My Other

By Cynthia Long

Posted on

Rush hour traffic grinds to a halt at Lake and Bryant. Cold rain pelts the stopped cars, bikers, leashed dogs and one unmoving body heaped in the intersection draped in a purple cape; legs bent unnaturally back, broken eye-glasses inches from still hands, and silver hair bloodied. The purple now yielding to streaks of red. The paramedics’ frantic movements give way to a methodical loading of a dead body.

An elderly man leans against the ever changing stop light facing the accident.  Rain floods his weary eyes, soaking his gray braided beard, his lips muttering “my other.”

“You OK? Looks like you’re sliding down the pole.”  A tattooed twenty-something with a skate-board tucked under an arm says. “Let’s get you to the bench. There you go.” The old man says nothing, but lifts his hand, each finger supporting a huge Lake Superior agate, and points toward the accident.

The shaken man recognizes the purple rain cape, now flowing down from the hoisted stretcher.  He gave it to her on her last birthday. Her seventy-sixth. They met on the noisy dance floor of the crowded Minneapolis Gay Nineties. He crossed the bustling oasis to the big haired blond, dodging poppers and flailing arms along his way. Holding her Benson and Hedges high above her head she gyrated to “It’s Raining Men, Hallelujah”.  Decked out in psychedelic polyester, he slurred, “If I were a woman, I’d dress like you.” Hiccup. “Sorry. I mean if I were straight I’d ask you out. Or hell maybe both.”  Taking a deep drag, blowing it out just to the right of his face, she squinted her heavily made-up eyes and laughed, “Why thank you doll.”

That was the beginning of the relationship with no name.

Fifty years of traveling together, meeting one another’s families, attending too many AIDS funerals, teaching each other to knit, digging dinosaur bones in Wyoming, discovering every blues club in Chicago, keeping the other company in waiting rooms, and hanging out at coffeehouses amidst piles of books marked their years. She cooked him more tofu than anyone should have to eat in a lifetime. They claimed they made every opening matinee of Woody Allen films.  They listed each other as emergency contacts, but could only check a box marked “family” or “friend”.

“’Friend’ – always seems so inadequate.” He’d say. She’d agree.

Then one recent day at their favorite haunt a familiar waitress came over to his table and nodded at the still empty seat across from him.  “Is your… other joining you today?”
“Yes,” he smiled broadly, “my other.”

“Mister,” the youth says over the noise of the street, an ambulance pulling away. “Should I call someone for you?”       

– Cynthia Long