I met ZebraJim roughly eight months after I moved to San Francisco. I was disenchanted with the Bay. So far, I had made no real friend. Art school had taken more from me than it had given, and I was greatly considering closing up shop and moving to Portland. I had gotten into school there. It would be a fresh start. Again.
I was giving the Bay one last chance, diving into the kink scene instead of the art scene. I had a mentor, was slowly dipping my toe in the waters of submission, and finally got the courage to walk into the kink cafe that I had passed hundreds of times before, but could never bring myself to enter.
It was a Foundations munch, and my first munch. I was slightly late. I snuck in and sat at the end of the table, next to a man with snow colored hair and beard. He was in full leather garb and had a walking stick with an 8 ball as the grip, and Buddhist prayer beads wrapped around hands worn from work. We started chatting. He called himself a dungeon troll, hopping between Alchemy, the Citadel, and Black Thorn.
That night he talked me into my second party ever, walking me over to the Citadel and getting me in as his plus one. As we walked, we talked. I found out he was a Vietnam vet with a history of heart problems and homelessness. He told me stories about his best friend, also a war vet, and told me of his weaknesses for women of all kinds, binary or no. He loved trans women, was truly gifted in the art of chasing tail, and from that day on became fiercely protective of me. He gave me the nickname Pixie, because I am tiny and feisty and always getting into trouble, and slowly introduced me to people in the community.
I called him Zebra. ZebraJim had zebra everything. Zebra blankets. Zebra toys. Zebra bandanas that he would give out to everyone he played with. I still have mine, tucked safely away until I can make myself look at it again. We played at my first Surrender, when I was hurting in the worst way emotionally at the realization that Kane and I were slowly ending. He hit me with his zebra flogger and his hands until I buckled on the cross, sobbing. Then he pulled me into his arms and let me cry, knowing that this was much more than the physical pain of the beating.
The man, at 64 years old, helped me move. I lived in a third story shoe box in SoMA and was moving into an in-law at the edge of the city. Finally, I would have space to myself.. But funds were so tight coming up with firsts and lasts that I couldn’t afford a moving truck. Zebra helped me move over two days, climbing up the stairs, grabbing my shit, and loading it into his truck. He was doing laps around me and my very fit 21 year old roommate who was helping with the process. He got me moved though, and when we got where we were going and he saw I didn’t have a mattress to sleep on the man gave me his.
There was a night close to Halloween. I was carving a pumpkin, watching the Craft after a horrible day. I looked over and there was a roach in my bed. I am terrified of bugs, beyond terrified. I had a panic attack. I called my Dom at the time.. But his wife was home and it was too late to help, in his mind. I didn’t know what else to do. I called Jim. He couldn’t understand me on the phone because I was crying too much. “Darlin’, I want you to take a few deep breaths” he said. “And when you’re calm enough to drive get your ass over here. We’ll fix everything, don’t worry.” He was living at Alchemy at the time. I drove off once I could and slept on one of the large bean bags that night safe and calm, because I knew Zebra would keep me safe.
The old man even inspired me to fly. At that same Surrender that he beat me, he went up on hooks and flew. If he could do it I could. I told myself that for a year.
When Surrender finally came again the one thing I knew for sure was that I was going up on the hooks. Zebra hadn’t been there all weekend. He was already sick and had a chemo treatment that knocked the wind out of him. I hadn’t expected to see him at all… And then he was there in the hook suspension room. He talked to me before I went up, calmed me down. Told me that the next year he and I would go up together.
There is a photo that my Master caught of Zebra, arms out, eyes closed, sending me healing energy as I’m being pierced. I beyond cherish it now.
The last time I saw my first San Francisco friend, he was still himself. He was sick, and in pain, but he was Zebra. He was bald as a cue ball and his beard was thin from chemo, and we joked about his hair being better than mine would ever be. We pretended everything was fine when it wasn’t, when we both knew that we were saying goodbye.
And then my friend did something I never expected. He apologized for leaving me so soon. I lost it. I could pretend I was fine up to a point, but my strong friend apologizing because he needed to rest, because his body was tired and hurting and he was getting ready to leave? .. I cried. And he cried. And then we both laughed and joked about how I would have to give him the birthday blow job I owed him in his next life.
It’s been less than a week since my friend left this earth.. And I am still processing. He was always around. Always everywhere. I’m curled up in Wicked Grounds now, in the comfy chair that I have given up for Jim and his walking stick many a time, and the idea of him never walking through the door again with his leather gear and a big grin on his face is physically painful. It’s BaGG tonight, an event he loved, an event that last week ran a benefit for his care. Where he would dance, and smile, and get in a shit ton of trouble because it’s Zebra.
I’m trying hard to rally.. And while my chest hurts, writing this entry is helping me process. I thank you for reading my words and allowing me to express them.
ZebraJim was a stubborn old pervert who lived each day like a gift, knew more than anyone how to have fun, and would give the ones he loved the shirt off his back (even if that was all he had). The last thing he would want would be us sobbing and mourning his passing. He would want us to celebrate knowing him. To get in as much trouble as we can, dance like no one is watching, and chase the lovely, pretty creatures. I’m sure there will be more tears.. But tonight I will smile, I will laugh, and I will try to get in just the right about of trouble.
And I will bounce my boobs around, a lot, and imagine that impish grin that my friend always had.
I’m going to miss that old perv… I know many of us will. But the truth is I’m not the only one he’s made such an impact on. So long as those that knew him remember him it’s only the old man’s body that is gone. His spirit is woven through the SF kink scene, from the dungeons that he physically cared for to the people he touched (in various ways). Tales of ZebraJim will be told for years.
And I will smile. I will tell the new people about the man who found his herd of zebras, and helped me find mine. How he was a zebra because zebras can’t be broken and don’t fit in with other horses. And how there is always room in the herd for those searching for a home here.