Poetry & Hums

Happy Birthday, Yog. Allen Howland would have been 56 years old today.

“’But it isn’t easy,’ said Pooh. ‘Because Poetry and Hums aren’t things which you get, they’re things which get you. And all you can do is to go where they can find you.”

― A.A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner

“Promise you won’t forget me, ever. Not even when I’m a hundred.”

― A.A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner

Here Comes A Regular

Last night I wrote this on Facebook:

In about two hours it will have been 18 years since Allen Howland died.

This anniversary I mark each year and each year it affects me to varying degrees. 

This year was new: this year I wanted him back. I mean right here, right now, sitting right next to me because I needed him and I miss him.

The episode only lasted moments and passed, but it felt like a much longer time. It felt like 18 years

I wasn’t lying or even exaggerating. It was a first: I’d never veered even close to wishing I could have him back. What I didn’t say there was that I’d said so.  As in used my voice to express a want. As in aloud. I was alone when I said it, and I said it to no one in particular. Not to Allen. Not to the Universe. I merely said the words.

Also sprach „dein Gott von Gebäck”.

And in hearing it, I noted a kind of sickly sweet ardor, a quality which I found not revolting but rather somewhat companionable. And that was what I found revolting.

Yesterday was a horrible day. I’m not making excuses for what brought me to such maudlin, mawkish words—spoken-aloud-words—but rather pointing out it was the words that effectuated the horribleness of the day.

This is also no grand apologia to myself or to the Universe for deed or thought: you would be surprised, delightedly or appallingly, at how much and how often in agreement id and superego are with me. That is to say, my wants and my shoulds rarely find themselves out of alignment.

If yesterday was horrible, today is worse. And better. Worse because I’m further away from an immediacy I wasn’t quite done with (damn that companionability) and better because well, the past is a cemetery, not meant for the living.

Yesterday I was so close to eighteen years ago—the sense-memories of it all. It was all exactly, perfectly first-person. I wasn’t remembering, I was inhabiting. And I know the pathology of the third-person to first-person point-of-view switch and Ronald was nice enough not to lay that trip on me just yet (and who knew that a Vespa accident, a collapsed lung, three broken ribs and eight days in hospital could be a learning experience that would serve me thus?) and today I’m smarting a little and a lot from being left that much more a man apart.

Caught a glance in your eyes 
And fell through the skies 
Glance in your eyes 
And fell through the skies 

I’m walking down the freezing street 
Scarf goes out behind 
You said, “Get them away” 
Please don’t say a word 

Get me out of here 
Get me out of here 
I hate it here 
Get me out of here 
       — “Nighttime” by Big Star

17 Elevens

Verbs win over nouns every time. Objects and events stand still as time travels over them, plows them under, leaves them behind, distorts and Dopplers whatever light they still cast.

There are no Gödelian absolutes, but time transcends space whenever it wants—often when we don’t want it to.

I didn’t want it to for the longest—yes, Time. My back to tomorrow and the light from yesterday still hitting my eyeballs, spectrumming towards red, both hotter and dimmer at the same time, then more vivid and bluer and cooler.

And seventeen years later, the Elevenses can be just an orange bottle or forever or today, an anniversary that is fully circumscribed by solemnity.

Time made it that. I made it that: you can only go so long with your back to the future before relentless time wins. Fear sometimes crawls over your front if you wait too long.

And so it goes Today, seventeen years ago.

To my Allen,

…and so it goes, and so it goes…and you’re the only one who knows…


“Fun” & Loathing

15-July-2011 00:05~00:55. Fifteen days prior was 18, so this must be 16, as it follows every year, as it has since 18 was two and 16 was the Elevens and the clock struck midnight, then 12:05, and then I finally fell unconscious, dozed off after several hours—was it really almost 6 hours, or has remembering rewritten that into a much larger number?—6 hours hitting the button every 15 minutes on the home pump to deliver that extra bolus of morphine.

Schedule 3 Narcotics are a Very Important Thing in the eyes of the law, puritanical tight asses that who want us to Just Say No to anything that might bring pleasure or even relief (which really, is just an edge-case form of pleasure, if you consider it when measured against Hell Fire), unless you get off on violence. Violence is great. Violence is purifying. Ask the Crusades. Just don’t ask any non-Christians. Their violence might as well be pleasure.

Or a Schedule 3 Narcotic.

