I googled an old friend of mine tonight. We met at a camp for kids with HIV when I was sixteen. He was thirty-two, but wildly immature; we had a lot of fun.
We discovered we lived on the same street, in Schellville, which was a decent stretch from the lake in Santa Rosa where camp was held, so we started car pooling. After the end of camp we just kind of kept hanging out. He considered himself my dashing gay uncle, buying me Curve, taking me to see Sandra Bernhardt and sneaking me into a boring-ass fern bar after.
For me he was a lifeline. Proof that queer people could grow up and survive. Also, he bought my coffee a lot on Mocha Mondays, when mochas were a buck apiece at a local coffee shop. We’d sit in front of Johnny Java’s (sic; it was, I think, properly Johnny’s Java), nursing our mochas for hours while his little Jack Russell (West Hollywood socialized) made friends with passers by.
When I got into college, I told him first. He advised me to take Autobiography for my freshman seminar “Because you’re gonna have to write it eventually.” He always knew I’d publish books someday. I don’t think he made it past thirty pages of one of my books, but I remember him holding a handful of pages up and saying, “If I could write like this, I’d write books.”
We lost touch when I left for school. He somewhat disowned me for sleeping with dudes as well as women, so we only talked once or twice after that. I missed him. But I can’t be that queer, the one who fits in the box, no matter how desperately I always wanted to be.
I’m working on this story. There’s a lot of wrenching backstory to it that isn’t mine to share, but in a weird sort of synchronicity it happens to feature a main character I named after this friend of mine.
It’s a tough story. I’ve been working on it awhile now, because I can’t do big chunks. It hurts too much. Still, it’s getting toward the end, so I thought I’d see if I could dig up an email address for my friend, fill him in. He’d love the books I write, even the ones with women. He’d love that I was part of this world where I could tell the stories I tell.
I googled. I’ve done it in the past and not found him. Tonight I found an old LA Times article from 1991 about a condom shop, in which my friend is quoted saying, “Wouldn’t you be embarrassed to buy anything other than large?” He was twenty-five at the time and the word the reporter used was mused. And god, I can hear his fucking voice. I know exactly the tone he used. Mused, yeah, like he was entertaining himself, but he hoped you got the joke, too.
And then I hit the thing I’ve been dreading all these years. I hit his name: (1963-2008). We haven’t talked since 2001, maybe 2002, but I can’t stop crying. And it was so dumb. I should have pushed back, told him that I didn’t hold sleeping with men against him and it was tacky as fuck for him to hold it against me. I should have sent dog toys for Gus, because Gus was the greatest Jack Russel Terrier in the history of Jack Russel Terriers.
I should have harangued him into staying in touch, instead of feeling ashamed I wasn’t a good enough queer, I wasn’t a gold star lesbian, I didn’t live up to his expectations. God. He would have loved the idea of me as an author so much. He would have laughed and laughed.
In real life, my friend died of AIDS. In the story, the character I named for him has some pretty serious survivor guilt because he didn’t die of AIDS. The spine of this story is about all the people who didn’t live long enough to marry, who never saw a day when they could stand beside the person they’d do anything for and exchange vows. And, more specifically, how to let them go.
I had no idea I was writing this story for myself until fifteen minutes ago.
I just cannot stop crying.
Featured image is TAY – The Brighton and Hove Aids Memorial by Romany Mark Bruce 2009, used with my gratitude under Creative Commons License 2.0.