Happy Birthday Ross
… October 29th is Ross’ birthday. Some people come into our lives and leave a big imprint, some don’t.
Some honor our presence in their lives, some don’t. In honor of Ross’ life, I present a section from a book I’m working on.
Happy Birthday kid wherever you are. I see you in the stars that shine every night when
I stand on our roof patio that you loved so …
…. Here is an example of someone whose time on earth has ended but who continues to impact those he had contact with,
and then in turn, impacts people through those folks he left behind and influenced, as they deal with their daily lives.
“ROSS STEWART THAYER”
… His partner, Jim, felt Ross shudder next to him in bed. It woke Jim up. It was 4:44 am on the digital clock beside the bed… Ross had just died. Jim stood up and said out loud, “this is the end of ROSS STEWART THAYER, and the end of Jim and Ross (as they had been)”.
The day before, Ross’ family had been sitting around him in the bedroom. Watching and waiting… the death vigil. He was dying from AIDS. Age 29. He had stayed alert and verbal until the last few days when he slipped in and out of a coma. He could no longer speak, just look ahead hauntingly. He was there… but slipping. He didn’t want to go, he fought death very very hard. He was internally hemorrhaging, lungs filling with blood, breathing was very difficult. His partner kept whispering to him, that it was alright to let go, that everyone understood and loved him, that he had to leave now, it was time…”please let go, please Ross, we’ll meet again… Another time, another place” …
It is odd what difficult situations like this will bring out in people… Ross loved classical music so this very uptight group of folks sittin around by his bedside played the “1812 Overture”, one of his favorites, on the stereo in the bedroom, played it loud… consciously or unconsciously, expecting him to “go” dramatically, as the music gets to its finale…expecting him to flatline as the cymbals would crash… the music will crescendo… the cannons will burst … and Ross will let go… and leave this world… what a scene… what an ending it could be to a life that had been so frustrated during its first 20 some odd years…
Ross’ parents split. His mother was now a “career” woman. A shock to a blue blood society girl. Ross had school problems, smart, gifted but unable to focus. He was put into special ed where he fought the system… and life in general.
Unhappy to have been adopted, he often thought that he was being punished by whatever that thing was called… God ?… He plodded through school and into college. Always late, always very late. Missed classes, missed work, missed social affairs, always very very late. Very compulsive when he did things. For example, once when he and Jim first got together, he still lived out of town at his own apartment… he was to come down for dinner in the evening. He called Jim, and said he was gonna wash his car before he headed into the city, as soon as the sun went down and the car cooled off… It was a black sports car, and he wanted to wash it when the sun wouldn’t be shining on it so it wouldn’t spot and hurt the paint.
He started on the car about seven p.m. At 10 p.m., Jim had no word from Ross that he was done and on his way yet. Midnight, Jim called leaving a few messages… “where the hell are you? It’s midnight.” Obviously, dinner now was out…next option a midnight snack. After pacing back and forth, Jim finally went to bed. At 5 am the phone rang… Jim was too pissed off to answer it, Ross left the message… “Oh, sorry. I just noticed the sun was starting to come up, and realized how long I’d been working on the car. I guess you’re mad and we won’t be getting together now…?” Compulsive enough to ignore the time, his obligation…and only be clued in as the sun rose in the East.
Why the compulsion, and lateness??? What Ross had learned to do in his life, what he had learned about life… was that he had no real control over the externals that had brought him into the world. No control over how he started life. And, being angry about so many issues, he could not express feelings… cuz, after all “it was impolite to be angry, irritated, or in any way emotional”…theconcept of keeping a stiff upper lip through all… thick and thin ran it course.
So, Ross couldn’t control the things he wanted to control, but… he could control “time” in a sense, and he couldn’t control the disease that was slowly playing the old “pac man” game inside him, eating away at the good healthy cells in his body… and he couldn’t make himself well, nor take care of himself any better… But, he could make his car perfect. He could do all the things to the car to make it as perfect and well, as he would like himself to be now. The car represented him. It was an extension of Ross. So while his body self destructed and withered, he still could take the time to take the taillight lenses off and clean the reflectors, remove the license plates and wash them in the dishwasher, remove every bit of dirt, then polish his car – the surrogate Ross – to perfection and show what he wished he could do for his body. And his life.
And in time, everyone realized how his lateness was passive aggressive behavior, a way of getting everyone else to act out his anger, again remember he had to ’keep a stiff upper lip’, so he never expressed anger. But after making family and friends late for dinner reservations, missing movies and plays, missing doctor appointments, and just sitting on their thumbs – waiting – everyone around Ross was Angry!!! And most expressed it. Plus, time WAS something he could control, even if it was via passive behavior. When Ross met Jim, Jim had had very few happy days in his life. But together they worked out some of their family issues since both had similar complaints. And they became each other’s ‘healthy parent’. Little by little, they both learned what love and trust were. Issues that had been hard to define in their families.
