Active Voice: It Ain’t Over, Darlin’! ~ My Vince Croome Memorial
by P. Kristen Enos
(Originally posted Apr 16, ’10. All rights reserved. Do not post or excerpt without permission.)
On February 19th, I had an opportunity to go to my company’s Walnut Creek office. This also meant that I finally had a chance to get together with a long time friend and former co-activist, Joseph Amster, who had moved up to the Bay Area a couple of years ago. Over dinner at a Chinese restaurant, he and I got caught up on the full spectrum of each other’s lives. And of course, when you meet with someone you’ve known for about two decades, you also expect to talk about old subjects too, and one of these was Vince, Joseph’s ex-partner of over 23 years.
I think I met Joseph and Vince around 1990, back when I attended UCI and got involved not only in the local gay and lesbian community but also with AIDS related causes and events since the epidemic was on the forefront of everyone’s minds at the time. And even though the three of us had different focuses and styles of activism, we had enough in common that we often shared causes and projects and crossed paths frequently, especially when we worked for the Blade Magazine and volunteered for Laguna Outreach. While I admit I was a stronger friend with Joseph, Vince and I became friends in our own.
Now, when Joseph and Vince finally parted ways about five years ago, common personal hobbies and interests led me to retain my friendship with Joseph. I’m not a believer in taking sides in a domestic split, but it did show that Vince and I really didn’t have enough in common to maintain our own friendship, especially since I had “retired” from hard-core activism.
So as Joseph and I chatted a bit about Vince, neither of us knew that he had passed away on January 29th due to complications from AIDS. (His official obituary in The Blade Magazine is here.)
When I received Joseph’s email on March 5th that had the word about Vince’s death, I had to admit I was more surprised at the awkward timing of everything rather than the news of the death itself, (we knew he was HIV positive for quite a while.) And when Joseph forwarded the information about a Laguna Beach memorial service for Vince, I felt compelled to attend mostly to honor a fallen comrade in causes. Because of the close proximity and no conflicting plans (for once), I had no reason to not go, and I think I would have found a way to be there if something had gotten in the way.
There’s a tiny little park at the end of Mountain Road (and Pacific Coast Highway). It sits on the edge of a tiny cliff that overlooks the Pacific Ocean and could easily be missed if you weren’t looking for it. There’s a bench with a perfect view of the beach below and a flag pole with a rainbow flag prominently displayed in a park’s central bed of plants and flowers.
So at 5 p.m. on Saturday, April 10th, about thirty people gathered to pay our final respects to a man who definitely left his mark on individuals and society, even if the society didn’t realize it. And I admit that I appreciated the fact that everyone who was there acknowledged with painful honesty Vince’s flaws as well as his strengths. This would not be an exercise of pretending he was someone he wasn’t.
Among those thirty people of Vince’s friends and relatives were also former old friends and activist comrades of mine. And sure enough, we proved why old habits become habits for a reason: exchanged contact info (I was horrified to I realize I forgot my business cards), griped about the lack of name tags, talked about obvious community topics like Rachel Maddow, and gossiped. Vince would have approved.
For the actual memorial itself, Joseph made his speech:
[Note: Joseph and Vince were together for 23 years, were one of the first couples to become domestic partners when Laguna enacted it, served together on the L.O. board, Laguna Beach HIV Advisory Committee, Queer Nation and ACT UP, traveled together a lot to Mexico, Canada and Jamaica. We both loved cats and the Pet Shop Boys!]
“We have gathered together today to remember our friend Vincent Croome. What I remember the most about Vince was his laughter. He had a-go-lucky nature, and always seemed to be smiling. Even as his life became more and more difficult, he always seemed to find a bright side.
Vince could also be serious, and cared about the lives of people living with HIV before he even knew he had the disease. An early member of ACT UP Orange County and having served as a member of the City of Laguna Beach HIV Advisory Committee, he helped establish the Laguna Beach AIDS Memorial. It is entirely right and fitting that we scatter his ashes here today, not only because of the memorial and the garden that contains the ashes of literally hundreds of people lost to AIDS, but because of Vince’s love of Laguna Beach, a community he called home for most of his life and where he spent his happiest years.
Vince loved to travel, and while in his late 20s, set his sights on a career in the travel industry, partially because of the benefits—he got to see the world.
Vince was also deeply concerned with the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, and was a founder of Queer Nation Orange County and a board member of Laguna Outreach for many years. I still remember a night in the early 90s just steps from here when Vince and I were passing out self-defense flyers in front of the Boom Boom Room for Queer Nation and suddenly an egg came flying out of nowhere and struck him. He was completely unfazed.
Vince was fascinated with the sinking of the Titanic, and ocean liners in general—probably his deepest passion. He always said he wanted his ashes scattered over the site of the Titanic’s sinking. [Joseph pulls out from his pocket a toy ocean liner with the name “Titanic” hand-scrawled on it. Trust me, EVERYONE at the service got the joke.]
