Nathan: Hello, welcome to this week’s Story Update. Today, we’re going to be speaking with Michael Anastasio who shared his story with us about four years ago. Before we speak to Michael, let’s take a look at his story.
Michael: My partner Chase died October 23, 1993, which was 10 years to the day that we met. I had, after that point, sort of receded behind the walls of our Beacon Hill apartment. Having lost Chase, my best friend Randy, and dozens of friends before them left me with sort of a paralyzing numbness. I cried all my tears and packed it away for the winter, you know, behind those walls, and really just stopped feeling anything. You know, feeling was just too difficult at that time.
I had Chase’s body cremated and I’d gotten several notices from the crematorium to pick up Mr. Leon’s ashes. I just couldn’t do it. I guess it was the finality of the situation but I just couldn’t make myself go out into the cold, brutal Boston fall/winter and pick those ashes up, so they just stayed where they were. They were in four boxes because Chase had requested that his ashes be disposed of in four different places. I could foresee a future where I was going to have to divide ashes into four and I wanted no part of such a thing, so I asked them to do that. So they were holding those four boxes in South Boston somewhere and I was doing my best to just avoid the whole ash situation.
Christmas was approaching and, as I said, I was just so depressed. Christmas is my favorite time of year. I was always of the “If it doesn’t move, decorate it” school of decorating, crazy with Christmas. Chase wasn’t as much so, but he enjoyed the fact that I enjoyed it so much.
Well, it was just me and I started realizing I didn’t buy any Christmas presents that year, I didn’t bake any cookies, I just didn’t do all the things that gave me so much joy usually. When I realized I wasn’t going to have a Christmas tree, I got even worse. I had never had a Christmas without a Christmas tree and I thought, well, that’s what you’re going to do for yourself. Go out and get a Christmas tree.
So I went out and got a Christmas tree. I put it up, started decorating. I had all of the boxes of stuff out. I had carols on. I had mulled cider. If I planned ahead, I may would have invited people over and it would have been better, but I hadn’t. So I wouldn’t have been there, wallowing in self-pity, but that’s just what I was doing – wallowing in self-pity.
I remember just getting partially done and I just sat down on the chair, ornaments in hand and surrounded by this mess. I don’t know how long I’d been that way and the doorbell rang. I couldn’t imagine who it was, but we had a garden apartment so I had to go outside into the garden and open the big gate that I’d been hiding behind for months. There was this skinny man, all dressed in black, of course, with – a Dickensian-looking man, right out of central casting for somebody who would be told to bring ashes. There were four boxes in his hands and I recognized them immediately. Chase’s ashes.
So I walked back into the house and closed the door and sat down where I was before the doorbell rang, with those four boxes. They were all like little cubes about that big, four of them, just resting heavily in my lap.
All of that pent up grief that I’d just been storing just all came out at that moment. At possibly the worst moment of my life, through the bleariness of all this crying, I looked down at those boxes, just holding them in my arms, and I noticed a little yellow Post-It note on top of one of them.
I just kind of wiped my eyes and read it. Clearly it was meant to be removed before the boxes were delivered. It said, “Deliver four boxes of Leon to Michael Anastasio.” This struck me as funny. In the midst of all that crying, Chase had a great sense of the absurd, and all of a sudden, it was like I was seeing that note through his eyes. “Deliver four boxes of Leon.” That was his last name, Chase Leon. Four boxes of Leon. All of a sudden, I started chuckling. And then I started laughing. And then suddenly, the laughter was as uncontrollable as the crying had been.
It was like I had released so much grief that all of a sudden, this one little post-it note that some little office worker must’ve written out and stuck on there saved my life. I think probably what it did was it resurrected him for a minute because I saw the note through his eyes. Four boxes of him. Just the thought of four boxes of Chase – too funny.
I looked around that room and – it may sound corny or whatever – but it was like everything in that room came to life suddenly. There was so much death and dying and sadness in that room, and then all of a sudden, it just sparkled with life. Everything, everything that I saw, it was just like he was in every molecule around me. It was just this beautiful experience where suddenly everything had been about death and suffering, now everything was life.
I got out the prettiest wrapping paper that I had, wrapped all of them – very good gift wrapper – wrapped them all. Best ribbon that I had and tied them up and made these beautiful, four beautiful bows, and I put those four boxes of Leon under the Christmas tree. And that was my Christmas that year.
It was that little Post-It note. I’m not sure what I would’ve done without that little Post-It note, but it changed everything for me and it seemed like that was my hurdle. I had to get rid of that grief somehow, and those four boxes arriving – you know, if I was looking for something to pick things up, getting for boxes of your deceased lover’s ashes while you are decorating a Christmas tree is not going to cheer you up, but the Post-It note did.
Nathan: Michael, thank you so much for taking the time to join us today. How are you doing?
Michael: Great. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Nathan: Good. As you can tell, I couldn’t resist having my Christmas tree behind me for this interview. You know, this day and theme with your story. How are you? It’s one of my favorite stories. It’s so… obviously it’s sad, it’s heartbreaking, but it’s also so real and human, the way that sometimes we just start laughing at weird times. And there’s just so many things about your story that really just stuck with me. How do you feel, you know, we’re filming this in early to mid December, the holidays are coming around.. how are you feeling around this time?
