I cried. A lot.
I expected it: That was the plan. Not merely to cry, but to understand. And to measure.
I’ve been spending what occurred to me might be an inordinate amount of mindshare (whatever’s left of it) on my time with Allen. To place it in context, that time together, as a couple, began on 1 May 1993. It ended with his death on 13 July 1995.
In the intervening time I have not been a monk in body, soul or love. I have too much respect for the human spirit—especially my own—to shut it all down forever. Tragedy is a word that is bandied about, overused and now bereft of real meaning, but for those of us for whom real tragedy has befallen, the original gravitas of the word is never forgotten.
There have been other relationships since Allen: Jerry, rob, Sam. All very important to me in different ways, all now ended. Endings are difficult as beginnings, perhaps even moreso because they’re harder to spot. In all my revisiting of my time with Allen of late, I had no intention to minimize these others, much less establish a pecking order or even keep a list (I’m as wary of lists as I am of balance sheets when it comes to people I care about).
Time is continuous, but not always. But it’s the continuity I’m thinking about right now.
I had a chat with the Possum today and it was one that was typical for us, which is to say, atypical in many dimensions and metrics compared to most IM sessions that occur in the world at any given time.
Today it started off with him asking about my mood, my new sense of Hope about my pain and disability, and I finally could honestly answer more than just “the same. y’know.”
I’ve had good days since Thursday morning when the pain specialist discovered what looks promisingly to be the cause for my neck issues and consequent head pain, a thing with an objective medical aspect, a physical concreteness that had up to that point not happened. Hope.
Only it didn’t stop there, riding this newly re-found optimism to exhaustion. A man I’d been in contact with via email, etc., was in town for a friend’s birthday, and had hoped to find some time for us to meet in person. What started out on Saturday as a plan for a couple of hours set aside for lunch turned into an all-afternoon tour of things in and around San Francisco. And that continued to dinner at my favorite restaurant in all the Universe (well, the parts I’ve seen), Caffe Sport, followed by a brief stop at the Tosca Cafe in North Beach.
I loved that a minimal plan turned into an entire day (nearly 10 hours) of enjoying the company of someone new. I loved the ease of the conversation. I loved that the “old me” was back. I loved that the timing of my newfound Hope allowed for such a day. I enjoyed myself immensely and was thrilled to be able to turn what may be just temporary or ultimately unproductive Hope into something real and productive and memorable.
Time is continous, mostly, as I said. Things like tragedy or other events of significance can stop time and accelerate it, sometimes at the same….time. A paradox, for sure, but we live with a lot of those, so I’ll just leave it at that.
Anyhoo, the Possum and I have little need for segues….our chats are often multi-threaded, with topics entering and leaving of their own accord and with appropriate life-spans, with plenty of overlapping. We also talked about Comparative GoB Literature, meaning—he said pompously—that I’d been reading entries of mine from nearly a year ago and in comparison, for the most part, to what I’ve been writing of late, the of-late stuff has been lacking something. I was more effervescent last June, dare I say, wittier with wordplay and, to me, more inventive. Lately it’s been colder, blunter, more guarded. The candor far more brutal.
I’m wasn’t pleased at all with the change, but I accept that my current day to day conditions obviously play a role in my change in demeanor. I was pleased that instead of being circumspect about the damaged and damaging goods in my more recent past out of some notion of a universal respect for basic humanity, I more recently chucked aside what were just rationalizations for being wimpy and effete and, in an odd way, cuckolded, and instead chose the guns a-blazin’, naming names, take no prisoners approach.
We talked about my mood and my meds, too. And if any of the mood stabilizers were the kind that sometimes produced suicidal thoughts. I’m on only the one, wellbutrin, and that’s not a worry—though my dreams are rather vivid and lucid, heavy on detail and irrational plot, but nothing frightening or traumatizing. Somehow, through a chain of other topics, we ended up talking about the general notion that people have (and accept or actively reject) of a “higher power”. I blamed capital-A Atheists for having as much faith and as much misguided proselytizing going on as the Theists do and preferred instead to offer that the Unknowable didn’t deserve the effort.
It could have been that word, Unknowable, which brought Angels in America to mind, but I don’t think so.
There was also talk of the triumvirate J-C god and I made a joke about Multiple Personality Disorder, which led then to a discussion of the notion of a god more like the gods of polytheistic religions of the past. Flawed and entertaining, if also occasionally annoying and menacing. I’m pretty sure it was this—dare I say—humanizing of god that ultimately led me to think about Angels in America. This thought quickly annealed to my worrisome suspicion that there have been so many mentions and recollections of Allen because I might be retreating from a painful present into a painful (but safely painful—and well-known) past as a way to cope.
