Bill, a former actor, is a charming and interesting man, he is a difficult man to help.
He suffered a stroke last year that prevents him from living his life as he has for 82 years. He has a quick and lively mind, and when I get him to smile, his elfin charm comes to the surface. Bill and I have been talking on and off for a few months, he is struggling to come to terms with the limitations of his stroke, although he is sharp and clear in his talks with me.
He is getting surgery for his eye issues but struggles to write, and has resisted activities that involve those things. He is isolated at the Mansion, he says, he is the only gay resident and he yearns for his community. When I ask him if he would like to receive letters and messages from gay or transgender people, he says he can't answer them, he can't write and has trouble reading. We went round and round about this today, but I broke through, with the help of Katie Perez of the Mansion staff.
Bill looks great and moves well, he talks fluently, and often asks people to guess his age, and they are always surprised. He is fun to talk with engaging and quick.
Bill conceded that he would love to hear from gay people, he yearns for his community. A Mansion staffer is taking him to a gay pride day parade in Albany on Saturday, but he spends most of time alone in his room. He sometimes feels as if he has little to live for. He says since his stroke, his life has gone downhill, mostly because he must relearn so many things he once did automatically and took for granted.
This kind of depression is a common experience among stroke victims, but Bill has a lot of life and spark to him as you can see in the photo. It is not hard to get him to laugh. To me, a sense of humor is a path in. And his orientation is very important to him, he says the only therapist he would ever see is a gay therapist.
How about creeping uphill a bit, I asked? He laughed, and said okay. After much back and forth, he agreed to let me buy him a boom box and audio mysteries – he loved reading mysteries. He said he was opposed to doing things differently than he once did them. We argued about this for a bit, and he changed his mind.
We have purchased an air conditioner for Bill because his room gets warm sometimes, he says he will wait until next Spring to use it.
The first few times I asked him if I could write about him and ask members of his community to write to him, or even visit him if they live nearby, he balked, and said it seemed hopeless. Today, he relented on this also. He said he would love to regain some contact with his community, he is comfortable at the Mansion and well cared for, but I could see he feels isolated and cut off from many of the things he loves, as sometimes happens in assisted care.
Katie and I promised Bill that someone – members of the staff or volunteers or me – would be available to read the letters to him, and hopefully, after his eye surgery, he will be able to read them himself. I said I would make it clear that at this point in his recovery, he cannot respond to the letters. Perhaps one day he can.
I think it would transform Bill to regain contact with the community he loved and which was so large a part of his life. If anyone out there in the Army Of Good can help with that, it would be much appreciated. Please understand that you will probably not get a written response from Bill, or even any response. But you will do much good. If there are gay people in the Albany or Washington County, N.Y. area (we are on the Vermont border) who might like to visit Bill, you can call the Mansion at 518 677 3711 and arrange a visit.
It seems clear to me that the gay community sustained him for much of his life, and he understandably is mourning the loss of it. I pointed out that new technologies can bring it closer again.
So, with his permission, I am reaching out on his behalf, especially to people who are gay or transgender, Bill would love to hear from you, or even one day, visit with you. You can write him c/o Bill, The Mansion, 11 S. Union Avenue, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816.