Because way back, all the way back in 1995, there existed the technology to codify and thus enforce the prescriptions of an MD into the electronics of the home pump mechanism itself: it was Allen’s home pump carrying morphine to the already-non-responsive corpus that had used to be the seat and center of the soul of the man I’d loved, but he was no longer in it, and by a day at least: that would be 24 hours on the devices which measured such things dutifully even after I had already long since lost the knack for quotidian anythings.

Death makes everything mundane, and It makes nothing else unimportant. It makes everything besides the upcoming End quaint, and does nothing but lay bare Its Own Essence: that Death Itself deserves no capitalization after all for its own event, because death is nothing.

And by that I do not mean to walk you down a primrose path only to push you off a cliff where the path abruptly ends: the Void.

Unlike so many self important (and yet shockingly simultaneously self loathing) men I have known, I am never cruel.

I have let others see my frustration in the repeated aloneness I feel when I invite potential mates up to the curtain of mystery/knowledge/intimacy/thing-requiring-attention-span-longer-than-required-for-what-passes-for-“fun”, but that’s my trip, not a full spread of transitive verbs intended for the ones who disappointed me.

This is not to say that there aren’t those who come gunning for me, the ones who may find this very marking of the 16 year interval between now and the death of Allen Howland to be morbid or obsessive or any of those words that people bandy about when they’re actually out of their depth so they just throw sheets of meaning down over a concept and hope they get full coverage and prevent daylight from getting through. No-daylight is tantamount to Rightness.

Yeah, right.

Fun is a good thing, but only when it spoils nothing better.
—The Sense of Beauty, MIT Press, 1988, p. 155

All this is also not to say that those who have heard this quote from Santayana (and apologies to the memory of the man for the long shadow that bumper sticker aphorism has cast over his far more nuanced, involved works) and scoff at it don’t stop at the scoffing, but expend energy in order to justify “fun” as the storied Better Thing. And then go ahead and resent me for tacitly having required that expenditure.

This is how voluntary ghettoes are formed and maintained: Shut out dissent first, then watch as your ability to cope with conflict atrophies considerably—and swiftly. But then you then have to also shut out heterogeneity of thought and opinion, not because they cause conflict (they don’t), but rather because heterogeneity/variety is a potential, indirect source of conflict.

Eventually you have to pare vocabulary, too, because words require judgment even in speaking them, and having already judged, you put something out there subject to interpretation of meaning, because words are blunt, barely-aimable objects after all. So in paring vocabulary, but still needing to communicate, you go for proto-linguistic vocalizations and dress them up as “fun” or “identifying traits”.

A “woof” here, and a “grrr” there and you’re off to the races, meeting someone new, taking him home or back to your tent, “funning” the “fun” out out of him. Or letting him “fun” the living “fun” out of you. Consequence-, meaning- and chance-of-conflict- free.

Chock full of “fun” and absolutely no opportunity for a shot at anything better.

And so, while deaths themselves truly are nothing, their effects on those who remain to mourn and to remember and to continue are truly profound, and what people forget is that those ripples caused by a given event are not restricted to surface phenomena: the waves radiate in all directions, and travel to depths unseen even more swiftly than they disrupt calm surfaces in that beautiful concentric imagery we all know so well.

Here I am 16 years later, and of course it’s not to say that there haven’t been my own something-wonderfuls. And it’s not to say, again, of course that there haven’t been horrors in my life as well. But the horrors were nearly all a result of the wonderfuls having been suborned by “fun” at the near total expense of all of the Somethings Better that we had going on.

And in the worst times, unsurprisingly, there were plenty of people gunning for me, plenty of less-than-people avoiding conflicts by explaining things away, paring vocabularies, reducing conflict by avoiding conflict by avoiding confrontation by avoiding truths by avoiding conversation by avoiding one of us, all on the descent vector towards woofs and grrs, and all along the way, “fun” was on the ascent towards the top of the priorities list.

For everyone else.

As for my priorities, in health and then in sickness, priorities remained intact: love, intimacy, care, sharing, fun, respect. All in proper order, all withstood it all.

Before and, even for a short while after, the non-event of his death 16 years ago today.

When It’s a Curse

I sat there in their dining room up at the top of the world.

It’s funny, you know? Now they live at the top of the world and twenty years ago they lived at the center of the universe: I’m just realizing this. I’m also dithering, playing at a dilly-dally shilly-shally.

