01 December 2009

another year.

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.


  1. My first comment is Glory Be...I have been anxiously awaiting a post as I enjoy you writing so much. Next...well...wow! This is a beautiful post! It made my heartache. It isn't easy being around the dying. The part that makes me cry is when you didn't correct Michael when he would speak from his dream like state - that you just went along with it. Even beyond any fear, your heart was open enough to just let it be. That takes courage. My comment is rambling. Simply, this is heart-achingly beautiful!!!

  2. Jeffrey, that was a beautiful recounting of your friend's story. Thanks you for sharing it with us. Fear is natural, thankfully it gives way to compassion and love, when you get close enough to it to see its' illusion. I'm happy you were there for Michael and that he was there for you. You each needed each other, but for different reasons. You are a courageous man, with an open heart, two qualities that are hard to come by.

  3. Thanks for sharing your friendship with Michael with us. Your initial reactions are quite common and there is no need to feel ashamed of them. What's important is that you were a friend to him when he really needed one.

    I enjoy your beautiful writing.

  4. Jeffrey, This is such a beautiful and honest post. Thank you very much for writing it. You grew from the experience and I think you helped your friend a lot. Someone as nice as you will find love if that's what you are looking for.

  5. What an honest and heart warming entry. I appreciate you sharing that story.

  6. This, my friend, is why I work in the Welfare Department of Social Services, not social work. A few months ago I interviewed for a position in Adult Protective Services (APS), and much to my surprise, I was the number one candidate for the job.

    My heart breaks for people in isolation (physical or mental) and I just couldn't bring myself to visit all that pain and hopelessness on a constant basis. I still feel like it was a cowardly decision to decline the position.

    You have such a large heart Jeff. Fear of the unknown is natural and human; bravery is taking action despite your fears. Some call that foolhardy. I don't. I call it beyond courageous, beyond compassionate. And protecting yourself from potential harm, well, how can you help others if you risk yourself for a single sentiment? If you were dying of a deadly, infectious disease, would you begrudge your supporters adequate protection from harm?

    What measures do you take to protect yourself from the H1N1 virus? Or (damn forgot the name) the mosquito disease that starts with horses (not malaria)?

    The tangible things you took from knowing this man are the feelings and impressions of a life lived. You experienced growth. Young as you are, you still appreciate the gift of knowledge, experience. That much is evident in this writing.

    Thank you for sharing this experience. It is very thought provoking.


  7. I love your raw and passionate honesty. What a blog you have here!