She had expected the news Monday but it didn’t come and the waiting went on until Eileen Durgin-Clinchard turned on her television Friday morning.
Love had won.
It was bittersweet, said the 84-year-old activist. The first president of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays in Lincoln. The proud ACLU member. The great-grandmother. Mother of Calvin and Dan and LauraLee and Marvin Knight Chase, her firstborn.
The smart boy they nicknamed KC. The young man who served in the Army.
Her gay son who died in 1999.
On Tuesday, KC’s macaw, Big Boy, squawked from the front porch as Eileen talked in her book-lined living room. Her rainbow flag rolled up neatly next to the American flag, just outside the door. A basket of yarn in the corner, iPad in her hand.
She wears her hair short, her eyes sharp behind owl-eyed glasses. She’d been to physical therapy in the morning, six weeks now with her new left knee. It’s nothing compared to her two new hips, she said.
The day the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality was happy and sad. She wanted to be with people, she wanted to celebrate, and she did, on the steps of the Capitol in Lincoln later that day.
But it took her back.
KC and his partner, James "JC" Lambert, were together 14 years. KC the practical, get-things-done guy. JC the funny and flamboyant dreamer.
Their ashes are mingled in the earth under a willow tree in New Mexico.
The mother showed off photos, two men in big beards and aviator sunglasses, full of joy.
JC wasn’t her son-in-law, Eileen said. “He was my son-in-love.”
She was in Washington, D.C., in the summer of 1992 when KC called from Oakland, where the pair shared a home.
Time to come, Mom.
Years earlier, he and JC had both tested HIV positive and now JC’s fight was ending.
Eileen spent the week with them. She was there when JC died, she was there when the death certificate came.
The line for a spouse’s name was blank.
She called the clerk’s office in Sacramento.
It’s wrong, she said. He’s his spouse. They were together 14 years. They took each other’s names. KC Chase-Lambert and JC Chase-Lambert.
The man was kind.
“He was very patient with me,” she said. “But he was firm. They weren’t married.”
Well, of course they weren’t married. She knew that. But yet they were in their hearts.
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She has it somewhere in this big house. The engraved card, like an invitation, declaring their commitment on the anniversary of their first 10 years together. In celebration of 10 years of loving companionship.
“They did everything that was legally possible, but it wasn’t enough.”
After JC died, KC sewed a quilt out of his partner's T-shirts and blue jeans -- 14 pair, one for each year. He took it to D.C. for the national AIDS march, Eileen came and KC's brother Dan.
Eventually, KC came back to Lincoln. He rented the apartment in the upstairs of his mother’s home. He felt good.
In the end, AIDS didn’t take him. He lost strength and doctors discovered he'd had two silent heart attacks. KC was 50 when his heart gave out, Friday, Oct. 1, 1999.
I’d sat in Eileen’s living room as she planned her son’s funeral four days later. I'd written a column.
Nearly 16 years later, her tears are still close. The pain of losing a child in her voice.
We sat and talked about last Friday and the Supreme Court’s decision. How she'd texted her daughter, and her son and celebrated with friends and strangers at the rally. How she'd thought about two men, hoping, believing, the spirit of that historic day reached them.
She talked about the past and all her work. The 24-hour AIDS Hotline in her home. “It rang and rang.”
About the articles she wrote on sexuality and civil rights, the educational books PFLAG helped place in 68 Nebraska libraries, the parents who came to meetings, holding their hands as they made baby steps into the open.
The work she continues to do as a board member of the ACLU.
She talked about the silence and fear and the changes.
“There is much more freedom to talk about it. Then it was such a secret, and if you can’t talk about it, well, it must be really bad.”
She remembered saying the words for the first time -- my oldest son is gay, your grandson is gay -- and having it be OK.
I asked if she ever thought about retreating from the cause after KC died.
She shook her head. She told a story.
KC had been an alcoholic and to make it easier for him to stop drinking JC gave up alcohol, even though it wasn’t a problem for him.
After JC’s death, Eileen worried about her son, that maybe he would go back to the bottle, looking for solace.
She got up the nerve to ask and he looked at her in wonderment.
“How could I?” he asked. “How could I do that to him?
So, no, answered the mother who’d celebrated marriage for all last week with a hole in her heart.
“It was the same way with me. There was never a question of quitting.”