David Louis Peterson and Richard Ellis Evans were two sensitive men who loved one another. Their grave is situated near the cliff at the Santa Barbara Cemetery next to my daughter Stephanie’s gravesite, east of a small white temple. Monterey cypress and pines offer shade. Herons glide past trailing white feather veils. Beyond is nothing but sky and the great expanse of sea.
I didn’t know these men. But I was interested to learn about them because they rest together and because I was struck by the inscription on their headstone, a quote from a poem by Longfellow: “Silently one by one, in the infinite meadows of heaven, blossomed the lovely stars, the forget-me-nots of angels.” Inscribed below this is the phrase, “Together in the Garden.”
As a writer, I’m curious about what people feel and think. But as a heterosexual woman, I haven’t paid particular attention to the love of homosexuals. Reading the inscription, my eyes opened to a different kind of love story. And so, when I ordered the stone for my daughter’s grave, I inquired of the designer what she knew about the two men, and I asked why I had never seen flowers at their grave.
She told me they were not from here. They had lived in San Francisco, and Richard was Welsh. He was handsome, with brooding good looks, she said, like a movie star. Then her face saddened, and she whispered that David had been disowned by his father, who lived in Washington State. Richard’s father, who ordered the stone, had told her they spent many happy moments in our city, and wanted to be buried here.
Sitting on the granite bench while the fog rolls in invokes dreams of eternity that stretch beyond our limited understanding. When people are wounded by loss, a visit here can bring a feeling of peace, but peace did not come to Richard’s heart.
He shot himself three months after David died of AIDS.
I asked for Richard’s mother’s address so I could offer some comfort and let her know I would place flowers on their grave. She wrote me back, pleased that her son would not be forgotten in a foreign land, and shared the story of their love.
David had met Richard while visiting Wales. The mother said her son had been transformed by their love. He was ecstatic, as if struck by lightning. He even glowed. She wanted her son to be happy, and she accepted Richard into her home.
When David returned to California, Richard followed. But his tourist visa ran out after six months, and he had to return to the U.K. Not wanting to be apart, they met again in Europe, and then traveled the world over. They went back to San Francisco, but after six months, they would have to part or travel abroad again.
Then tragedy struck. David was diagnosed with AIDS, and the illness progressed rapidly. Richard, who was not infected, took care of his lover. He would not leave him to strangers, and stayed with him to the end. By then, he had overstayed his visa by many months, which meant he would not be able to return to the United States.
Had the repeal of the gay marriage ban come earlier, with Richard admitted to the U.S. as a legal spouse, perhaps David would have sought medical help sooner in California, and perhaps he would be alive today.
It’s a moot question now. But the story from the grave put a human face on an abstraction. Some religions insist that marriage is for a man and a woman only, based on the biblical text, “Be fruitful and multiply.” Many find this notion, having originated in an agrarian society thousands of years ago, outdated. We are growing in awareness as a people, and becoming responsive to the idea that all human beings should have equal rights to happiness.
A particular injustice homosexual lovers face has not been addressed. An American citizen may marry a foreigner of the opposite sex, and legally bring that person into this country-but not when he or she cannot marry because of his or her sexual orientation. How many loving gay couples have we, as a caring nation, kept separated when one of them came from afar? How many are in that position now?