Never be near me when I fuck with words. A mood most foul is afoot.

Fifteen years ago this was a Wednesday and he was just over my right shoulder from where I’m sitting right now and the home pump was near his feet on my side of the bed and the lighting was different and there was no desk here and Jesus Christ on a fucking cracker could I be any more maudlin and mawkish.

I am not irresolute about the past: it’s not his death I’m reliving, not less than two hours from now fifteen years ago that he’s about to die all over again, that the dull rusty saw of his muscle-toneless respiring will have ended when sleep finally came down for me for just a little while after days of nearly none. It’s not the every fifteen minutes of hitting the button on the home pump to drive another bolus of morphine into what was left of him to send him to his fate: his fate had been sealed sometime in the prior 36 hours or so.

It’s not about fifteen years ago.

It’s merely a play of thoughts, a trick of the light, a “Twinge in [The] Heart Far More Powerful Than Memory Alone”. It’s the mind serving up imagery from its own past as a coping mechanism for the present.

There’s fear here, you see. Fear in the now. Fear and shadow, and the re-minding of events is the way the brain shines a warm light on the heart, a returning of the favor for all those times when the heart was just doing its job.

That long-ago death of my long-ago love is an ache that’s deeper than hell itself. I can throw a million words down its maw and never fill it up. Notice that hasn’t stopped me from trying all these years.

But this re-minding of the events informs the tenderer parts that aches are things you can live with, even when you can’t measure them!

It makes no sense whatsoever, which is the thing you cannot bear, the thing you cannot live with. Senseless thing, death. Senseless things I’m saying: Living with something immeasurably awful!

Of course you can’t live with it and you’re inconsolable and forever has collapsed into your next breath and you don’t even care if you take another one because it’s so heavy, the air, so heavy. But somehow you do, and you resent the hell out of your own body for betraying your wishes because you’re still here and that’s a perfect impossibility if he’s not. Or she’s not. Or they’re not. Or he might not be. Or they might not be.

But yes, you do—I have—learned to live with the ache, have escaped the inescapable despair cleanly while gaining purchase and distance from it.

It comes back to me now because of a date on a calendar and the very recent death of a friend and other things so profound that the subconscious bids up what it will in order to frame the gravity and import and keep me grounded in the Now.

And there’s the beautiful irony of living with the Immeasurably Ache: there may be no way to plumb its depths, but you gauge your own distance from it in whatever terms or units are the most valuable to you at any given moment.

Am I fifteen years from it? Three heartbreaks? 100,000 gray hairs? Ten orders of magnitude in wisdom? Double in my appreciation of his sense of humor such as it was? Less abiding of fuckheads who take anonymous potshots at me? More open to new love?

There is no right answer, there are manifold. Wrong answers are only waypoints before arriving at a right answer if you know how to work them.

I miss you, Yog. I always will. I remember everything. Every last fucking thing. But there’s room for plenty more memories in this giant round Charlie Brown head of mine. That’s the magnificence of being alive.

Where’d that Curse go? Even Curses don’t like my mood when I get like this.

Happy Birthday, Yog

Time is never constant, as this past year will attest.

It seems like only a very short time ago that I was remembering Allen’s birthday and here I am again doing the same. He would have been 52 today. “Six years older than dirt” I called him one year, to which he replied absolutely without hesitation: “Hello, dirt!”

I’ll be 46 in less than three months.

Last year a fractional second of a glimpse of a tilted sidewalk in Charlotte Amalie on a travel show on television sent me reeling, bouncing off of long ago memories like so many walls in a mental maze I was just coming out of.

This year I soar above the confusion with a firm grasp on the whip of the kite and the maze is just a garden of hedges down below and the horizon is Over There and Over There and Over There and from here there is no behind me except to take this little bit of time to remember my Yog, my Allen.

The world is not how he left it. Some things are better and some are far worse. My world became less when he left it but I, merely in continuing on, have added so much, aiming for resplendence even as ugly, profligate smallness and intransigent immaturity found its way in from the outside threatening ruin.

But Jubilee is only for those who aren’t dragged down by the past, but it’s not for those who ignore or avoid it either.

We are who we were and who we are and grow to include who we’ll be and it’s that splendor that defies physics and makes us bigger on the inside than on the outside and allows us to accommodate the joyful sorrows of the past, put to rest the ignoble brutalities which victimized us and tried to steal our souls and keep us open to…well, exactly!

