I always get sentimental on this day. When will this fucking nightmare be over?
It was 18 years ago that I first met Michael. I had been volunteering with the Minnesota AIDS Project, mostly doing clerical stuff and helping fascilitate safer sex round table discussions with teens when I was asked if I would ever be interested in helping deliver food to some older gay men who were living with AIDS. I thought about it but frankly, I was afraid. Not just irrationaly afraid of getting the disease (and I was genuinely afraid), but of opening myself up to others who were suffering and alone, a feeling I had moved to the city to escape. Upon hearing others experiences,I finally acquiesced.
By this time, Michael was mostly alone. The friends he had, were all dead or wouldn't visit anymore. I spend 3 days a week visiting with him while dropping off food in little plastic containers. He was my only delivery. ( I didn’t have a car and he lived a couple blocks from me) I stare at his pictures when he occasionally nods off. Someone has made him a photo album that he keeps by his bed. In the pictures he is so handsome, as are most of his friends. His place is immaculate, but I know he probably doesn’t clean it himself, although I never ask him about it. Sometimes I overlap time with the nurses who visit, but never friends.
The first time I saw him I started crying, and this flood of emotion continues for the first month or so of our visits. Not sobbing, just a steady flow of salt water down my cheeks. I blame it on the cold weather or wind.(strangely, cold weather does make my eyes water these days). He rolls his eyes and asks if he looks that bad. I always say, ‘no of course not, you look beautiful’ and he smiles. The truth is that I am terrified and I am sad that I am often scared. He just looks so weak. He has KS spots on his face and the drugs make him seem like he is in a dream like state much of the time. Often times he thinks his dreams are real. I never bother correcting him or trying to keep him lucid in the present, instead I just ask questions about what happened next. It took me about a month to finally be able to touch him. (I keep a pair of latex gloves in my pocket in case he starts bleeding or throws up or goes to the bathroom, but I never pull them out. Isn’t fear so fucking awful? It makes me feel like a monster sometimes). I am surprised by his hands, so hot and dry. I always bring hand cream and I can never use enough, they are that dry. I also bring candy along at his request. He loves NIBS(LOL) and I always feel silly buying them, but it's all he asks for. One day he grabs my hand and holds on to it and just stares at me for a minute and says “I wish I was still handsome for you”. I assure him that he is perfectly handsome but just too old for me. We laugh for 5 minutes. I stop feeling anxious about his disease. Now I just worry about him disappearing and the inevitability of saying goodbye (something I am miserable at). I hover in between the present that frightens me and a future that leaves me gutted. I relive our visits when I get home and I stay up late to finish my homework.
He likes to talk with me about my love life. He wants an escape and so do I, really. (I want to have a love life, but it isn’t any good, so I just make one up). It seems to tap into his energy reserves and he excitedly gives me advice (usually sounding more like a Jackie Collins novel than anything I would actually do). I wish I had written down some of the things he would say. I wish I had a picture or something tangible. Sometimes I can’t even remember what he really looked like, before or after. I just imagine his big blue eyes and the rest never comes into focus. I never tell anyone about Michael. It was too intimate of a friendship to describe without sounding confusing to friends. They were already confused about my sexuality and this might have freaked them out.
After months of visiting Michael, he died in a hospital on the other side of town. I hadn’t seen him in a couple weeks when I got the news. It all happened really fast. His sister had already cleaned out his place the first week he checked in and his apartment was for rent again. I was afraid of the hospital and I was too afraid of saying goodbye. I was just a scared kid, really.
Anyways, I took the long way so could walk by his apartment this morning and I just felt like talking about him. I hate that we haven’t found a cure yet and I hate that he isn’t around anymore. We have lost too many amazing people over the years and I can feel them missing and it really haunts me.
Be good to each other and be safe.