Monday, February 28, 2005

Daffodils

"I'm afraid that my penance for some forgotten or unknown event continues. Life has been a bit unpleasant lately. In fact, there have been a few days where I can truthfully state that were it not for a good deal of cowardice and the fact that five dogs would starve to death, I think I would have put the car in 'Park' in someone's garage and gone nowhere fast.

About a month ago, my partner went to the doctor for a routine physical. In the course of the turning of heads and coughing and the like, the doctor discovered a lump in his prostate gland. Options were few and surgery was the definite pick of the urologist. Two weeks ago, my partner underwent a radical prostatectomy. He then spent a week in the hospital and has just completed his first week at home.

Last week, I played the role of vacationing data manager who went to Club Dread. The social calendar demanded all of my skills from cook to maid to chauffeur to nurse. As for the latter, I am not a good patient, much less a good nurse. I tend toward the mannerisms of Nurse Ratchett or Nurse Diesel, rather than Florence Nightingale. I am afraid that the situation was as unpleasant for my partner as it was for me.

Meanwhile, Dad completed his treatments for lung cancer and has begun to do things like sell off his land and divide the profits between his children. It seems to me that he might be a pessimist and that I got my pessimism "honest". Either way, he isn’t doing well and I can’t imagine that he will last much longer.

I'm still trying to figure out how I can work at home and afford to live here. My company is going through some rather radical changes and the unsettled environment is uncomfortable. I have considered a change in career, but none of the things that seem like fun pay enough to support my lifestyle. Perhaps the fallacy in this is that it is worthwhile supporting my lifestyle. Maybe it would be better to sell the property and become a homeless nomad. But you know, it rains out there. And, it gets cold. And in this country, doctors only love a hypochondriac when he or she has money. There is also that none-so-small issue of corporate benefits that buy my medicine. I can’t very well walk away from that, can I? When I compare myself to many, I certainly find people who are worse off than I am. What a sad situation!"

Written 10 May 1994


When I think back on my worst year to date, I have to say that 1994 started off with a bang. By the time I had written the passage you just read, I had gone on a business trip to London on January 21, for three weeks, on the day that my best friend died. No one called to tell me because I had lost a previous best friend while on a business trip to London and everyone thought the news would be too devastating to me. For three weeks, I was busy at work. When I returned home at the beginning of February, I had been in the house for about half an hour when I asked my partner if he had heard from Kenny. I knew from the delay in his answer that Kenny was dead. It wasn’t even necessary to ask further or to be told. I just started crying. Afterwards, I learned that Kenny had collapsed the morning of my departure and had died before I even boarded my flight. Fortunately, he was surrounded with good friends when he died.

Kenny once told me a story that he had heard. I no longer remember the source of the story, but I believe it came from a poem. As we were both compatriots of death, facing AIDS in our own ways, Kenny had repeated this story to me to encourage me to keep living. He said that someone had written that their doctor had told them in the Fall that they were on the verge of death. That afternoon, they went out and bought bulbs to plant in their yard so that they would be remembered after their departure. In the story, the person states, "Today, it is a beautiful spring day and my daffodils are blooming. Tomorrow, I am planting more bulbs."

As had been the custom at the time, my gay and lesbian friends held our own memorials for our dead. Often, because of families, politics and religion, we didn’t feel exactly welcome or comfortable in the local churches where our friends were mourned traditionally by their families. Those who were able did attend the traditional funerals, but the true "sending off" was accomplished by us, the close friends, in our homes or in the homes of the dear departed friends. Here, our stories were real. We knew when a marriage was a marriage of convenience, and we didn’t have to hide our snickers when a minister who had no knowledge of the truth of our friend’s life referred to his lesbian wife as "the widow". We told the true stories, the ones that had become legendary among us about our friends. I can imagine the drudgery of the traditional minister who had to try to write a eulogy for someone that he didn’t know.

Following in our southern traditions, we would gather and have a pot-luck. Each of us would bring a dish or two to be shared among those in attendance. I had built a reputation for making pound cakes by this time, and was expected to bring one to any party or funeral. I had written a poem about Kenny and how he told stories that left us all laughing in hysteria. Donald had written a poem as well. At a certain time, about 20 of us gathered on Kenny’s lawn and formed a circle where we held a memorial service of our own. Donald read his poem in the early spring sunshine, tears streaming down his face, his voice breaking at times as he tried to finish his heartfelt honoring of a longtime friend.

Next, I was to read my poem. I knew it would be impossible for me to do so. I still have too much stage fright to read in front of others and I was also far too emotional to do the job right at that time. I had hoped that someone would do it for me, but no one would step up. At the last second, as I was about to read the poem myself, my partner said "Give me that!" and very confidently stepped up to read the poem. Within seconds, he was blubbering so much that no one could understand a word he said and I was just looking at him like I could have killed him.

After we had held our memorial for Kenny, life continued to get worse for me. I found my job unbearable. I found my partner unbearable. My dad died late in July. I visited Dad a few times before he died, but not as often as I should have. I was fighting my own battle with death and trying to work as if nothing was going on. I had not told Dad that I, too, was terminally ill, and so I looked at him as he faced his death with a knowing sadness. I remembered Kenny’s story, and I bought a tree and some bulbs. I told my Dad the story of the person who planted bulbs and lived to watch them bloom. He started to cry and we hugged one another. Later, we planted the tree together with my mom and I planted the bulbs for him as he was too weak to do so himself. A couple of months later, he died. The tree died. The bulbs never sprouted.

My cd4 count started to drop and I realized that I was starting the steady decline to death myself. I left work one September afternoon for a visit to my therapist and never ended up going back to work. During the course of my session, I told him that I was at the threshold of being far too overwhelmed. He asked me if I had ever considered going on disability. I told him I had thought about it, but had not pursued the issue. He asked me why I didn’t ask, at the very least.

I went home from the session rather than returning to work. When I got home, I called the health center at work and told them that I had just spoken with my therapist about going out on disability and the response stunned me. The nurse asked me "And when is your first day on disability?" Without hesitation, I said "Tomorrow". I had to go through several procedures afterwards to have my status as a dying man confirmed, but soon received my disability award and a letter telling me that I had been placed in the "terminal" category by the US Government.

It will soon be eleven years that I have survived since that time when I was sure I was dying. I still know that death is hiding around a corner for me, but it seems to move down the block to the next corner as I continue to walk down the street of life. I have suffered a tremendous bout of Lazurus Syndrome and I lost my self-identity for years. Now, I am beginning to find my voice again and to put into words the events of my life. I am happy to be alive and to see the sprouting daffodils at least one more time in the late February rain.

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3 Comments:

Blogger amy said...

i'll never look at daffodils the same way again.

thank you.

2/28/2005 07:32:00 PM  
Blogger Ron Hudson said...

I hope that they are a signal of joy for you!

2/28/2005 11:23:00 PM  
Anonymous suzie swain said...

:) :) :) I am glad you are alive two.

3/26/2005 12:00:00 AM  

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