I stare at the photo as though I’d never seen it before. Alone in my living room, I hold the black and white Polaroid in my hand and start to choke up. It’s been twenty-fours since Tim died.
When I returned home for the holiday break Tim overheard me talking to our mom in the kitchen about my first experience at a gay bar as a college freshman.
“I need to talk to you,” he said.
We walked down the wooden stairs to his bedroom in the back of the basement.
“There’s something I need to tell you. I’m gay.”
I was the fifth and Tim the sixth of the siblings in the Koenig clan. The trust that Tim and I shared would be the foundation of our relationship for the next twenty years.
Tim moved to North Carolina. I went to law school in Boston. We stay connected. Tim moved to the south and I returned to the Midwest. I got married, bought a home, started practicing law and became a mom. Tim and his partner opened the Neon Peach restaurant on Peachtree Street and renovated a Victorian home with six fireplaces. We stayed close.
Things got hard. It was the 1980s and the height of the AIDS crisis. Fear gripped all young men in Atlanta as funerals of friends came faster and faster. Tim’s partner John was diagnosed. The early drug trials weren’t going well.
Things got worse. With John too sick to work, the Neon Peach was forced to close. John died. Tim lost the house. Gone were his beloved, his business, and his home. Tim returned home to us for his final season which would allow us to love him and be loved by him until his death in 1994.
As I continued to arrange the order of the few dozen photos, I look at Tim’s life. The house we grew up in. The houses he renovated. His adorable smile that turned adoring when with his dog or his cat or his family. That smile turned stoic when the pain was at its worst. His muscular tanned body lying on a beach in Hawaii. His frail one barely able to stand in the months before he died.
This weekend I celebrate perhaps my most meaningful night of the year. Dozens of my friends and family will join me in honoring Tim at my annual Night of A Thousand Stars party. We raise money for supporting prevention of HIV/AIDS and for helping those who live with it. We enjoy a buffet of delicious food that I think Tim would approve of. We gather together to celebrate the privilege of being with loved ones still alive.
As I steam the wrinkles out of the red party tablecloths and assemble tiny red ribbons for my guests to pin on as they arrive, I reflect on the story these photos tell. I hope Tim trusts me to tell the tale of his life of continuous contribution to others, creating bountiful beauty, and celebration life. I trust he will guide me.
Who do you trust to share your stories with?
Who inspires you with their courage and strength?
How do you celebrate and honor the memory of loved ones?