Michael: Great. I mean, you know, the… when you have a loss, you know, it never goes away and, of course, the holidays are… tend to bring things back. And being very active, decorating a Christmas tree, I could never do it without the thought process of this story about Chase. And so it’s, you know, the grief is not there anymore for the most part, you know, it’s… the depth of sadness after so many years isn’t the same as when this was actually happening to me.
So it’s mostly the good feelings. And, you know, at the end of the story, I talk about how he just seemed to be in every molecule in the whole room, you know, and I think that’s what I remembered most about that time, you know? And how, you know, sadness can instantly change to something else, you know, with just a little post-it note that just changed everything, you know, and that, that little post-it note was such a gift.
Nathan: Yeah. What do you… have you decorated this year? Like you’re where you live?
Michael: Not yet. Because we went down to Florida to see my sister-in-law and we just got back and I actually have decorating clients that I do Christmas decorating for. So I’m already behind with that. So I am finishing this job tomorrow. So after that, the tree will go up and Eric and I’ll decorate the tree here. And so I’m a little behind the year because of having gone down to Florida, but that’s on ticket for probably toward the end of the week.
Nathan: So you’re decorating other people’s Christmases first and then we’ll get to yours.
Michael: Yeah, there are paying customers that they get done first, you know, and they’ve already waited a little bit longer than… I would try to do it right, like, the day after Thanksgiving usually. But we got pushed back a little bit because of being in Florida and the flights that we could get back. So, just a little bit late here.
Nathan: Yeah. You know, I feel like every holiday season, someone out there is missing someone. And especially this year with COVID, a lot of families aren’t able to get together or, you know, people might’ve lost loved ones over the year.
Do you have any advice for anyone who might be feeling lonely or missing someone over the holidays?
Michael: Wow. Advice. Hmm. I think more in the way of just reflections on the fact that, you know, it’s the tried and true, you know, it does get better, you know, and when the wound is fresh and especially at Christmas time, you know, that’s the… the feelings are so much larger and so I would just say, you know, go with it. You know, if you… if you have an emotion, don’t repress it, just go with it. You know, because part of grief that I found out is that you’ll just be going around along your day and suddenly it will just overwhelm you. And for whatever reason, you just… you just start crying, you know, or just… and I suppose the best advice I could give is just go with it, you know, if it… if it happens, you know, just don’t try to control it, don’t, you know… just get through it.
And there is nothing and like a good cry, you know? And so I would say, you know, if you feel it coming on, just let it come on, you know, experience it. Feel whatever you’re feeling, don’t bottle it up, don’t try to contain it. You know, don’t try to be strong, you know, and… because I think there are a lot of strengthened tears actually. And you need to express the emotions however they come. So it’s probably the best thing that I can get from my experience of loss.
Nathan: Yeah. That’s… I think that’s really great advice. Do you have anything else that you want to share with anyone about anything new in your life or any exciting updates?
Michael: Oh, gosh. Well, since last we spoke, I’ve written a book and so… actually all of my stories that I related to you are now in print form. Well, not print because it isn’t punlished. I’ve written a manuscript. Excuse me. It’s not a book until it’s published. So I’ve spent like the last five years now putting that together and I’m still working on it.
And it’s 50 years of being gay in America from 1951 to 2001. And it’s full of stories, much like the ones that I told on I’m From Driftwood and practically from conception on. And so that’s been my biggest project since I made the I’m From Driftwood videos. And that’s the thing that I’m most excited about.
And then I’m right at the point where I’m just about finished with it, where I’m looking for publishers and that, so we’ll see what happens with that, but… it’s called “A Gay Boy’s Life. And, um, um, we’ll see what happens with that. But that’s my biggest excitement right now. You know, and apart from that, Eric and I are both looking forward to getting back to this family we’ve created in Europe. We have so many friends in Europe and we’re really missing them because of COVID. And I’m not sure when we’ll get over there. We go there, they come here, you know? So, that hasn’t been happeningfor the last nine months. So that’s the other thing I would suppose that our focus is just being able to be together with, with them, our family, again, our created family, the logical family as opposed to biological family.
Nathan: Yeah, I think we’re all missing that a lot. And just being together and all the hugs and community and travel and all the stuff that goes with that. So, Michael, thank you…
Michael: I think there are a lot of people who will never take things for granted ever again. I mean, you know, that… I think there’s… it’s been a great time for everyone, I think, to be able to sit back and reflect a little bit and just see, you know, all the wonderful things that we have in our lives that we need to be grateful for every single day, you know, and I think it’s easier to focus on those now.
Nathan: Absolutely. It’s kind of forced people to really kind of take stock about what’s important and focus on things that… or not be distracted, I think, by as many things. So I think at the end of it, it’ll, you know, they’re… I don’t want to say it’ll be good for people. It’s been a horrible catastrophe, but, you know, there can be good to help them from it. So…
Michael: Good comes from every catastrophe. you know, if you… if you allow it, you know, and look on the positive side of things, there will always be a positive side to anything.
Nathan: Yeah, you just got to roll with it. So, well, Michael, it was so good to see you again. Hopefully it won’t be another five years that we catch up. But thanks for taking the time. And if anyone has any questions for Michael, just leave them in the comments. And Michael, you also shared I think it was five other stories with us throughout the course of your life. And if anyone wants to watch them, I just go to ImFromDriftwood.org and search for Michael Anastasio and they’ll all pop up.
So until then, we’ll see all for next week’s Story Update. Thanks for watching.
Michael: Great to see you, Nathan.