Billy was lying on the couch. The blanket had been thrown back. His shirt was off. His left arm was down by his side. His right arm was in a relaxed salute. His eyes were closed. He was white. Whiter than anyone should be. At the bottom of his body was the dark purple. Gravity brought his blood there. The purple.
I heard myself screaming. I had never screamed like that before. I ran the few steps to him and pulled him into my arms. His body was ice cold and stiff as a statue. Nothing moved on him. I heard myself screaming his name. Over and over and over.
I ran to the phone and dialed 911. I looked over and remember Bob jumping up on the couch onto his legs. I screamed, “My lover is dead, my Billy is dead,” into the phone. I had never called 911 before. I remember the woman telling me to calm down and check for a pulse. “You don’t understand, he’s dead,” and then a man came on the line and started to yell at me to pull it together. I gave them our address and hung up. I went out onto the landing of the guesthouse and screamed for Stephanie, our next-door neighbor. She sleepily came to her back door and I screamed it again, “Billy is dead!”
I went back to Billy and cradled him and rocked him in my arms. In that very moment, I knew everything.
I don’t know how much time passed but the police and EMT burst into the door. One was yelling for me to back off. Another was screaming at me to “Get the fucking dog out of here!” I led Bob out and then the police wouldn’t let me back in. For the moment, it was considered a crime scene.
I called Russell from downstairs. As soon as the words came out of my mouth, he said he would be right there and hung up. I went back upstairs to get Billy’s phone book. I knew I had to call his family and his friends. The police would not let me in but I saw Billy through the crack in the door. I described his phone book and asked them to look. They found it and gave it to me.
I went back downstairs and called Mickey, our girlfriend, who lives a few blocks away. Stephanie was there and had let in the police earlier. Soon Mickey was there. I started calling anyone with the name Ledbetter in his book. I was trying to find Dixie, his sister, but I couldn’t remember her married name. I found his cousin, Paula, who started to cry. I called Gene and David, his closest friends.
Pretty soon, the house was filled with people. His friends. My friends. Our friends. Word spread quickly. I was in out-of-body hysterics. I had people rubbing my back and talking to me but I couldn’t hear them. All I saw was the purple at the bottom of his body. I went into the bedroom and grabbed the picture off of the bedside table at my side of the bed. It was a silver framed picture he had given me when I moved to NYC a month before him to find our apartment. It was a picture of him in his Navy barracks, no shirt, huge smile. He had “I’m Missing You” engraved at the top of the picture frame. I sat in our chair and hugged the picture, and rocked back and forth.
About an hour later, the Coroner’s examiner came down to speak with me. I asked everyone except for Russell to please leave. The examiner seemed like a kind woman but she kept repeating, “Take a deep breath.” She asked me questions and I gave her the answers.
Someone had called my doctor and tracked him down. It was a holiday, MLK Day. He prescribed Klonopin and Adivan. Someone went to pick them up. I asked someone to go get a pack of cigarettes for me and I started to smoke. And smoke.
One of the police came down and quietly spoke with Russell. Russell said, “Come with me. You don’t want to see this.” He put his arm around me and led me around our corner onto our cross street. They were bringing Billy out.
I sat on the sidewalk and wailed. I didn’t care who saw me or heard me. It was the last thing on my mind. Russell said I was going to go back to Santa Barbara with him for the night. He didn’t want me to be alone. I later came to realize it was also a suicide watch among my friends. The truth was, all I wanted to do was be with Billy anyway I could. At that point, and for a few months afterwards, suicide was not off the table.
After Billy was gone, we went back into the house. I gathered up some sweats, my silver framed picture and Bob’s blanket. A year earlier, Billy had saved enough Milk Bone box tops and ordered a monogrammed red blanket that read “Bob Slobbers,” in white scroll.
The drive to Santa Barbara was endless. When we got there, I went into one of the bedrooms. I laid out Bob’s blanket on the bed and together we cried. Bob’s Daddy was gone. My Guyster was gone. I knew everything and I knew nothing. And the purple. I kept seeing the purple. I started taking the Klonopin. I didn’t feel it. I took another one.
I hadn’t eaten. Russell tried to get me to eat something but I thought I was going to throw up. The idea of eating was repulsive. I took enough pills to fall asleep a little around midnight. I woke up in the middle of the night, saw his picture and started screaming and crying again. I took another pill, smoked another cigarette and fell back to sleep with the TV on.
My Billy was in a body bag. My Billy was in the LA Coroners morgue. My Billy had to have an autopsy. I mean this was BILLY. My baby. My Guyster. I couldn’t grasp this reality. There are many times when I still cannot accept it. Billy. Guyster. The purple.
The Coroners report came two months after Billy left. It said he died from an artereoscloratic heart attack (valve blockage). The time he left was between 1am and 4am. I think I had fallen asleep around 12:30 the previous night.
I ask God for some kind of answer why Billy had to die while my back was turned. Why couldn’t it have happened two hours earlier or four hours later? Why did he have to leave when I wasn’t looking? My doctor later told me a heart attack of that nature lasts between 30-60 seconds and the pain is extreme. Had I been there, could I have saved him? Possibly. If not, I could have said good-bye. I could have told him how much I loved him. I could have given him one last kiss.