Saturday, December 13, 2008

Tribute to The Effervescent Jhan Dean Egg

It was ten years ago this weekend that my friend Jhan Dean Egg died. With some friends I might say something more gentle or poetic like, "he left this earth" or "he started on his next journey." With Jhan, he wanted to be referred to as "dead" as dead can be.

I met Jhan at Roommate Referrals on Castro Street in San Francisco in late September, 1993. We had a four bedroom apartment on Albion Street, and this strange bald piercer from Brooklyn was the perfect fit for our early 20's party filled mecca. Within days I noticed that this man wore only black, had more music than I had ever seen, and watched no television or movies except for b-horror flicks.

The five years I lived with Jhan frequently contained fascinating paradoxes. He could live his life completely free of the "shoulds" from societal norms, media, and his family. But at the same time, he could be incredibly rigid about certain issues around our house. If anyone moved his english muffins and cream cheese in the refrigerator there would be hell to pay. If a chair was moved to a different area it would be accompanied by a comment like, "Oh, I guess the chair is living over there now." He hated traveling anywhere, and was often disappointed and hurt if someone failed to return a phone call. He could appear aloof and independent, yet was actually quite vulnerable and hungry for human contact.

What I always could count on was his unwavering support. He cheered me on as I applied to graduate school, and encouraged me to keep going during the two years I spent completing my M.A. in Psychology. He always seemed to see the good in me no matter who I was dating, how much I was partying, or which bad soap operas I was watching. When a conflict with another roommate came to a "him or me" boiling point, the usually quiet Jhan stood up and assertively ordered this other roommate and to remove himself out of our home. When the roommate protested, "I can't find another place to live with no money," Jhan calmly replied, "I did it in New York, I'll tell you how to do it in San Francisco." I was surprised and amazed for the way he stood up for me, and that he could be such a powerful unflinching advocate when needed.

The most important lesson I learned from Jhan was not about living, but about dying. He coped for several years with AIDS related symptoms, and took a very pragmatic rational view about his own mortality. In 1996 he sat me down, showed me his will, and asked me if I would be his Executor. This responsibility included respecting his wishes not to prolong his life, and to distribute his beloved music collection in an exact order to his friends after his passing. I agreed, without comprehending the emotional toll this would eventually entail.

Right before Thanksgiving of 1998 we received the results of an MRI: Jhan's brain had significantly atrophied, and he had very little time left to live. The doctor said he could try medications to prolong his life, but they would only buy him six months at most. My "shoulds" went into overdrive: He shouldn't be dying, he should try the medications, he should stay and fight, he shouldn't give up so easily.

Jhan and I sat down on his floor after getting this news. I told him my "shoulds," and how scared I felt. And with the same self-possessed assertive force that he displayed earlier with the problematic roommate, he explained to me that he had a right not to take the medications, he didn't want to fight the inevitable, and he was at complete peace knowing he would be leaving this world soon. We both cried a lot that night, as we listened to Marc Almond's "Brilliant Creatures" over and over. By the end of the night I understood what he was saying. He had a right to decline meds. He had a right to say goodbye. He had a right to choose to die in the same manner in which he chose to live. The only thing causing me suffering were my "shoulds" about his decisions.

Jhan's choice to end his life with dignity, integrity, and courage has had a significant impact on me ever since. Being included in his life and his death have deeply shaped the man and the therapist I am today. The lessons I learned from him were essential ingredients in writing "Absolutely Should-less." I wanted to honor Jhan and his spirit with this book, and hope that I've been able to do that.

During one of our last conversations I asked him what he thought happens after we die. Do we rise above over sweeping landscapes and gorgeous mountain terrains? Jhan looked at me horrified and said, "I hope NOT...I hope it's over the city concrete and large skyscrapers." Ten years later I pray there is a part of Jhan that can find me writing this in his old hometown of Brooklyn and missing him a lot.


Anonymous said...

Perfect in so many ways!

Joy said...

This is a very moving tribute to a friend who has influenced you and contributed to the sensitive and understanding person you are today. Perhaps he is still guiding you in ways you are not aware move to his former home town. (?) This rememberance is a beautiful piece of writing and I think Jhan would have appreciated it very much.

JD Tuyes said...

Exactly. You certainly brought me back, D. It is so fitting that you wrote this.

Melissa said...

Well said, my dear. I am incredibly moved by the image of you and Jhan sitting on the floor, listening to Marc A., and you learning to accept his decision over that night. I never knew how you managed to stay so strong during that period. I was pulled in every way....o, dear....I love you!

Teri Cameron said...

I woke up this morning remembering Jhan, and honoring the time I spent working with him at the Gauntlet. Reading your tribute to him brought me back in so many ways. I remember how he refused to allow blue ink pens in our shared pen/pencil holder; it was black ink or nothing. I remember his amazing music collection, and the cassette tape he made for me, which included Ethel Merman's cover of Saturday Night Fever... I really wish I still had that tape.
Jhan, was an incredible being, and I am thankful to have shared time with him.
Thank you, for posting this blog, and sharing your story, and memories of Jhan.

gia drew said...

I just came across your lovely post about my dear friend Jhan Dean Egg. After he moved moved to SF I only saw him a few times and we lost touch in the 90's. I knew he was +, but never learned what became of of one of the most inspiring people I've ever met. While we were art students at Syracuse University, he was one of the first boys/men I ever kissed. I will always remember his beard stubble burning my lips, his persistent phone calls, his love of music (especially Marc Almond),and his infinite optimism. Thank you so much. Gia Drew

Blossom Merz said...

This is a beautiful tribute to a dear friend. Thanks for the recommendation for today's music. Be well!

tim miller said...

Wow, I am so glad I found this. I was very good friends with Jahn when I lived in Brooklyn for a year around 1989 or 1990. He turned me on to so much good music (The Ethel Merman Disco Album!) and he was one one of the most intelligent, kind and free-spirited people I've ever know. I got one letter from Jhan from San Francisco in 1995 (ending with his trademark "Be well!") then lost touch with him. A friend of mine who moved to SF (obviously after 1998) went to look him up at The Guantlet, and when he asked the staff there about him, he said their faces went very pale and just stated that he had died. I never found exactly what happened to him until today and I'm very moved and gratified to hear about how he spent the end of his life.