As we slowly descended the long staircase of 306 steps shortly after our temple compound experience of Doi Suthep, Jose turned to me somewhat suddenly and with a warm embrace and the tilt of his head to my shoulder, he said something like "don't ever leave me."
I forget the exact words, but I remember their context. By "leaving" he met, "departing this life."
You see, just as we were about to leave the temple area after our more than two-hour visit, we met a young gay Thai man who was entering the temple area to worship . . . and he was all alone. We caught each other's eye and smile and knew in a moment that he was "family." After introductions were made, and the "yes-I'm-gay"-and-"I-thought-so" remarks, we sat and talked briefly. Like most people who upon learning that Jose and I have been together for 12 years, our new friend smiled gleefully and congratulated us. Then we asked about him. Did he have a boyfriend? "No," he said. But he had had a boyfriend. They were together for six years. And then, just six months ago his boyfriend died suddenly -- he was killed in a motorcycle accident. Our temple friend had moved from his rural town to start life over again in the big city of Chiang Mai. It was too much to continue living where he had lived with his lover. Now, in Chiang Mai, he was running his own business. New people. New places. A new beginning. We exchanged phone numbers with the idea of maybe meeting up again. He said, "Let's remain friends always" as he turned to the temple and we towards the hillside steps to make our decent back into the flow of humanity – where living and dying are both a part of life.
Suddenly, Jose unashamedly expressed his affection there on the descending steps. We were easily a spectacle to any tourist passing by. Like something out of those romance movies where an American couple in a European city spontaneously embrace – not a passionate embrace – but a happy-moment embrace, with laughter and joy and hugs. Jose was kind-of like that, though more subdued, yet obvious enough. I remember the days (long ago) when any kind of public affection like this would have humiliated him and he would have sternly corrected me for having attempted such public expressions.
He's passed all that, and naturally so, for it is just that, natural for us to feel and express affection.
So, yes, there on the hillside steps that lead to one of the most sacred temples of north Thailand, with the sad story newly told to us of two gay lovers separated by an untimely death, Jose, with his head tilted to my shoulder and his arm drawing me into himself, said, "Don't ever leave me."
Of course, Jose gives me no reason to go. May God have every reason for me to stay.