I probably knew Vince better than anyone, yet he remains an enigma to me. Who he really was and what motivated him, I don’t think any of us will really know. It’s my hope that he’s found peace and is in a better place.
As many of you know, Vince’s final years were not good. I don’t really have the words to express how I feel about that, but I found a song by Noel Coward that pretty much sums up my feelings. [At which point Joseph sung the song “Sail Away”.]”
Joseph’s current boyfriend Gav read this poem he wrote:
WE ARE WATER!
“We are water….
We are the wind….
We are ash…..dirt….all kin.
Remember me…say my name….
Did I know you?
or did I ?…. somehow?…..my kindred…my kind.
Like fire ,like ash, air & water of now. The kisses or hugs, embraces that were never there…
“Suffer the little children…come unto me?”…..your soul put to rest, the wind set you free.
Like ashes, like ashes, we all fall down, all glitter, feathers, and sequins left behind on the ground.
Like water, the tides , comes in… go-eth out….
Our ebb…our flow…the love…never known…From wood to ash,
We crumble…we climax…grow strong….but weaken with pain, lost or found,
Pieces of fabric, from cloth all the same…..glorious costumes, but for awhile…we remain.
We live…we walk…we breathe…..we love….we win…we loose…we pass our days…..gone too soon. A song never heard. Words unspoken…
We listen, we listen ..for a sound or a word. A bird, a whisper, the rush of a breeze,
We are here…we are now. Seasons have passed, a page has been turned.
O Soul of a brother, lover, cousin or kin….this mother’s child, commend to the wind.
Your Soul put to rest, the wind set you free.
We are water…..
We are wind….
We are ash…dirt….all kin.”
So as we watched Joseph and a few others scatter the ashes over flowers and the toy ship, the stillness in the air of so many people in one place yet not speaking seemed to amplify the loud crashing of the ocean’s waves even though we weren’t right next to it.
Afterwards, as people said their farewells to each other, I stood by as Joseph discussed with Gav what to do with the box that Vince’s ashes had come in. Gav suggested burning it but Joseph pointed out it was plastic. I, perhaps unhelpfully, pointed out that Vince believed in reincarnation so perhaps it would be suitable to put it in the recycling bin. (I’m pretty sure Vince would have approved.)
My Own Final Words
I admit when I thought of doing a write up of Vince’s memorial, the idea felt a little detached to me emotionally. But even though Vince and I were no longer friends, we were friends for the 15 or so years we were actively in each other’s lives, and that’s not something to take lightly. He and I had our fair share of conversational moments, whether we’re killing time at a fund-raising event or staffing a table at Pride, or watching some gay material or anime, and/or eating home cooked food or in a restaurant.
However, it wasn’t until I sat down yesterday to write my outline that I remembered something that I had completely forgotten, which was my unique memory of Vince:
To best summarize my coming out story, I fell hard and fast for a woman who was EVERYTHING: my first love and my first (known) gay person I’d ever met. It was a very brief and intense encounter that lasted only a couple of months in the fall of my Sophomore year at UCI. I fully admit that getting over her was what made me take my initial steps into joining the gay and lesbian community, which I eventually wanted to fight for as a member of it
Vince was the ONLY person in my circle of genuine friends who ever truly knew her. Most of my other friends’ only context was a vague coming out story involving someone that I’m not even sure I would recognize if I walked into her today.
I don’t remember exactly how or when he and I discovered this common point but a subject came up in one of our casual chats that made me wonder if he would have crossed paths with her. So when I described her, he immediately blurted he’d known her for years and considers her a friend (as he does with most people), and in fact sees her almost every day. But when he realized why I asked and who she really was to me (knowing my previously vague coming out story), he declared in full approval that she’s an incredibly beautiful woman!
I remember smiling and asking how she was, but definitely acknowledging that she was a firm part of my past and I only asked out of curiosity to know if she was doing well. He rambled on a bit about her, with just glowing and positive words. And I thought that would be the end of the topic between us.
At the time, I was still writing my column “Active Voice” in the Blade Magazine. So the next time I saw Vince, which I think was only a week later, he told me he gave her a copy of the latest issue and showed my column to her. Then he added (in full gossip mode) that it was a surprise to her that I was so prominently “out”. He even told me that he asked her the next day of what she thought of the column. He relayed to me that her first response was that she very uncomfortable that I had used the word “dyke” (in joking self-reference), which was not really surprising to me.
I laughed and felt a certain sense of confirmed closure that this was proof, though I wish her well, it was the right thing that she and I had parted lives the way we did.
But leave it to Vince being Vince to make that happen.
Vincent B. Croome
September 15, 1955 – January 29, 2010
(If you really do “come back”, Vince, I hope you keep all of your good qualities so you only have to keep improving the others!)
… And no, I don’t know what Joseph eventually did with the plastic box.
[Update – 4/17: Joseph told me that Vince’s Uncle took the box to be recycled after all.]