcopal Cathedral we'd been decorating on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. He and I had planned to spend the holiday at my house with two other friends. Nick was to cook the turkey, while I made the jalapeno cornbread dressing, praline sweet potatoes, and pecan pie. I was too devastated to face the traditional meal. I made pasta and got extremely drunk, then lay in the back seat of the car giving incoherent directions while the friends who'd joined me for dinner drove around my neighborhood to look at the elaborate Xmas lights.
|Matthew, a sketch in pencil of one of Nick's 12 cats|
Thanksgiving was kind of ruined for me for several years. It wasn't until I moved to Oregon that I made a turkey with all the trimmings again. The holiday is still bittersweet, because it's forever linked to a devastating loss. But I have much to be grateful for, not the least of which is that I had Nick in my life, and that I am still surrounded every day my his beautiful paintings. Artists have the only kind of immortality I can believe in, a legacy of work that lives on and tells the world who they were. Nick left some magnificent creations that will bring joy for generations. I also have a living, breathing reminder of him: one of his cats, a black female named Nikita in his honor.
I will spend this Thanksgiving with my husband and a friend who is coming to stay with us. This friend also knew and loved Nick, came to the hospital to sit with me while he was in surgery, and went with me to his house afterwards to feed his cats and parrots and to honor Nick's final request that I get rid of his porn before any lawyers, executors, or family arrived.
May you spend this holiday with people you care about, and may you be thankful for their presence in your life. Happy Thanksgiving.