"Sail ho, heave ho, come on let go, your time on earth is over.
You have done well. Its time to rest. I’m talking to your soul.
Did you ever think it’d be like this?
Do you ever think we’ll meet again?
How will I ever know it’s you?
Maybe will it be the love that I’ll feel…
when I look into a stranger’s eyes?
when I look into a…stranger’s…eyes…
oh….you’re sailing away
I keep my vigil on this chair
Is this my lover here?
Is this my brother here?
Is this my baby?
Is this me lying here?" from "The Vigil (the sea)" by Jane Siberry
I have been challenged for years to try to express what it has meant to me to have outlived so many wonderful souls close to me who died of AIDS when I, too, am infected with HIV. I have tried to express my feelings in poetry. I have visited classes of young people and explained that if they look to their friends in the chairs that surround them and imagine them gone that they might get a hint of an idea of what it was like. I have attempted to write it out in prose, baring my soul and exposing my vulnerability as a pariah in a blog that few people read. Tonight, I lay in my bed, wakeful, thinking of how it is once again World AIDS Day and how I have neither learned how to convey the significance of these losses nor have I learned to move on from them.
I spent the earlier part of the evening holding onto a beautiful man in post-coital embrace. He and I are relative strangers in reality, but we had quickly developed a connection that is difficult to explain without delving into themes of power, control and release of the weight of the world. As we lay in each others' arms, he said to me that "it is about time that [I] started to live again." I was amazed how quickly he had zeroed in on my core issue. As he left my home for his, and as his scent still wafted through my beard, I went to bed to seek sleep. I knew that I had to get to sleep quickly because I was to join a dear friend in the morning at a World AIDS Day seminar at a local university.
Sleep did not come. I felt compelled to play the disc "When I Was A Boy" by Jane Siberry and as the music played, I wept. At various points in the playing of the disc, I thought of my friends and how they have been reduced to fragments of memories that come back to me like wisps of smoke. Ralph was there to remind me that "love is all there is." Donald pulled me close and wrapped us both in his blanket as we shared his bed in Washington, DC. Serge called me from Brussels to tell me that Daniel had left us and that he would have wanted me to know. François smiled at me in the apartment in the 14th Arrondissement of Paris as I gave him the North Carolina Olympic Festival t-shirt off my back. Thierry told me how he refused to take ddI but that his cat loved to eat the pills from a dish on his coffee table. Dip and Julia and Amy sang so soulfully at Mr. Henry's in Adams Morgan and entertained me in my silent desperation on New Year's Eve as I wondered if it would be my last. Charlie, one of the most beautiful men I have ever seen, hypothetically joked about dropping the soap in a communal shower and hurriedly volunteering to pick it up for the beautiful men under the flow of water. Thomas was the sweetest man I may have ever met and his gentle nature made me long to know his soul. Randy was so quiet that I never did know him well. Chuck just wanted to get on with dying so that he and Gene could be reunited in Heaven. Jim's unkempt beard curled around his oxygen tubes and we once laughed about how you could hear the pumping of his air speed up when he watched porn. Kenny, oh Kenny...my dear friend--he would give you the air from his lungs but grew angry when his death drew near and he pulled away from me into seclusion. Jamie was bitter, bless his heart. Jorge fled Cuba as a Marielito and must have thought this new home offered him a life of promise as his initial happiness turned to dread of being seen in public with Kaposi's Sarcoma lesions on his face. Joel lived next to a loaded lemon tree in a one-bedroom duplex high above the Pacific Ocean in Southern California, where he could sit on his couch and watch the sun dip below the horizon. Johnny was the first person I knew to have a cyber memorial where his online friends logged in and shared stories of his life after he had moved on.
It is painful to reduce these wonderful people to a single thought, but they each crossed my mind as I listened to Jane Siberry's masterful poetry and as I felt the melding of her work with my own emotions. Outside, a powerful storm lashed my home with rain and hail, as if my internal emotional storm had been transformed into an exterior threat à la "Forbidden Planet." Just as the rain ebbed and poured, my weeping waned temporarily only to return in huge sobs with tears that ran laterally down my face into my ears. I waited for the sound of a tornado, fearing that my extreme angst would destroy me and all that I know.
It finally occurred to me that there is no way to convey these losses to anyone. I can try to explain them and have done my best to do so. Some of you will understand portions. Some of you will remember some of these people. None of you will remember them all nor will anyone else remember all of what I remember about them. It reminded me that I could play Jane Siberry's work to a roomful of people and no two of us would get the same emotional tug from the experience that any one of us would. I could just as well ask you to understand the nature of my relationship with the man whose body I held tonight in an effort to forget the transience of our existence in this life. Unless you are one of us, it is unlikely that you will get it and some of you will hold us in judgment for what we took from life just to make it from one day to the next.
Outside the winds continue to whip the trees around and my chimes are like chapel bells, pealing for the rising sun. My nightlong sorrow even amazes me. I hope none of you ever have to feel this kind of pain, but as I have said before, it is in the telling of the story that the healing begins.
"the never idle pressing
the endless versions of the lonely heart
when we love like we love
and we want like we want
and then we cry like a child
never like this
never like this
never like this" from "Sweet Incarnadine" by Jane Siberry.
Categories: World+AIDS+Day reminder HIV/AIDS