This is the last installment of a conversation I recorded between John and Renee Gorham (read Parts One and Two). It's a long one because I'm sad for you that this is the end of this story. Or the beginning, depending on how you look at it...
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Renee: For a while after John and Courtney split up, she and I still had our weekly Toro Bravo manager brunch. Ruby would come with us a lot of the time, but to Ruby I was just another friend. We'd go out, have brunch somewhere, and talk about the restaurant. These just got weirder and weirder, of course, and more uncomfortable until finally we couldn't do it anymore.
John: The spring before the Fourth of July, 2008 — probably a month or two before that — I had the realization that I needed the marriage to be over completely. I was thinking of how to get out of it in an honorable way. I had gone to a party and played kickball the day before — it was a Simpatica/Laurelhurst Market party — and I woke up in the middle of the night to my chest killing me.
That spring of 2008 they thought I'd just pulled a muscle, and then I had a major attack on Halloween and was hospitalized for two days. At that point I was having severe stomach pains. I'd had a Sunday dinner, had all our friends over and cooked for them like I've done for years. I woke up with Ruby the next day and rode my bike to my personal trainer. At the time I was training with her every Monday morning. I walked in and said, "Laurie, I don't feel so good," and she said, "You're yellow. Go home right now."
I made it halfway home and started vomiting. I had Ruby in the tow-along bike and we were riding from downtown back home to Northeast Portland. I made it home and me and Ruby just laid down and watched movies the rest of the day. That night I woke up at four with the worst abdominal pain I'd ever had. My intestine had actually flipped over from all of the spasms of my gallbladder, and I ended up in the hospital. They tried to get me into emergency surgery — to cut me open and take my intestine out right then and there, but I had them call my doctor. He came in and said, "There isn't any fever; nothing is going on. Just sedate him and let him go." They did a cat scan the next day and found gallbladder stones, but they couldn't discern how many.
My doctor told me to go see a naturopath and see if I could change my diet and get rid of them. That's what I did, but then I had another attack in December. At this point I'd been hospitalized, had all of these attacks, and paid my deductible, so I said, "I want this out." They did an ultrasound and found that my gallbladder was packed with several large stones. I had it removed on New Year's Eve, 2009.
Renee: I took care of John during that time, and that was a bond for us.
John: When I got out of the hospital, it kept me away from work for about two weeks. My doctor said, "Don't do anything that will hurt you," but beyond that, there weren't any strict rules. He said, "If you can walk, if you can jog, if you can bike, then do it, because the more you move, the faster you'll heal."
During those few months leading up to my surgery and right after it, I lost a ton of weight, mostly from being sick. I couldn't eat. I was scared to eat because all sorts of things would trigger it. That spring when I saw my doctor, I weighed about 310 pounds, and the day after my surgery I was 190 (before and after photos below). I was working out a lot before the surgery, and I started doing triathlon training right after. I think there were rumors that I had cancer with all of the weight loss, but the whole time I really thought that the problem was coronary. Soon after the surgery, Allison Blythe and Pascal Sauton said that I should do Team in Training, and I agreed. Five weeks after my surgery, I started triathlon training in February 2009. That spring it gets even funnier — I got hit by a car.
John before and after the weight loss in 2008 and 2009 / photo on right by David Reamer
I was training for the triathlon and riding from Northeast Portland to Rocky Butte, and I got hit on the Rocky Butte run that I used to do. It was one of my regular training rides because of all of the hill climbing. I was going through 82nd and Fremont, where it's really flat, so I was going fast. I'd go on these speed sprints on straightaways with no stop signs a lot, and I was going 25 miles per hour — just flying — when this car came up and turned in. By the time I hit the brakes, I clipped his rear and slid in the street. I tucked into a ball. It was so scary.