Birthdays bring gifts, but Allen was always a gift to me, even on his own birthday.

Even now.

The Case of the Flash-Aphasia

There’s always something more you can do. That’s what I’ve always told myself. I’m not being glib here. I always have. Always. That indefatigable sense of, well, I’m just not sure. Lay persons would call it optimism. Pessimists have called it idealism. For me, it’s been more of a mathematics issue: gamblers would paraphrase me with “you’ve got to play to win”. In other words, where there’s life there is, if not hope, at least opportunity.

If you’re waiting for an “until now”, your wait is over. This time, at least, I’m predictable.

Until two days ago, by far the nastiest test of my stubborn bright side was when Allen was very close to death. So close, in fact, that his body (he wasn’t there anymore) lacked the muscle tone to keep his vocal cords out of the path of his labored breaths. Go ahead, try it yourself: take a deep breath and sigh. A long sigh. But let your voice come through that breath. Awful, isn’t it? A hollow sound, plangent and plaintive and nothing more. As if Unstoppable Time is extracting life from you with a painful billow.

Still, when Isabelle coached me that day she told me, “There are details you don’t have to pay attention to anymore, Jeff. This isn’t going to end but the one way.” And still there was some stubborn, almost autocratic, bit of me that twitched with involuntary disagreement. It’s not that I didn’t know it would end that way, it’s just that the absoluteness of her words kept ricocheting around inside my giant head and standing my ground was the first attempt to make it stop.

The beginning of the end was only a month or so prior to his death, when I came home one day and he was speaking to me but not using the right words. He’d grabbed a pen and a notepad and wrote down what he was trying to say, but his assumption that it was only his speech that was damaged turned out to be wrong. There were words on the pad, but nothing any more sensical than his speech.

Approximately fifteen hours ago minus thirteen years, Allen’s body was making that exact sound. Approximately fourteen hours ago (again, minus the thirteen years), the sound had stopped. Silence had won and I despised it even while respecting its sway over our bedroom. I spoke softly and kissed him on his cold lips, saying, “Goodbye, Yog.” No tears, certainly no wailing. I was nothing but the Utilitarian Stoic: there were things to be done, coroner to call, family to call, my voice aimed at anyone who had the ability to hear me.

But this is not about Allen, it’s about me. That’s a new thing. As you might have read, I had a slightly-more-than-a-moment first-hand experience with aphasia myself.

And my previously indomitable “where there’s life there’s opportunity” obduracy has finally met its match. Oh, it’s “probably nothing”, my little aphasic episode. The doctors at Davies’ ER said so. “Atypical migraine” they called it. Two CT scans, one with and one without contrast dye, showed all-clear, but fear is winning. Fear is the mind-killer, it’s been written, but my fear is about the potential mind-loss. The philosophical cart ahead of the paralogical horse is not a practical configuration.

The fear is so front-and-center that I’m not sure about my LA trip anymore. A strange city where I know no doctors, no hospitals. A trip that I’ve so much been looking forward to—especially in getting to meet Adam—that I haven’t been able to much think beyond July 18. And yet still, right now, I can’t imagine myself doing anything but bringing people down, much less having any fun myself.

Anyway, all of this put another way? After Allen’s death thirteen years ago today I reminded myself with authentic confidence that “I’m still here”. It was a restorative that never failed me. Now I cannot even muster those words without also adding “but for how long?”

I miss him, y’know? But right now I’m worried that I’ll miss me more.

Then Is Now, But Now’s Not Then

I wish our social traditions included using the same word to mean hello and goodbye. There’s something more…local…about it. Without a separate greeting and parting, meeting and conversation has no grand entrance or big-number exit. It’s just acknowledgement of start and stop.

And then when two people meet, there is no finality to it.

And when two people meet, its beginning is a mirror of its ending.

And then when two people say goodbye, its ending is a mirror of its beginning.

I have been spending the past two weeks a bit out of sorts, sorting through my reactions to the film Ciao. For the amount of time spent in my own head and especially my own heart, I sit here in wonder that I have not written a speck about the film since before I saw it. Impossible.

