I’ve headed north for a weekend retreat called “Honoring Our Experience.” It’s going to be three days with many others who survived the early days of the AIDS epidemic, men and women, HIV positive and negative, long term survivors and those who’ve recently seroconverted. I’m looking forward to circling with others who’ve survived great hardship and continue to do so. I’m hoping some of the awfulness I feel about Trump will be lessened, at least while I’m there. It feels like a spiritual crisis, this holding of so much contempt and anger for him and all that he represents. I’m remembering a man I worked with long ago who’d been a gang member in Southern California. “People who are afraid of hell become religious,” he said. “But people who have been through hell become spiritual.”
(banner being hung . . . photo by Ed)
Preparing the retreat center for those who are coming with the response that might be the most helpful of all.
We gather in circles to acknowledge our grief, witness our resilience, to sing and to breathe and to dance. Circles within circles within circles; they are stronger than any wall.
(mountain pass . . . photo by Ed)
I drive home from the retreat center through a mountain pass already gray with shadows. I’ve been off the grid for 4 days and wonder what awfulness Trump has been up to. I decide to focus instead on the thank yous and good byes I’ve just shared with dozens of people; their stories of survival and perseverance accompany me through the spare winter light. As I head home, I can see that the rivers are flowing and filling the reservoirs for the dry months that are coming.
(photo of comb . . . by Ed)
Reentering the world after being away is a sobering act. The tales of those at the retreat who found their way back from AIDS had a common theme: there’s always something you can do, no matter how terrible the moment.
I remember a patient from the AIDS ward who was always angry and sarcastic. “I’m Joseph, not Joe, and I don’t need a hug,” he would say. “I’m from New York.” His mother was contacted and she arrived soon after. She stayed in a fine hotel and came to the hospital every day, standing by her son’s bed, perfectly dressed with a hat and gloves and matching bag. They didn’t really talk to each other as he grew weaker, his KS lesions darkening on his face and arms. She’d stand outside his room in the hall and whisper, “I don’t know what to do.” The staff would make suggestions but nothing seemed to help.
The day he died I stood on one side of the bed and she the other. “What will happen now?” she asked. I told her his body would be taken downstairs. She winced and asked if I could go down with him; I said I would. She began to cry and then opened her purse, took out a comb and moved it slowly, lovingly through his hair, over and over.
After she left, the man from the morgue came up to the unit. His hair was in a long ponytail and he wore sunglasses; I smelled marijuana. I helped him move the corpse onto a special gurney, one that allowed Joseph to be lowered into a secret compartment underneath. This way the body could be transferred through the hospital’s hallways without notice.
When I returned to Joseph’s room, I saw the comb his mother had left behind. I put it in my pocket and from then on, whenever I was with a body, awaiting removal to the morgue, I would comb the patient’s hair and send them on their way with a perfect part.
(wedding photo by Mr. Light)
Kirk and I got married 3 years ago today. We aren’t fans of the institution of marriage and all that it stands for but we also know how hard people fought for our right to reluctantly walk down the aisle.
We did it very quickly, without a lot of fanfare; we didn’t tell anyone. The county clerk who signed our certificate was Mr. Light and when he handed us the brown envelope he asked, “Do you want me to marry you?” We looked at each other; “I guess so.”
He led us to a room with a beautiful view of the city painted on the wall and right before we said, “I do” Kirk snatched a nearby sticky white plastic tablecloth to make the moment more festive. We love each other, and other people too.
But there’s someone else I’m married to these days as well. I’ve known him for less than a year; it all happened so quickly my head still spins and leaves me slightly nauseous. He dyes his hair (which I can overlook) and often looks orange, but he’s a boor and a bully and he stands for everything I detest.
I hate him so much that he’s always on my mind. He’s there beside me when I go to sleep, sits up half the night tweeting on his cell phone, and is right there when I wake up. I’m married to him through my hatred of him and I really, really want a divorce.