RANCHO MIRAGE — Tucked in a corner of Room 3024 at Eisenhower Health, a sleep-deprived man wrapped in white hospital blankets, sat vigil throughout the night with an ailing Mayor Gregory S. Pettis, the man he loved.
Nathaniel Larson spent the night of Saturday, Jan. 12 at Pettis’ bedside, despite Pettis’ unconvincing reassurances he was OK. Larson, Pettis’ partner since January 2018 knew where he needed – and wanted – to be.
As dawn broke on the morning of Sunday, Jan. 13, Pettis, wincing in pain, reached for Larson’s hand. It was a familiar sense of comfort and reassurance. If Pettis needed to clinch something, it was not going to be a cold, steel bed rail.
“It was going to be me,” Larson told Uken Report. “It’s not because I had to be there, it was because I wanted to be there with him. I didn’t know at the time that it was going to be the last time I was going to see him. I just wanted him to know and recognize, which he did, that he wasn’t going through anything alone. That was the relationship that we had. I was there for him, and he was there for me.”
Larson returned to his Fontana residence on Sunday afternoon, Jan. 13, filled with hope for his partner, whom he called a fighter. Larson assured Pettis he would be OK and asked him to text him later that day.
“See ya next Friday,” Larson said he left the room.
It would be the last time he saw the man he loved.
“You always want to prepare yourself for the worst, but Greg had been in the hospital before, so I didn’t think it would come to the outcome it did,” Larson said. “Never for one moment did I doubt Greg’s willingness to live and do whatever he could do in his power.”
On Monday, Jan. 14, Larson said he received word that Pettis had taken a bit of “nosedive,” but held out hope not letting his mind wander.” On Tuesday, Jan. 15, Larson received word that his partner had died.
Pettis’ sister-in-law called to notify him. Pettis’s brother, David, and sister-in-law, Sue, had met Larson previously. She said she was there for me if I needed or wanted to talk, Larson said. She let him know exactly what was going to be happening in the next couple of weeks with the family and other matters.
“I really appreciated that,” Larson said. “She didn’t need to do that but she understood the relationship Greg and I had.”
Larson, who lives in Fontana about 60 miles away, and Pettis had been a couple just shy of a year. They were robbed of celebrating their first anniversary together. Larson was a regular at Pettis’ side for the March for Our Lives Rally, Dinner in the Canyons in October, Thanksgiving, Larson’s holiday work party, Christmas, Pettis’ birthday, New Year’s, and more. Larson was also beside Pettis’ side on Dec. 10, 2018, one of the most important days of Pettis’ life – his inauguration as mayor.
Larson had become part of Pettis’ inner circle of friends and became a confidant.
When they first began dating, Pettis portrayed himself as a real estate agent, refusing to play up his role in the political arena. It gave Larson a window into Pettis a Cathedral City resident, a man who loved a good steak and baked potato, possessed a keen appreciation for the arts, whose favorite color was purple, who enjoyed movies at the Mary Pickford, delighted in attending high school plays, Broadway music, and was a “sucker” for flowers, especially roses.
Pettis did not divulge his political status until about a month into the relationship when he told Larson he would become mayor of Cathedral City in December.
“I was stunned,” Larson said. “I didn’t really understand until I started experiencing it and going to events, charities, fundraisers, and parties with political figures. I had no idea what I was getting into. It wasn’t anything bad. I just wasn’t prepared because I wasn’t really into anything with politics. I didn’t really understand politics until I met Greg.”
There were people always hanging on every word, taking picture, Larson said. If Larson was with him, he, too, would be photographed. He had some doubts because until March of 2018, Larson had not publicly come out as a gay man.
He spoke with Pettis who gave him “great counsel,” Larson said. In March 2018, he came out publicly as a gay man. Some of his closes friends had known; his parents did not.
“I was very scared. I didn’t want to be humiliated, or be judged wrongly, Larson said. “Greg helped sway my opinion and my choices on doing what was best for me – and in the long run what was best for the people that I care about. Greg shared with me how he came out being gay, his circumstances, and how he dealt publicly with being gay, not just for himself but as a reflection on the city. I really respected him for that.”
Pettis, he said, changed his life.
“I’m really sad because I lost someone very close to me,” Larson said. “I was closer with Greg than with my actual parents. He was my counterpart. He was my companion, my lover, my friend, most importantly. There were certain things that I could confide in with him that I could not confide in with anybody else.”
Going forward, knowing that I don’t have that option, the opportunity, or the experience to have a simple conversation about what’s going on, is very difficult Larson said. When I need help, or just another opinion, or the confidence that somebody will be there to listen and not be judgmental, there is a void.
“It’s sad, but in a different kind of way than the normal sadness,” Larson said. “I do feel something larger than what I’m trying to say. It definitely hit me differently than I would expect it hits everybody else, in a different unique way, just because I felt that I was on a deeper level than anybody else. To put it simply, I was in a position and in a relationship that nobody else was.”
In the two weeks since Pettis passed, much has been said about his commitment to his community, to youth, to issues, and more. Pettis devoted the bulk of his life to social justice, to improving his community and to bettering the lives around him. Few understood that probably better than Larson.
About six months into the relationship, Pettis apologized. Larson said he was confused, fearing he had done or said something wrong. He did not understand the purpose of Pettis’ regret. The apology, Pettis explained, had to do with time.
For the past three decades, Pettis had devoted 75 percent of his time to public service, the city, social issues, and the residents of the city. The remaining 25 percent of his time was reserved for himself. Of that 25 percent, Larson received about half.
”I wasn’t mad, and I wasn’t at a loss,” Larson said. “I deeply respected him for that because he dedicated the majority of his time to the people he cared about, what he wanted to do, all the people he wanted to help, and most importantly, what he wanted for the city over himself. I held him in the highest regard for that.”
There was an age gap between the two men; neither minded. Larson is 23; Pettis was 63.
Pettis attended Larson’s company holiday party in the Inland Empire and met his friends in December. They were a couple.
“I really appreciated him for that,” Larson said. “It was very moving and touching for me and very personal. Ever since I told my coworkers about Greg, they wanted to meet him. I talked about him in the highest regards, and they wanted to meet him. A couple of them finally met him, and they really liked him. Greg said he liked them, too. I was really glad. I was very proud of my relationship with Greg.”
Over in his “neck of the woods,” Larson said it’s very different for someone of his age to be with someone of Pettis’ age. A couple people asked Larson about the age gap.
“I just told them it didn’t really matter to me how old he was,” Larson said. “It was a matter of who he was as an individual and how I cared for him. I really cared for him a lot, very much. I am sad for his death, but I’m definitely happier that I had the chance to know him and have the experience with him.”
Pettis, Larson said, changed his life for the better.
“I will never forget Greg as long as I live.”