Then again, reality has distorted itself somewhat. Brains are really good at bending objectivity into a subjective reality that makes perfect sense at the time. And sometimes, subjectivity descends upon and envelops you. In the dark. With gorgeous colors and even more gorgeous people. Such subjectivity is always welcomed in, has to be welcomed in. Like vampires. But vampires don’t give you anything back. The right actors, direction, writing: those are the agents of change. External forces which interlope never get in to where all the good stuff is: too many defenses snap into place.

It’s a choice to see a film: $10 or no? It’s a choice to sit through it: you can leave any time. It’s not entirely your choice to let it in, but let’s face it: you paid for the ticket (or at least accepted it—hi, Yen! :) and you sat your ass in the seat and you let it happen.

You say “Ciao” to the experience as the room goes dark. You say “Ciao” to the film as the credits are done rolling. The film says “Ciao” to heart and head and memory and viscera. No one contravenes that kind of communication. No one can.

Now, I have written any number of times about Allen Howland, the man who was my partner. He left us all too soon. He was six years older than I when he died. He died at the young, young age of 37. Actually, 37 and a half (I wouldn’t omit a single second of his life). He will have been dead 13 years in six days.

The accompaniment of personal memories to the film is undeniable, but that doesn’t explain it all. It wasn’t ever the harmony I was trying to get at—conversations among people who all agree are insufferably smug and self-righteous—it was the discordance I heard as the film rumbled through all of my memories, shaking them a bit and lighting them from strange angles as they passed.

My memories of the time with Allen, including my caring for him the entire time (he didn’t want to die in a hospital, he wanted to be home with me), are intact. In fact, they’ve all gotten together and locked themselves into a latticework in the shape of a fancy. Of all things!

Even though that fancy has an excellent view—the Long view—it has only one seat. A seat reserved only for me: from there I could see the outside. From there I had easy access to any given memory. From there, I started to believe only I could create such a thing. From there, I could establish labored analogies that get in the way…

Thing is, intellectually I knew there were other men and women who went through what I did: the loss of a partner. The loss of most of your own workaday, liveaday life: things change drastically. Fast change itself is a huge change after the slow-but-occasionally-punctuated change for the worse. Imagine how much of a change the asymtote that is Death is.

The memories are all mine, jumbled together so that no one single memory can dominate any other memory, any other me.

This is all head-work, though, a trap that I still fall into with alarming alacrity. Old habits die hard. My life with Allen was not a problem to be solved. There was only the experience, valor on his part, dread on mine. I worked hard at….well, at everything.

And I think this is the point where working out my reactions and the changes within me precipitated by viewing Ciao itself were exactly representative of the ultimate solution: I led with brute force thinking instead of open, vulnerable, honest, candid feeling.

Ciao opened my eyes to the amount of thinking I’d done in the past. And how much I refused my own feelings in mapping out a life After.

Please note that my feelings towards Allen were never in doubt, never neglected. Each and every day he declined a little and my love for him grew to fill the space of his withdrawal. It’s that in making the whole experience just mine and mine alone, the responsibilities when he was alive became a burden on myself to remember it all for fear that no one else would understand exactly and that it was important enough to not let it disappear entirely.

I realize now that what Ciao showed me is that while Allen was unique and our relationship was as well, my feelings, joy, despair, contentedness, worry, devotion, resentment, all were things that were accessible to other people. Who hasn’t felt those things once upon a time, individually or even altogether at once? Who could empathize with me if they didn’t have access to their own experiences and feelings? I rejected every attempt at sympathy: I have no use for that because it inevitably becomes yet another burden. You have to be grateful, after all.

In removing the thinking out of it all, I don’t merely remember the past, I can inhabit it at will. In inhabiting the past, in seeing it all in first-person instead of third, I understand that there are plenty of friends and loved ones who empathize. Yen Tan and Adam Smith and Alessandro Calza can empathize. Though both my parents are alive and so neither could know exactly how it feels to lose a partner, they’ve both lost both their parents. Plenty good enough.

Do I feel diminished because my feelings were not unique? A month ago I would have lashed out had anyone told me that, but I feel surprisingly—welcomed back. Back to life in the main and among the world and not sequestered to a sidebar.

I have re-experienced that time of my life in a much closer and ironically much more personal way. Ciao was the key. I suppose it could be argued that this is my time for this discovery, but it wasn’t just anything that did it. It was Yen Tan’s film.