As I was sliding down the street I remember thinking, Wow, this helmet is keeping my head really straight. I had good bike gear on. The driver took off and I got up and went running down the street after him. Others stopped and they made him come back. There was a little pet store there at the intersection. I was pissed, really mad and saying things like, "You really hurt me. I'm doing the triathlon and you've really hurt me!" It shredded up my gear, crumpled my front tire, did $1,200 damage to a $3,000 bike, and for the next year I had major hip problems and a hernia from it. The lady at the pet store was sympathizing with the guy who hit me, though, because I was so mad and yelling at him. I thought, Are you fucking kidding me? This guy just fucking hit me.
I was scheduled to work at Toro that night but called in. I'm always guilt ridden when I call in — even when it's to my own fucking restaurant. At that point I didn't like to have anyone else do the ordering. I was the one who always did it, so I said that I'd come in and do that at least. The EMTs thought I broke my hip, so off I went to the hospital.
Renee: We were supposed to hang out that day, and I finally got a hold of you and found out you had been hit by a car and that you had called Courtney to come help you. I was so mad at you.
John: This is the thing with cell phones — the only number I remembered was Toro's and Courtney's. No one ever answers phones at Toro, so I called Courtney and said, "I got hit by a car. I need a ride to my house." After that I went to the hospital and got checked out. I iced my hip that night and went in to Toro to do the ordering.
Renee: John and I went back and forth a lot that year, and we kept seeing each other until I finally said, "You need to make a commitment to me or I can't do this anymore." We were supposed to go to North Carolina together, and he wouldn't commit to me, so I said, "I'm done. I'm going to New York." I decided to go on this "I'm going to try to forget my life" trip. So I went to New York and tried to fuck the pain away, and John went to North Carolina and cried in the car, and we talked for hours and hours, and I said, "We can't do this anymore."
When we both got back to Portland, we went out on my birthday — that was April 2009. We always go to El Gaucho on my birthday, and that was our second year of the tradition. I'd already said we couldn't do this anymore, but, of course, we had this really strong connection, and when we were together, we couldn't not be together. It was physically impossible. That nightI said, "If we really love each other, eventually that will prevail over everyone's judgment and that will win. If you're in, I'm in." And I gave him a key to my apartment. It was about a week later that he decided that he could do it.
John: Right after my gallbladder surgery, I did Team in Training and got really fit. I was thin, I was the healthiest I'd ever been, I was running a successful restaurant, and I'd been in an unhappy marriage for so long. I'd found Renee and there was a strong connection there, but I couldn't help thinking — is this connection that easy to just go out and find? There were a lot of women who were interested in me, and I hadn't really explored anything like that since I'd been in my 20s. There were a lot of dates, a lot of quick relationships during that time.
Renee: John was single for the first time in his adult life when he felt good about himself. Even through all of those break-ups, we were really good friends. We would talk all the time, and I was really compassionate to him getting to know himself. We'd always had a brutally honest relationship — or friendship, I should say — that coincided with this incredible chemistry, which was more than we knew what to do with. Finally we thought, Okay, we can do this for real now. Then it was all over. We've pretty much been inseparable from that time forward.
John: That May we committed heavily, and that August of 2009, Renee moved in. Before that, Courtney and I could still be in the same room together, but once Renee moved in, that stopped.
Renee: Courtney left Toro at the beginning of 2009, and that's when she and I stopped talking. That's when I became the bad guy. There were some shocking moments the first time John and I went out in public. We got a lot of looks. A lot of people thought, What is John Gorham doing with this scandalous little whore? People's views change fast, though. It was obvious that what we had wasn't just an affair or a scandalous relationship or a means to an end. We got married a year later in summer 2010. So I guess that's the story of how we met.
John: Everyone in Portland pretty much knows it already, so who fucking cares?
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Liz Crain is the author of Food Lovers Guide to Portland and Toro Bravo: Stories. Recipes. No Bull. A longtime writer on Pacific Northwest food and drink, her writing has appeared in Cooking Light, Budget Travel, VIA magazine, The Sun magazine, The Progressive, The Guardian, and The Oregonian. She is also an editor and publicity director at Hawthorne Books, as well as co-organizer of the annual Portland Fermentation Festival.
Books mentioned in this post
Liz Crain is the author of Food Lover's Guide to Portland (2nd edition)