Farewell to Frank Hatch

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My son David (left) and Frank Hatch (right)

On Sunday, January 10th, my computer screen flashed. Caring Bridges, a site that provides health news to family and friends, let me know that Frank had died. I had spoken to Frank a few weeks earlier on his birthday. He had told me that it would be his last. I did not want to believe him, since we had expected his death during the entire 27 years of our friendship—but unfortunately he was right.

Frank and I bonded over pumpkin soup during the first decade AIDS was with us. I was spending time with David, my son, and my home-cooked meals were a welcome event for him and his hungry friends, or “The Seven Sisters,” as they liked to call themselves. Of these, three were infected with HIV, and four were not. Together we faced a very uncertain future.

Frank was very special. Whenever I think of him I hear his laughter. A seductive mix of charm, love, anger, black humor, happiness, sharp wit, daring, and bitterness animated him.

Frank was particularly pleased with my home-cooked meals. He had lost his own beautiful mom when he was seventeen and in time he half-jokingly became my adopted son. We rarely forgot each other’s birthdays and marked these with gifts. For years my drawers were perfumed with potpourri he sent from California to Brooklyn.

Frank lent support when David was fighting for his life at Mount Zion Medical Center in San Francisco. I’ll never forget a respite walk we took near the Cliff House. Frank and I imagined that we had fallen into the churning sea and were trying to save ourselves. For a short while we were so engaged in our game that we forgot our worries. After David’s death I packed up my pots, which had been in his apartment, but symbolically stored the best and biggest with Frank.

I kept up with the boys and helped Frank deal with his ups and down. The ups included his friends and family, his swimming, his involvement with Buddhism, his rafting and the new community he discovered through the sport, and the teaching he did about AIDS. His downs included dealing with real and imagined slights, fearing death, and increasingly managing AIDS and cancer.

His home in Sausalito provided him with shelter. Some ten years ago, after he had passed through a severe medical crisis, I visited him there. Frank told me the following story:

The man was confined to his room; he was battling AIDS. His only distraction, during the weeks that his life hovered between life and death, was his flower-filled balcony, bathed in California sunshine.

His window boxes were overflowing with petunias, blue lobelia and red impatiens. One plant had died. He had pulled it out and was about to replace it. As he approached, shovel in hand, he noticed a morning dove. When he started digging up the black dirt, the bird dive-bombed his head. He retreated, wondering. He tried again. A second dove attacked him. He withdrew once more and watched.

Soon the two doves, ignoring him, filled the small depression with sticks. By the next morning the birds had built a nest. The morning after that there was one egg, then another, finally there were three eggs.

The female sat on her nest, unperturbed by the man who continued to water his plants. The eggs hatched. Three featherless chicks craned their necks, accepting food proffered by the older doves. Soon the fledglings flapped their immature wings. Finally one day they hopped to the edge of the nest, and flew off.

The man recovered. Was it the new drugs that keep the deadly AIDS virus at bay, or had the morning doves renewed his life?

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4 Responses to Farewell to Frank Hatch

  1. Anne says:

    Thank you for sharing this tribute and Frank’s story. It is a mitzvah for someone’s words to be shared with others, so they can continue to influence the world. May his memory be for blessing. Love and hugs!

  2. ventureouttours says:

    As always, Suzanne, you adroitly capture the essence of the person. Thank you so much. Remembering our friend with fondness.
    Love and hugs.

  3. Niles Dolbeare says:

    Thank you, Suzy. I will reread your loving piece whenever I need to be reminded of the phenomenon that was Frank.

  4. Ardeth Baxter says:

    You don’t know me, but I want to thank you for your eulogy on Frank Hatch. I also want to extend my sympathies for the death of your son David, whom I never met but I do remember Frank mentioning. I knew Frank back in the days, in the late 80s, when he first got his HIV diagnosis. He was a co-worker of mine in his incarnation as a physical therapist. I barely knew him, but he came to my office one day to tell me about it and swear me to secrecy.

    As anyone who’s ever been around Frank would probably say, he was a life force and an addictive substance. Once he was in your life, it was hard to let him go. We shared an improbable but intense and often exasperating friendship for a relatively brief period–the last time I saw him was about 1995, although we exchanged post cards and letters for a while after. When we worked together, I used to write him semi-satirical pieces on death and the eastern religions, which he seemed to enjoy immensely. Back then we thought he had a very short time to live, so everything felt more intense. We had some wild times together, bar hopping and getting pretty crazy, which was not my normal MO. I was very different from him: quiet, serious, a loner, but he managed to bring me out of my shell. I like to think that I planted the seed that resulted in his involvement with Buddhism. In fact, the last letter I received from him talked about his trip to Japan and his visit to a monastery.

    The early, tragic loss of both his parents marked him, I think. He never got over that, and he was also ambivalent about his homosexuality. He seemed to resent being born gay at times, and used to tell me about his girlfriend that he’d almost married, as if to give himself straight ‘credentials’. The two of us were seemingly headed in that direction until he suddenly pulled away (to be honest, so did I). We remained friends, but with great uneasiness between us.

    I decided to move to Santa Fe in 1996 along with Bill, my now deceased long-time friend/ex-husband. I’d lived here before and always wanted to return. I got the letter from Frank about his Japan trip in that period and made the decision not to respond. I knew he had many friends and a family to lean on and I felt that I needed to move on.

    I became deeply involved in my new life. But Frank was such a charismatic character that I had to check up on him, as a fly on the wall, from time to time. I’d google his name and eventually I found information about his job as a rafting guide, his Facebook page, and read about his continued involvement with Buddhism and eventually his cancer diagnosis.

    I continued my silence, thinking it was for the best. I did soften a bit and send him a couple of messages via Facebook in his last years bringing him up to speed on my life and asking about his, but I wasn’t an official FB “friend”, so it’s likely that he never saw them.

    I knew that if he had terminal cancer, he didn’t have much time, but I couldn’t find anything about his death until I stumbled upon your blog the other day. So I deeply appreciate hearing about the end of Frank’s colorful story from you, and I thank you again. Knowing him was quite a ride and I shall always miss him. Forgive me for the length of this comment, but I needed to get it out.

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