the future that was no longer his, he would have had a dog. Something like a mastiff,
with oversized black-padded paws and a baritone bark. Instead we gazed achingly
through pet store windows, autumn and marathons over, chill pervading city streets
more thoroughly than the Christmas lights, our lips smudging glass. We strolled.
Talked swimming and running. Medical truths went unspoken. He told me that, during
Ironman, he had stopped long enough to lay down by the roadside among orange peels
and crushed paper cups and watch a lava-bright sun set over Kona. Stars in the
Pacific appear early, more brightly above ocean islands, in different configurations
than he was accustomed to back east.
could not hold his weight but liked to eat breakfast each day at the same diner,
and so we did: eggs over easy, orange juice, coffee, toast and hash browns. There
was something both comforting and sensual about the way the fork-pierced, yellow-orange
yolk spilled onto crust. Jam came in thumb-sized plastic containers. The waitress
there was kind.
to me of love. I was going through the bitter ending of another absurd and disastrous
affair -- predictable! -- women! -- and I later sobbed selfishly in his small,
sad apartment. He warned against the dangers of isolation. Told me I could stay,
and he would take care of me, would comfort me, for a while. His head seemed enormous
that day, engorged with tumor, eyes swollen almost shut, once-magnificent body
an attached, wasted string. This morning when I woke up, he said, I
felt so frail, so light. As if I could fly. The next day, he did.
told me once he could live very happily in his head, and therefore he wanted to
live as long as possible. It was our human duty to fight illness and death, he
said, by any means possible, even if that meant being sustained by machines. Lying
there on an upper East side sofa, hooked to the oxygen tank, he'd take trips to
Switzerland. Mozambique. Ulan Bator. Hardcover and paperback books lined pastel
walls. The curtains were straight, clean, European. They framed panes and buildings
and a sky that, beyond the smog, seemed endless.
mom was a shriveled little prissy Irish biddy, who didn't know much about queers
and hated whatever she did know, but Reilly was her only child, and a son, the
high-polished apple of her eye. I mean, he was her boy, her boy
-- and by God her boy was dying, and she'd be damned to eternal and literal
hell if she'd let him die alone.
gave him a back rub. Mom rubbed his feet. Reilly cried silently. The tank hissed
rhythmically that day, for hours the only sound in the stale, feverish air of
a dying man's home. Towards evening, he whispered into my ear: Remember the
valleys of Mongolia? Himalayan snows, when we escaped with His Holiness? That
time in Laos -- the Plain of Jars?
were so many others, too many, all gone. This was the fate of my queer generation.
You expect the losses to mount as you grow older -- but for us, the losses were
catastrophic early on, and those of us remaining entered middle age, in many ways,
as hollowed-out survivors. I was not, am not, a political creature. Grief is just
grief, in the end.
one other death I especially recall: This a very young boy-man whose end was merciless,
terrible, unnecessary. The friend of a friend. We all went sledding upstate one
winter, and tearing downhill I broke my thumb on the ice-strewn base of a tree.
Helping me tape it up later, he was quite dainty and solicitous. I gave him a
colorfully embroidered baseball cap, which he loved. He wore it every day in the
hospital. .And then this sweet boy -- who had only been fucked a few times, who
had not been alive long enough to really hurt anyone badly, and who, more often
than not, looked like a pretty little puppy dog panting for love around men --
died screaming, delirious and in terrifying pain. When breathing stopped, his
eyes were open beneath the cap's soiled rim, frozen in an upward gaze, pupils
fixed in horror.
that this particular demise seemed vacant and pointless. The kind that made you
long to ask some deity: Well, bubba, what exactly was that one for?
things happened so long ago, in the first decade of plague. Before miraculous
drug regimes. So most of those boys are gone.
hear echoes of their laughter in my own son's voice, but know that these are just
echoes. His generation is not mine. His has its own struggles, triumphs, losses,
many yet to unfold.
years pass, though, and as the end of life begins to seem oddly closer than life's
beginning, I have often pictured the impossible: My friends, still alive, growing
old like me.
It is nothing
but a wish.
are times when I recognize one of them, the best and most brilliant of my generation,
joking or walking, running, swimming, dancing -- in city pools, bicycle lanes,
at Columbus Circle, on West 14th Street, hailing cabs, among red and black and
green-clad holiday crowds in Chinatown or in Central Park -- passing shadows,
still young and hale. And I race with increasingly middle-aged legs and lungs
to catch up, until a turn of the head, a gesture on the part of the pursued, unveils
the lie: it is not one of them, but some other. I pursue the wraiths of memory
only, spectres of maturity unfulfilled, battles fought and lost. Yet in advancing
age, I know this too: That age itself is defined by a compilation of scars, each
scar a memory. Touch the scar, feel the pain. And whomever you have loved, you
see them everywhere.