And it occurred to me that watching Angels in America, with all the talk of the mystery of the pathology of AIDS, the imagery of thrush at the corners of Prior Walter’s mouth, the days before protease inhibitors—hell, the days before AZT!—the Reagan Years where patriotism was a blatant tool of public manipulation and turned political idolatry into a kind of madness which cast a long Victorian shadow over those dying of AIDS.
In other words, the times that Allen was a PWA and “miracle” drugs were too far in the future to be of help to him.
So watch it I did, in the interest of finding out if it was just anomalous that I have been speaking so much about Allen, or whether there was an unhealthy dissociative thing going on with me. I watched all 5+ hours of it. I cried. A lot, as I said.
And what did I cry about? Kindness. I’ll explain that in a second.
Of course I was spooked by some of it—words like candidiasis (thrush), Kaposi’s Sarcoma, toxoplasmosis and especially MAI/MAC (which is what ultimately killed Allen)—but for the most part, it felt historical and yet not. Kushner’s true talent, in my opinion, resides in his ability to retrograde-learn: he goes from the abstract and stuffs his wording full of specifics. I know this is done all the time, the whole idea of film and plays and the like is to tell a specific story and let people generalize (learn) from it and then be able to apply it to themselves in order to understand it (empathy), but Kushner is brazen and fearless and charges ahead with densely-packed dialog and “big words” with such flair that you never see the soapboxes the characters occasionally step onto and off of. This play/teleplay is insidious and I love that about it.
So, Kindness. I cried when Mother Pitt, fresh from Salt Lake and as Mormon and conservative as can be, saves Prior’s life by personally helping him get to the hospital. And where she stays with him simply because he asked her to. And because he asked her to because he allowed himself to be vulnerable enough to admit that she made him feel better, stronger, kept his spine straighter. I cried when Belize took pity on Roy Cohn and gave him some inside information to help extend his life. I cried when Belize insisted on someone performing the Kaddish for him after he died and Belize stole Cohn’s ill-gotten and then-precious AZT. I cried when the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg took pity on Cohn and let him believe she was his mother, only to have Cohn slap her in the face by faking the dementia. I cried when, even after Cohn’s abhorrent act Ethel managed to assist Louis with the words of the Kaddish that he’d never really memorized and helped him get through it.
I was furious to the point of crying when Louis left Prior because he “couldn’t handle” that Prior was getting sick, basically abandoning Prior to be alone in his apparent rapid march toward death.
I did not cry when I saw the thrush on Prior’s lips. Nor did I cry for the night sweats, the fevers and the immediate dread whenever some small malady presented itself.
I did not cry for any of Prior’s symptoms out of a too-comfortable habitation in any past of mine. I cried for the beauty in the humanity of kindness to a stranger. I cried not for the political impotence of the gay community at the time, but I cried for a drag queen’s funeral celebration and for blessings given from one person to another for no other reason than that immediate suffering of another took precedence over theocratic, dogmatic insensitivities.
The only open admission of Allen’s impending death I ever made to anyone—including Allen—was to my mother and even that was a while after Allen died. I told her that there was a song called “Jubilee” by Mary Chapin Carpenter, a song whose words I took special care in memorizing, as if they were a prayer brought back to me from the future, carrying wisdom I would require, y’know, “after”. The words germane to my “test” tonight:
And I can tell by the way you’re standing<br/> With your eyes filling with tears<br/> That it’s habit alone keeps you turning for home<br/> Even though your home is right here<br/> <br/> Where the people who love you are gathered<br/> Under the wise wishing tree<br/> May we all be considered then straight on delivered<br/> Down to the jubilee<br/> <br/> ‘Cause the people who love you are waiting<br/> And they’ll wait just as long as need be<br/> When we look back and say those were halcyon days<br/> We’re talking ‘bout jubilee<br/>
So I can only conclude from what I put myself through tonight that the past is not where I am nor wish to be, but the past remains within me, as it should for everyone. It’s a source of comfort, especially the worst parts of it, because it reminds me that pain is not a single nor simple nor knowable (really) thing, but a vast and ponderous reality that permeates us eternally that occasionally—more often for some than others—rises to the surface to dominate our lives.
We can palliate, anesthetize, visualize or otherwise find escape from our pain, but as we accumulate more past, more experiences, we finally realize we can’t exorcise or eliminate pain.
I speak of Allen not to escape to the past where I could hold fast in that long distance away from my current pain. I speak of Allen not to keep him with me—I have no choice in the matter: he’ll always be with me—but rather to keep reminding myself that there exist far worse pains than I have now, and that “it’s the fear of what comes after the doing that makes the doing hard to do…and you can almost always live with the consequences”.
I did all the doing that needed doing for Allen back then. And the consequences were abidable, if difficult. Today, all these years distant from that part of my past, I’m again doing all the doing I can in order to be well. I’ve lived “past hope” until hope came and though I fear that hope will leave again, I won’t stop the doing even if it does: there is no zion save where you are.
And I’m right here.