He is reclined on the couch with his shirt open, waiting for me. He looks at me, with brown eyes so light, green eyes so pale, they look golden, specular, timeless, depthless, breathless, motionless, endless.
My hand touches his bare chest before I am even on the sofa with him, beside him, only sitting, only smiling, only looking into those eyes, as he looked into my lighter, brighter, clearer, bluer, colder eyes. Mine are steel and azure and gray and white and cerulean, cold and inadequate to the warm caramel umber sienna glow looking back at me. So many volumes of images, words, sounds, deeds, memories, hopes could be communicated back and forth silently, in only a few heartbeats!
“It’s time,” I say with a knowing smile.
“I know,” he replies with a timely sigh.
I pull the side table close, piled with sterile swabs and squares, betadine and alcohol, access needles, tubing, a TPN bag warmed to room temperature, ready. A battery-powered peristaltic pump still quiescent.
I paint concentric circles on his chest with a betadine swab over the access port, a hard ungiving bump of stiff rubber that months prior had been surgically inserted just under his skin beneath the clavicle of over his left pectoral muscle (such as it was, by then). Before the betadine dries, I paint over the same area, with the same concentric circles, this time with denatured ethanol.
It washes the opaque unfocused brown of the betadine away. Mostly.
I wait a few moments for it to dry, not daring to make eye contact with him again. No, that’s not true: unable to make eye contact with him. His head is back, his eyes closed and doubly removed from me by his hand thrown over them. He is concentrating on not concentrating, breathing deeply and regularly, as I taught him to do when preparing to be stuck with a needle, as my own mother taught me as a boy of four years old when the nurse at the hospital was about to inject me.
Good boy, I think, every time he does this. In other words, daily.
The right-angled needle I remove from its sterile packaging. He can hear the plastic-coated paper rustling, tearing, but he does not interrupt his breathing, his stillness, his strong rhythm.
I am swift, and by now he knows I will be swift. The thumb and index finger of my left hand stabilize the access port and with my right hand, I push the needle through his skin, once again. Through the thick hard rubber of the port, once again. The right-angle bend of the needle is flush against his skin. Again.
I tape it down with surgical tape.
I know that his eyes have reopened, as they always did, when he would first feel the first tape against his skin. He is watching me and I dare not look at him. There is work to be done. I tape a gauze 4x4 over the needle. I release the clamps on the tubing. I press the button on the pump to begin the flow of the only nutrition that will still do any good.
I look back to the small pile of swabs and packaging. I grab handfuls of it and I begin to stand, to dispose of the medical detritus.
A hand, his hand, lands on my shoulder before I am able to stand.
I finally look into his eyes and he’s smiling. The flare, the electricity, the spark, the jump, the thing that connects us, hits me as it always hits me: New. I am shocked at the surprise, shocked that I am surprised, and surprised that the shock still occurs.
“I love you,” he says, the eyes still transmitting their heart-soul-fire.
I smile. I squeeze my eyes tightly closed. I stand and reopen them. I hate the redundancy of his words.
Those daily sessions occurred in this time of the year, in 1995. His name was Allen. He died on July 13, 1995. He died at home. He loved me entirely–he was returning the favor. He loved my family, so he told me. My family loved him, so they told me.
So I thought.
Oh, make no mistake. My Mother. My Father. My Brothers. My Younger Brother’s Wife. They speak of him as I speak of him: as family. Cherished and loved and missed.
However just yesterday, I was told something previously hidden from me: my sister-soon-to-be-no-longer-in-law, while Allen and I were here, in Pennsylvania, visiting for Easter—in the same general timeframe as above—poked fun of Allen’s physical appearance. Advanced HIV pathology as the material for a little joke.
My favorite Aunt in the world (truly an “Auntie Mame” of my very own!) was battling pancreatic CA at the time. She passed away about 6 weeks after Allen did. Her bodily diminution was not off limits, either, subject to the same petty, twisted, disturbing giggles and put-downs from my older brother’s soon-to-be-ex-wife.
When I found out about all of this, just 24 hours ago, almost eight years after the two deaths, for the first time I was relieved that each was dead. I am not sure I could bear to know what I now know if both were still around, still able to be injured.
But they’re dead now, and what rage I would have felt, should have felt, I could not feel today. A few sad, lovely tears for myself, having my sensitivities trampled, my memories violated, but that is all.
But I have to ask, is it ever right to call a c___ a c___?