Bil Browning

20 Years Later: My Lazarus Boyfriend

Filed By Bil Browning | April 26, 2013 10:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: 1993 March on Washington, come back from the dead, first boyfriend, Rick Knight

Note: This post was originally published Sept 7, 2011. Late last night I realized it was the 20th anniversary of the 93 March on Washington - the same time I met Rick for the first time. That means Wednesday would have been our 20th anniversary if we had stayed together. In honor of the date, I'm reposting this story about my first lover - the boyfriend who came back from the dead.

The backstory behind this photo is after the break.


I'm doing a series of posts for 31 days that will feature a photo from my personal collections and the backstory behind the picture. I'm trying to stick with shots that have not appeared on the site before. I'm using the stories as a writing exercise to help me prepare for writing a book. You can find the rest of the series posts here:

My first relationship didn't end well. It didn't especially start that hot either, so I should have seen it coming.

I met Rick when I started an ACT UP chapter in Evansville, Indiana. A brief spot on the local news caught his attention and he wrote to offer his services in any way we could use them. He lived in rural Kentucky with his boyfriend and was bored playing happy housewife.

We chatted on the phone for a bit, I told him what we were up to, and also mentioned the upcoming March on Washington. I'd scored a ride to the big event and he wanted to go along with me.

Rick showed up at my pad on the designated morning of the trip; it was the first time we'd met in person and his boyfriend dropped him off. Unfortunately, shortly before we were supposed to leave that afternoon, our ride fell through. Rick, however, decided not to tell his boyfriend and to spend the next few days with me instead.

It wasn't long before Rick had left the boyfriend and moved in with me. The story between those two points in time is worthy of it's own post, but it'll have to wait for another time.

The Relationship & Break Up

Shortly after we started living together, Rick and I moved to Bloomington - another small (but liberal!) town in Indiana. A few months before my 21st birthday we ran into Eri Muramatsu at the library and became fast friends. (She's the other namesake for Bil-Eri-co.) She made me the cake in the photo; it says "Happy 21st Birthday!" in Japanese.

Shortly after I turned legal, Rick and I broke up. My unmedicated bipolar mood swings and Rick's own issues clashed often and loudly. Housework, sex, money, it all ended in arguments and fistfights. It turned ugly quickly and it scarred us both.

I put all of his stuff outside on the sidewalk and told him to come get it. I was having no more of it. The relationship was finished. We were done and I didn't want to see him again.

When he came he brought a dozen red roses with him to apologize. I refused to let him in the apartment and he asked me to at least open the door, take the roses, and kiss him goodbye. I opened the door, snatched the flowers, locked the door, and then ran them down the garbage disposal while he stood there watching.

A few months later Rick moved to Texas. Before he hit the road, he came to the apartment and left me a bronze Mickey Mouse keychain and a card that said, "I'm sorry. I'll miss you and I'll always love you. -Rick". I still have the card.

The Lazarus Effect

A year or two later, Rick's cousin stopped in the store where I was working and recognized me. She told me that Rick had died of complications from AIDS a few weeks before. While I still hated him just as much, I was distraught; it spurred a major depression. One of the pages of the original was a memorial page for him.

Imagine my surprise when years later I got an e-mail from Rick with the subject line "I'm not dead." Apparently his relative was anti-gay and being vindictive over some slight between the two of them. He'd done a search for his name and found his memorial page. I'm not sure how Jerame put up with me for the week after that.

Rick wanted to talk on the phone but I put it off as long as possible and only spoke with him briefly months later. When Facebook became popular, Rick friended me and I delayed accepting. Finally Jerame reminded me that our issues were more than a decade old and I should grow up, forgive him, and move on with my life. It was good advice; I accepted the friend request but remained very wary.

When Jerame and I went to Austin, Texas for the SXSW conference, we had dinner with Rick. (He'd seen we were coming on Facebook. Argh! Damn Jerame!) I was uncomfortable but loosened up during the evening when Rick started showing pictures and gave me back my high school class ring; while I thought I'd lost it, he'd found it among his things after he'd moved and kept it for me. As we compared stories and told tales, Jerame watched and listened and laughed often as he heard the other side of the bitter yarns I've told for years. By the time we left, I felt some closure. I wasn't so damn angry any more.

I never told Rick, but I put Mickey on my keyring back in '93. I kept it all these years and only replaced it after Jerame and I went to Seattle in 2010 and were buying trinkets at the Space Needle gift shop. Jerame bought me another bronze keychain and 17 years later I was finally able to put Mickey down and disengage from my baggage.

Mickey sits in my jewelry box now. Like a diamond, that trinket's worth was forged out of a lot of heat and pressure. I still treasure it, but there's no need to dwell on the past when there's a future to be lived.

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