Jason Collins and Leon Horne

Jason Collins, twelve-year veteran of the Boston Celtics, came out as a gay man.  He is the first major league athlete to do so.  

I have to admire the man’s courage.  Coming out is no big deal in the circles I run in, but in the context of the hyper-macho world of the Sports Big Show, it is headline news.

For a number of people, the notion of someone coming out is unremarkable, it ought to be unremarkable for everyone.  I believe the number of Americans that favor gay marriage is now about double of those who oppose it.

Leon, my best friend all through high school, announced to me in our senior year he was a homosexual.  Thi word was more neutral than the other common reference of the time–queer–and long before gay came to be the designated descriptor.  When Leon came out to me,  nothing changed for me.  He was still a man of good character, and our friendship was undiminished.  I was blessed with the instant lesson that being homosexual did not an evil person make, and I was spared having to plod through the intellectual exercises to unlearn the parochial school yard misinformation of the time 

The next several decades were tough for him.  He wrestled with alcohol, drugs, and suicide.  His first marriage failed in a matter of days.  Many years later he tried again, with a measure of success that produced two children.

He lived most of his life around New York City.  We would exchange a phone call every year or two, a letter every decade or two.  We visited for coffee maybe three times in the 40 years after high school.  I was always glad to see him and our meetups were upbeat.  I looked past his thinning hair and the teeth that were absenting themselves.

He got to our 50th high school reunion.  In a small knot of people I stood next to him and did not recognize him until he spoke.  I turned to look at him, a man four inches shorter and thirty pounds lighter than the last time I saw him.  I said his name and he turned to me and smiled toothlessly.

We had a good visit and before he left, I asked him to find out what a set of teeth would cost and to find a dentist or dental school that would make them.  Although this was a period when I had no cash surplus, when I got the information, I gave the school my credit card number and told them to go ahead. 

A few weeks later I got a smiling photograph with a note with telling me the first thing he did after getting his teeth was something he had not done for years–he had a salad.

In late 2010 when my gypsy life was still young, I called Leon to tell him I was heading east and planned to see him sometime within the next year.  The voice in the phone was a bit woozy and the conversation spacey.  He said he was pretty doped up, in late stages of cancer treatment, and was just waiting to die.

With little else to say, he simply hung up the phone.  And my longest standing friendship dialed its way down to OFF.

A few months later a letter from one of his grandkids caught up with me to tell me he was gone.  And she would always remember me as the man who gave her grandfather his smile back to him.





About allevenson

Writer (of stories, journals, email dialogues), Reader (of books written by friends, recommended by friends, and works-in-progress of friends), Hiker (never met a trailhead I didn't like), Biker (more scenery for the buck than hiking) and lately, Blogger (about my Year on the Road at www.allevenson.wordpress.com).
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Jason Collins and Leon Horne

  1. Colleen Rae says:

    Al, that was a terrific story told with real sensitivity. And the fact that it was true made it more heartrending. I knew you were one of the ‘good ones’ but I didn’t realize what a kind heart you have. Always good to let your friends know the great human being that you are. Now enough compliments, it will go to your head. The story above was finely written. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Sheri Cohen says:

    That was really a moving story, Al. What you did is called a mitzvah, but you know that, I’m sure. And I must comment again on how much I enjoy your writing. “And my longest friendship dialed itself down to OFF” is something I am not likely to forget . . . ever.

  3. karen wittgraf says:

    You really touched something in me on this one, Al. I have old friends that I have tended to ignore and feel guilt about that almost every day. It’s so easy to turn my back and promise myself that I will connect again…some day. Your story is an awakening to the fact that some day needs to be now, before it’s too late. Guilt is a horrible burden to carry. Thank you. Your experience is something to feel good about, a peace of mind.

  4. David L says:

    Sounds like your friend had a rough life from the get go, its end no less painful. I agree with the foregoing comments, your reflections insightful and sensitive and I’m signing you up for my obit when and if necessary. Death is among us, a presence we deny til the end, and then we’re startled and surprised. OMG, we’re going to die.

    I am visiting your friends in Arkansas, they speak well of you and often, They occasionally look up to the “Y” in search of your Swag, shed a tear when noting its absence.. While here, I visited and old friend in KC who suffers from lymphoma – cycling through hope and desperation and from doctor to doctor. It’s a bad scene, that cancer, and a successful enemy so far. Jim will go through a stem cell transfusion (trans something) in hopes of extending.

    Too bad your cruise was cut short. Seems you were ready for a little salt spray and kelp smell,

  5. Gene Morita says:

    I knew him high school but not to extent you did. You were thoughtful and kind to him, I am always in awe how one’s life turns on circumstances. Sometimes one rises to the occasion and other not so but hopefully we all come out in the end a bit wiser, kinder and bit more humble. Thanks for sharing the story Al, I still remember his face from high school, For ever young, The best,

  6. tanya grove says:

    What a touching, beautiful story. Thanks for sharing it.

  7. karen wittgraf says:

    So right- about the “macho” world- in rural Minnesota, it is the mantra. I have a dear friend who suffers with fear of coming out and i hope this inspires him to be free. Thanks for sharing- thanks for caring.

  8. MaryAnne Catlin says:

    Hi Al,
    I’m just catching up with some of your previous posts after a very busy Spring downsizing my home base.
    Your compassion and generosity are very moving, indeed. Blessings on your future adventures and opportunities to ‘be there’ for someone. That element of humanity is so rare in recent times.

  9. Kathleen Schwartz says:

    One of your best pieces! Poignant. And timely re. Supreme Court recent stamping out of DOMA. Kathleen

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s