There is such a thin thread that brought me to the film. Yen Tan, all magnanimous and curious, gets the credit for that. Alessandro Calza, too, an online friend for years who I met at the screening of a film about online friends who were supposed to meet up for the first time. Even Adam Smith, who I expect to meet in LA in a couple of weeks is a singular discovery, easy to like even at a distance.

I no longer feel required to gather my experiences to my chest and huddle in a dim corner with them, all protective. I have use for the sunny days that occurred back then. I feel as if life has restarted at the mindset I had when I’d reached the end of the long shadow of his death. Renewal, restored and happy that I’m still here.





PS This was not at all easy for me. Please forgive any rambling.

Blogging Advice: Keep A Private Journal

The regular Writing Life for me began on a flight from San Francisco to Pittsburgh (with connection to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton). It was a non-event at the time: a thought, a jot, a shot at recording nothing more than a moment. But many things can come out of a moment, even a moment which is deemed so just because it was intentionally noted and tagged soon enough after the fact.

It was near Christmas, just two or three days before, in 1993.

Before year’s end I will be marking the fifteenth anniversary of that bit of notation, and don’t you see? It’s the what-follows that promotes a moment into an event, an event into a milestone (and, I suppose, if your work typecasts you out of illimitability, the milestone becomes the millstone around your neck and you end up with a bad back).

I was in flight, as I said, and of course Allen was beside me. It was a 757. Good Lord God of Biscuits! you may be asking yourself, how on GoB’s green earth did you remember that? Easy: Allen’s legs. Long, rangy man that he was, getting into an airline seat was more an act of folding than sitting. Allen, clever, eidetic, encyclopedic man that he was, kept a catalog of airlines and their fleets (by model) in his head, because legs can only do so much folding and so only certain models (like a 757) on a specific airline (because some airlines pack an extra row or two into coach) would make a cross-country flight bearable.

He always had the aisle seat, which put me not so much in the middle seat as, of course, in the seat beside Allen. You wouldn’t think that 6’4” and 5’6” would be such a fine fit, physically, but his shoulder, bony as it was, was a perfect spot to rest my head. Perhaps that’s why the inaugural bit of writing was so terse (yes, I can do terse). Comfort called, the casual intimacies of two people fitting together, nothing more. His left arm around me, his hand on my left shoulder as we walked through the Castro. Pride! Always his left, because he smoked and because he was a righty.

I’m not going to tell you what I wrote. Not that it wasn’t important: on the contrary, it stands sentry as the bookend for the beginning. And that’s quite a lot of responsibility, especially for a handful of words aimed nowhere, which means they went everywhere. Why won’t I tell you?

There are some things one can never know about others. Simple as that. Not that I’m gratuitously withholding, but rather that pull-quotes don’t travel well between public and private realms. Profound privacy goes to maudlin proclamation. That “somewhere only we know” turns tourist trap.

Keeping a blog has its merits, but it’s no panacea. Nothing is.

And in the twisty-turny perverse reversal of sex and intimacy and the private and the public among gay men in relationships so open that only a deeded property or paper contract may provide evidence of union, or relationships so porous that men have convinced themselves they own the cake and can gorge themselves on it, too, old identities are dissolved in the bile and new labels gerrymander the world into self-involved hamlets, each with the same casual disregard for coexistence with differing worldviews.

But there are things which the world will never know in ways that you do, no matter how many soapboxes, pulpits, captive audiences or kind, lent ears. Tender, gentle things often die in the gusts of the breath which speaks them.

Cast caution—and all the small and so very precious things that make you who you are—to the wind and that oily smudge on the pavement will be all that’s left of you.

Intimacy can be an act of solitude and I have seen intimacy being bled from the world in dribbles, and all those too-open books are slapdash with ink spelling out vulgar aphoristic claptrap and proclaiming themselves bibles.

And look! Look what happens when bibles force themselves upon the greater humanity.

Medicine Food

I’m sitting here, alone, eating medicine food: a patty made from rice flour and from the crushed residue of three different herbs. I know what the herbs looked like: the Doctor pulled some of each out of the giant containers from the back wall of the her clinic. The seeds of some flower which looked like hollow acorns. More seeds, smaller, from a plant I’d never heard of. Diagonal cuts from the white meat inside what had to be a huge root.

She served these patties to me, but cut in slices, bathed in a salty (probably anchovy) broth with kimchi, pickled root (not the same root) and also—I forget.

