Advice from the 12th Floor

Romance isn’t dead, it’s living four floors above

Jayde Atchison // Columnist

When I was twenty-four, I thought I found real love for the first time. While I was writing notes to him with all the reasons why I loved him, he was searching for physical validation from other people in the bars across Vancouver. As the years went by I realized that I was never in love, I was just an actor without a script – lost, but happy to have the role. 

Four years after my break-up, after learning how to be happily alone, I wondered if finding a partner was in my future after all. Thirty rolls around and you think your expiration date has come and gone – or at least, that’s what I started to believe. On the day I was ready to retire from my dating career, my neighbour Richard lit his joint and told me about the love he has experienced through his 73 years. 

A big love bulldozed into his life when he was thirty. He met John, a dancer, and it was like he met an angel. They had a relationship that lasted ten years – a decade of loving an ethereal man that was going to meet an end too soon. The way Richard showed his love was through big gestures and being unapologetically cheesy. John was several years younger than his counterpart and was still in the cocoon phase of his life. His wings had yet to flutter and Richard saw this. The two men took a brief separation period, one in which Richard’s heart still held a place for his tiny dancer. 

Richard saw an advertisement for a performance happening in Toronto, and thought of John. He purchased two tickets and mailed them to his amour. He wasn’t expecting a word back or even an invitation for the other ticket. He sent it to John because he wanted to give him the chance to see something beautiful. This is not what brought them back together, but eventually they reconnected and they both made their way to the West Coast.  

Their moves to Vancouver were not filled with bliss, as John was at the beginning of the end of his diagnosis of AIDS. Richard was by his side and cared for him until his final days, and made an offer that brought 12 more years of care. When the practical side of death came up in conversation, John wasn’t sure where his ashes were going. Richard made a promise to honour John and take his ashes around the world. John replied with “I will feel so safe with you”. After he passed away, Richard spent 12 years finding meaningful places to spread John’s ashes. In both their hometowns in Ontario, on a beach with dolphins dancing on the horizon in Hawaii, and Saint Agnes Outside the Walls in Rome. 

Richard’s romance did not stop with John, nor were his experiences always so profound and wholesome. When fellow neighbours ask Richard how he met any of the men in his life, he often chuckles and says, “never ask gay men how they met unless you’re ready to hear the answer”. Living through the 70s, up until the early 2000s, gay men didn’t have the ease of Grindr, Tinder or the same circumstances that heterosexual people had. Therefore, gay men usually met in “scandalous” situations. This didn’t stop Richard from finding beautiful moments along the way.

On a layover in New York, he met a man and brought him back to his hotel room. What should have been a brief, intimate interaction turned into discussions that lasted all night. Every time they both tried to say it was time to go, they would end up staying right where they were. When it came time to head back to the airport, they locked eyes as the door closed between them and shivers went down Richard’s spine. 

Richard calls this his “perfect love along the way”. He can’t recall a name, but it’s a connection that he has carried with him for over 30 years. Leading his life with love has given beautiful moments through time – romantically, erotically and platonically. He chooses to love everyone, even when he believes they don’t deserve it. He acts with kindness and believes the miracles in his life are a karmic reward for doing so. 

Hearing of the big loves that Richard has been blessed with in his lifetime, especially that they came into his life after the age I am now, gave me hope and inspiration for what’s to come my way. Since meeting my guiding light, I have opened myself up to opportunities and allowed myself to show love every day. I show love to my friends, to the people I see at work each day, and most importantly to myself. 

I see how happy Richard is with his own soul and how he has treated the world around him. I see the beauty that is attracted to his own, and it has shifted how I act in my own day-to-day routine. I find ways to be kind, because I will be happier with my own soul when I am 73 and look back on how my life has turned out. I want to look in the mirror and see someone I can be proud of. When people show me hate and ugliness, I will think of Richard and go another route. 

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