Steve and I became best friends through our work-study jobs in the Theater Department at Cal State Long Beach. Each morning he’d greet me with a bear hug that could pass for a spinal adjustment. “Have you ever thought of becoming a chiropractor?” I’d ask, listening to my vertebrae pop. But I didn’t mind because no one else was ever that glad to see me.
Steve had the unique and possibly unfortunate position of being the only male costume assistant in a shop that had no male mannequins with legs. And since Steve did have legs, we’d rope him into some outrageous costumes that needed fitting. I can still see him in the lime green and purple party-colored tights from The Taming of the Shrew. I took pictures for future blackmail purposes. He had so much faith in my skills that he never once flinched, not even when, straight pin in hand, I said, “Steve, don’t move or you’ll never be a father.”
We both lived in Long Beach at the beautiful Dawson Dumps, the tacky and cheap courtyard apartments occupied solely by theater students who paid $135 a month for two bedrooms. I was on the ground floor and Steve on the second directly above me.
One evening Steve invited me to dinner for his special pork chops with mashed potatoes. It was one of those nights when the Dawson Dumps became magical. Upstairs in the corner unit an opera singer practiced Puccini’s famous “Madame Butterfly” aria—Un Belle de—One Fine Day. Her crisp coloratura brightened the drab gray building. Her husband, who became a movie composer, accompanied her on the baby grand that they’d somehow shoehorned up the narrow stairs by removing the piano legs. Next door, two actors rehearsed scenes from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Maggie the cat bitterly complained about sister-woman’s no-neck monsters and Big Daddy expounded at length on “Mendacity.” The Dawson Dumps were never quiet—but they were never boring.
That night Steve and I played with the new kitten he’d just gotten, an adorable female tabby he’d named Mina. Her tiny meows added sweet undertones to the theatrical cacophony. Mina loved clawing her way up Steve’s clothes so she could nuzzle his beard. He’d peel her off and she’d start climbing his pant legs all over again. We laughed until tears rolled down our faces.
When Steve got his kitten he had no idea that two days later he would be murdered on his way home from a gay bar. He was found on Ocean Boulevard, bled out on the sidewalk in front of the statue of the Virgin Mary.
His roommate asked if I could find a new home for Steve’s kitten. “Of course,” I said. And I did. My home. That was 40 years ago, and though I thought that the hole in my heart had finally filled in, the events in Orlando brought it all back to life like it had happened just yesterday.
Steve’s kitten lived to be 23, the same age as Steve when he died.