It was so good, mostly because of the exquisite peasant chewiness of the starchy strips. Medicine Food.

I could not stop smiling and telling her how much this food reminded me of my childhood and today, both at the same time. I was smiling as I ate. I kept telling her about the texture. And I kept smiling. Over and over, eating, smiling, telling.

Korean food years ago became a comfort food for me, because of Soonae and Jong and now, later, because of the doctor as well. This particular dish combined comfort, old and new. And did I mention I was smiling?

I got up from her desk after lunch. Time to leave. Always a slight tug trying to keep me inside. Outside is pain; in here? Care.

I said goodbye and turned toward the door. “Wait!” she said, and I realized what she was doing back there behind the counter when I was finishing up my lunch: she handed me a small ziplock bag—two patties of the medicine food!

I felt my smile before I realized the Moment: dark pain clouds had, for the space of two breaths, evaporated. I’m not sure if anyone else can appreciate what a major thing this was. No pain. At all. Sheer happiness that she was so generous, happiness that I had more of the medicine food, happiness that if anything good will ever come from this catastrophic sidebar of a life it’s Dr. Chon. And it’s almost worth the pain just to have enjoyed her company, her help, her generosity, her food.

[I began writing this entry the day before—actually only minutes before—January 12, 2008. Why? January 12 is Allen’s birthday—would have been his 50th birthday. I was angry and I was frustrated and I was off, off in the sidebar of a life where comments and references and asides are the only entities, entirely dependent on the main body of work. Body. Work. Nope, still not together, at least not then.]

But the frustration wasn’t about my pain, my diminished capacity. Nothing about me except commentary, references and asides on the corpus of a corpse. Of Allen.

First there are the why’s. Why did he have to leave? Why didn’t he take me with him? Why did he and I match so well, even though our lives didn’t? Why have I never felt jealous that George got so much more time with Allen than I did? Why could I never manage that tangled timeline that had his leaving me and his joining me becoming one and the same thing? Why am I still here and he is not?

And the are the how’s: How could he do this to me? How did he manage to comfort me when he never had a moment’s physical comfort? How did I remain emotionally intact after? How could he manage to look at me with a single expression that said both “We are Home” and “I am not your destination”? How could he keep the subsumption of his consumption away from certain parts of him? How did he know I would be alright, eventually?

And finally, the wishes: I wish he were still here. O, how I wish, and how does that wishing still allow no regrets of time passed since then with other men? I wish I could see him just one more time and tell him how much I resent him and how very much I love him. I wish he didn’t get sick and die. I would have given up ever having been with him just to have him back in this world (no sickness, no death of George which made it possible for Allen and I to be together).

Why did my life go on and how have I managed to both move away from him and bring an image of him far from graven within arm’s reach while realizing that wishing does not make it so for anything but the smallest of things and only, seemingly, in San Francisco?

I am publishing this on January 21, 2008. I started writing before the midnight which inaugurated his date of birth, January 12, 1958, and stopped before that same midnight: I would not and could not bring myself to fashion a golem to stab harsh words into for the day. On every other day of the year (including his date of death) the man is a totem who lights my way from oblique angles, showing me details and perspectives I’d have failed to see before I ever met Allen.

But on January 12 of every year I spend the day alternately silently toasting his life, cursing his absence, drubbing his choices or his neglects or his trusts or his whimsies, whatever context, situation, self-image, self-esteem or broad social ignorance resulted in his seroconversion to HIV+.

It’s all too tied together, causality loops and predestination absurdity, too confusing for the apodictic Abolutists who retard themselves into blacks and whites, straights and narrows, linearities and goals. Invidious, small people who read this may dismiss it because it turns on itself just as easily as it slips into raillery and back out into paradox. I dare because I am who I am, what life has made me, what deaths of loved ones have made me.

But what I dare not do is cast a long shadow on his day of celebration. All this slinging of perfervid whinging and foot-stomping can’t happen on that day.

As I learned from the Koreans, when preparing food or medicine (or Medicine Food!), the care you take is crucial: Medicine made in anger is not palliative; food made with resentment is somehow always bitter.

It took me quite a while to complete this entry (after 12:01, January 13) because Today is always more important than Yesterday, and Now stands atop all our thens. All our yesterdays inform all of our tomorrows.

And when you love someone, his birthday should be joyous and special.