Jim’s – alcoholic, hating life, abused as a child – mother had so long ago started to lie, that she had lost contact with what the truth was or even where it fit into life. Trust and “the truth” for her was whatever you wanted it to be at the moment to make everyone ‘happy’. So much for trusting the sincerity or honesty of her answers, and, Jim learned that LOVE came with hooks. A sticky thing. His mother didn’t raise him on milk, where he would have strong bones and a good body, so he could stand strong and alone go forth to face the world, but rather she raised him on honey… where the nutrients were there, but there was a stickiness to his childhood, and he would always be “stuck” to and in need of, his warped and needy family, and particularly, his mother. Emotional Incest at its best.
Ross and Jim, as a couple, supporting each others journey, started to sort out what was going on NOW, and to focus on growing past, or at least in spite of, their earlier childhood crap. To do this, they became each others “healthy parent”. Allowing each a safe space to explore, learn and grow, while being somewhat protected, with strong well respected boundaries and support as needed.
In time, Ross’s family became very much more involved and aware of the real world, and Ross and the family grew a lot. Little by little their barriers where broken down, emotions started to surface, and be shared. And as Ross got sicker, the growth happened. It was nice. Everyone got to know each other – his sister and he, his dad and he, even his mom started talking to her ex- again, and though she was not quite ready to deal with his new wife, at least they were able to do family social things together again.
For Ross and Jim, things improved greatly, there was great potential for a long, respectful and respected relationship, but then along came Ross’ AIDS battle. Jim often described Ross’s journey through life and death much like when one has a young cousin from the Midwest who comes to visit Los Angeles during the summer. The kid wants to “go to Disneyland.” It is hot, muggy, crowded. The lines are endless, taking hours and hours to get on a ride. In the heat, people get cranky, a few even faint in line, parents yell at their beloved children, babies whine… not a pleasant experience… A miserable seemingly endless struggle to wait for that pleasure at the end of the line – that 2 minute exciting thrill ride. Well, as the day wears on, the heat goes down, it is getting close to time for Disneyland to close. The lines get shorter, the wait is less, … the rides happen faster… the fun and enjoyment increase… but you are tugging at the hand of your young cousin who has just “found it” while you are saying, “Come on, its over. You gotta go.” But, the kid says, “It’s so much fun now…” And you have to say, “I’m sorry, its time…ya gotta go”
Now, back to that dramatic bedroom scene with the family, Ross didn’t do the proper dramatic thing, and exit stage left – with the crash of the cymbals, and the thunder of the cannons of the 1812 Overture. Instead, he hung on for another 8 hours, just like the kid visiting from the midwest, who was just finding fun at Disneyland. Ross had found the key to life, friends… love…, and he was “wanting that one last ride, one last moment.” But at 4:44 am Thursday, January 28, 1993, after Jim had cranked up the morphine drip a bit more, tweaked it just a little more… Jim fell asleep next to his very special friend, lover and number one fan… Ross woke him up with a shudder as he finally gave in, passed on and died, letting Jim share that moment as his warm body cooled, the life passed and … they would have to wait to talk again, …
at another time, another place.”
“ROSS STEWART THAYER, 29, died of AIDS complications on January 28, 1993 at his home in West Hollywood. Ross is survived by his partner, Dr. Jim , his mom, Helen, of Tuxedo Park, NY, his dad and step mom, Bill and Eddie of New Jersey, and sister Tracey and brother Bill, nephews, Michael and Peter all of New Jersey. A memorial service was held in Tuxedo Park, NY, in February. Many donations to BEING ALIVE and Search Alliance (his designated AIDS organizations) have been made in his memory. The City of West Hollywood adjourned their January meeting in honor of Ross’ memory, and in celebration of his life.
Ross attended prep school and Wagner College in North Jersey and Staten Island. After college, Ross moved to California to surf and unwind. He loved the beach and raced his sports car through the canyons above Malibu with a fervor. He loved baroque music, the lute, and enjoyed firework concerts at the Hollywood Bowl, yet followed the Rock music scene closely, eating and hanging at the famous rocker icon, the Rainbow Grill, on Sunset Blvd at least two nights a week with Jim. Ross and Jim traveled frequently around the U.S., most recently going back to Martha’s Vineyard for one last Eastern Maine Lobster Dinner in September, during the trip he lost the last of his eyesight to Cyclomega Virus.
Ross began a renaissance in his life when he started in a support group for Long Term Survivors at Being Alive. The interaction opened up new venues for himself …as well as his group members. Ross’s insightful comments about life and its purpose, made people think about things whether they wanted to or not! He was assertive without being aggressive. For this, he was respected and valued. He fought hard, survived long, and found himself and his full self worth completely by the time he died, surrounded and supported by loving friends and family. When Ross died, Jim not only lost his partner but his most trusted, understanding, caring best friend … and fan.”
… we’ll finish that talk and visit, but… at another time, another place…