David Wraith carries cards with the words "you are beautiful" emblazoned on them. He'll hand them out to men, women — anyone. Anyone, that is, he does not intend to pursue romantically.
Until he met Elaine Goble Dandridge.
Dressed for a party as "Blandy Warhol" — aka the black Andy Warhol — the black man in his late 30s handed the white-haired woman in her 60s one of those cards. And he had every intention of asking her out. So the first time Dandridge noticed her future husband, he was wearing a white wig.
But it wasn't the first time he had noticed her.
Looking at pictures from a friend's modeling gig, Wraith says he saw a photo with two young, beautiful naked people at the center. But his eyes went to a "little old lady" sitting in the background, drawing.
"I always say there's certain types of people's faces that are like the key to a lock that's been buried somewhere in my brain for years," he says. "And I see those faces and I feel like that lock gets opened. And that happened when I saw a picture of my wife the first time."
And while the polyamorous co-founder of Sex Positive St. Louis hoped their relationship would blossom, he was cautious because of the age difference. He had just come off a series of "tumultuous" relationships, breaking up with his primary partner right before he began seeing Dandridge. And as someone attracted to older women, Wraith was used to older women not taking his romantic interest seriously. In a video interview with Wraith, Dandridge would later say she was not expecting it either.
"So the planets just kind of aligned," he says.
The two ended up spending more than six years together — but just six months married. In 2015, Dandridge was diagnosed with breast cancer. After many treatments, including chemotherapy and radiation, the cancer spread to her brain. She decided to forego treatment and went into hospice care. On January 11, 2017, she died, sleeping on a couch between Wraith and her daughter.
His wife's death was initially devastating. Wraith says he was "kind of not functioning" in the aftermath, rarely leaving the house and struggling with panic attacks.
A writer and storyteller, Wraith says he's not at a point to share stories specifically about his wife's death, but that it permeates any story.
"It's forced me to dig deeper into my own emotions and be more emotionally vulnerable," he says.
The experience has shifted the focus of his advocacy to the concerns of older people and those with chronic health issues. Living in a society that associates sex with youthfulness, Wraith says he has internalized some of that. But having a significantly older partner who died opened his eyes.
"We asked my wife's doctor, was it safe for us to have sex while my wife was on chemotherapy," he says. "If I'm going down on my wife without barrier, am I ingesting chemotherapy drugs? We didn't know. And they didn't know because people don't think about sex and cancer."
The couple didn't have many regrets, only decisions they wish they'd made sooner, such as getting married and starting hospice care.
Two years after his wife's death, he says that, with the help of therapy, support groups and meditation, her death is no longer the "debilitating weight" that it was for more than a year.
"You really don't appreciate time until it is fleeting," he says. "That's cliché as fuck, but it's true."