Posted by: gdevi | November 15, 2015

RIP John Lerma

I was shocked and surprised to hear that John Lerma died in 2013. A friend forwarded this obituary for John; I had no idea at all that John had become a professional chef, or that he was an incredible pie-creator, or that he hosted his own cooking show or anything at all. I lost touch with John after we all graduated. John was at the University of North Dakota working on his BA (and started Masters, I think) in English, while I was doing my Ph.D in the same department. John  was an unforgettable person in many ways. There was a spate of virulent anti-gay events at UND in the mid-1990s and John used to be literally heartbroken over those words and actions. “Gayatri, why would anyone “choose” to be gay?” John asked me in the department one day after a particularly homophobic day on campus. “I am gay because I am gay, not because I choose to be gay,” John told me, his face flushed, his eyes red, and his voice agitated. John was one of the first openly gay men that i met in Grand Forks. John was soft-spoken, a big guy, and sweet natured and good to everyone who interacted with him. He was always kind and friendly towards me.

I vividly remember my last meeting with John. I was working for Development Homes in Grand Forks; it was 1997 May. I was tasked with finding new, clean, safe apartments for my clients who had lost everything in the flood. There weren’t that many clean, safe units of housing to be found that would qualify for HUD housing vouchers. One of the local landlords called me at work one day and asked me to visit this apartment block on the southside of town–there was a unit there which might qualify for HUD funding. There was someone living there but they were getting ready to move out; my client JH could move in the following week if it all worked out, I was told.  So that afternoon I went to the apartment and knocked on the door. John Lerma opened the door. I said, John, John Lerma!! John said, Gayatri, come in! It was wonderful to see John. I had not seen John for a while since we both left UND. I had no idea that John was living in town. John had always talked about wanting to be a chef, but I vaguely remember John mentioning something about working for some sort of pest control company at the time.  John was in the process of moving–there were packed and half-packed boxes everywhere.  John looked worried and agitated–it was not solely to do with the moving. I had the vague feeling that he was moving under duress. I told him that I was there to check out the apartment for my client, JH, who was disabled with several cognitive, developmental and physical challenges and I wanted to make sure the place would work for JH. John let me walk around the apartment and check everything out.  The apartment was nice and clean and did not look like the apartment of a single man. It had flowers and things in it. John was absent-minded at times when I was there; I felt concerned for him when I left. You take care, I told John. Yeah, you too–John laughed; he had a high open laugh. I was so glad to read in the obituary about all of John’s successes. I am gonna get John’s cookbook and check out some of his recipes. Rest in peace, John. It was great to have known you.

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