Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Lost Friends

I was reading an article saying that the incidence of HIV infections among young men was once again rising. The advances in the treatment for AIDS has improved so much that too many think that it is no longer a death sentence. They do so at their own peril.

I am one of those who remembers all too well when AIDS first descended upon the gay community. It didn't even have a name yet, but it gripped us all in something akin to terror. Our friends were dying. They were fine one day and then they were ill and then they died, and no one knew why, or if we might be next.

And for reasons totally unknown to me, I found myself thinking of Matt Rushton. Matt and I were never more than acquaintances, but he was both charming and charmed. Chest-achingly good looking, he had everything going for him. He was a P.R. man for Studio One, the hottest predominantly-gay dance bar in Los Angeles. Studio One also had a show lounge featuring mostly high-end B-list entertainers, and as editor of a major gay men’s magazine, I was invited to every opening. Matt was always right there, effortlessly efficient, and giving me the definite impression each time that I was the most important person on the guest list.

Beautiful. Charming. Young. Friendly. A truly nice human being. And dead of AIDS within two years after I met him.

I met Mike at a San Francisco bar during Gay Pride week. We got together on a Friday night and spent the weekend together. We became friends, exchanging frequent visits between L.A. and San Francisco. When he met his partner, we remained friends, and through Mike, I met his best friend, Tim, who was cute and funny and about as promiscuous as they come. Rick and Mike brought him down with them from San Francisco for a visit, and he and I established the same sort of back-and-forth visiting that Mike and I had enjoyed before Mike met Rick. It wasn’t long, however, that Tim phoned to say that he had just been diagnosed with AIDS, and did not think it wise for us to see one another again. He did not want me to come up to visit him. We talked often on the phone, though, and within two months he was dead.

When I moved to Northern Wisconsin, Mike and Rick came to visit. Within months after their visit, I received a note from Rick saying that Mike was dead. They’d both known that Mike was dying (and in the early years of AIDS a diagnosis was a death sentence) when they visited, but didn’t want to upset me. Friendship sometimes makes me cry.

My next-door neighbors in Los Angeles, Bill and Larry were among my best friends. Larry was an entrepreneur, always busy with one business venture or another. Bill was what some might call “ditzy”…totally irrepressible, totally spontaneous, always with grand schemes which never came to fruition. Larry and Bill had been together well over 10 years when I met them, and they had an “open relationship.” Well, Bill had the open relationship; Larry didn’t like it, but he loved Bill too much to give him an ultimatum.

Bill developed AIDS just before I moved to Wisconsin. I was devastated for both him and Larry, but they both took it with amazing calm. The last time I called to check on how Bill was doing, I talked to him briefly. “I had a dream about my grandmother,” he said, casually. “I’ll be seeing her soon.” And the next week he was dead.

Ed was one of my oldest friends in L.A. He was unique among them in that we were what is now known as “friends with benefits” (our relationship was similar to that of Dick and Jared in the Dick Hardesty Mystery series). When either of us was dating someone, the “benefits” were put on hold, to resume again when neither one of us was involved. Ed was a pediatric dentist and had a very lucrative practice. He bought a beautiful home on a hilltop overlooking the city. However, he grew tired of being a dentist and gave up his practice to move to San Francisco to become a psychologist specializing in...gerontology. I moved to Northern Wisconsin about the same time and we lost touch. And then one day a rabbi from San Francisco, traveling cross country, stopped overnight at my B&B. I asked him if by any chance he might know Ed, who was Jewish. “Yes,” he said. “He was a member of my congregation.” “Was?” I asked. He looked at me and said “You didn’t know?” And in that instant, I did. “I was with him when he died,” he said.

And then there’s Ray, whom I still consider to be the love of my life. Ours would have been a perfect relationship were it not for the fact that he was an irredeemable alcoholic who was partially responsible for my leaving L.A. I thought by taking him away from the bars, I might save him. But there are bars in northern Wisconsin, too, and it reached the point, after a drunken rampage wherein he broke a bar's large plate glass window, where the court ordered him to either go to jail or return to Los Angeles. He reluctantly chose the latter. Within two years he, too, was dead of AIDS.

These stories are not unique to me. Every gay man who survived the early years of AIDS has similar tales of loss--and while so many young men today think modern medicine can save them, they are wrong. So many friends. So many decent, kind, warm, loving men snuffed out like so many candles in a windstorm. We cannot forget them. We must not.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to check out his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1 ).

6 comments:

Eleanor Raif said...

So beautiful and so tragic, brought tears to my eyes. The fragility of life, we are destined to shatter and some of us far too soon.

Growing up in west/central Texas I grew up being told that AIDS was a scourge on the earth for those especially sinful.
A very long story short, as an adult I am not religious and the AIDS epidemic is part of the reason for my own rejection and abhorrence of the psuedo-religious ideals that were stuffed down my throat as a youth. I am thankful for the 'rebel' social attitude that reined in my late adolescence (the 90's - yes, I'm still a kid) that led me to reconsider everything in my life.
It also helped being a highly sensitive writer, artist and musician, and music lover.
And let me add - I may always be an 'adult in progress', as maniacal religious crap is only one of my stumbling blocks. (there, you got the disclaimer)

Thank you for the sweet and humble reminder never to lose sight of AIDS awareness.
Love to you.

Dorien/Roger said...

Thank you, Eleanor. I sincerely appreciate your taking the time to write. And your last sentence, the reminder never to lose sight of AIDS awareness, is exactly the reason I wrote the blog.

Best regards,

Dorien

Kage Alan said...

I don't believe I've ever read anything that was both so haunting and eloquent at the same time, D. For whatever reason, I've been spared ever having people close to me pass on and it's something I'd prefer to keep that way.

I'm tempted to write that I hope you'll considering writing an autobiography one day, but your posts already represent that. So, perhaps I'll just say that I hope to see you write in greater detail one day about each of these friends and the friendships. You've breathed new life into their memory and that is a phenomenal gift.

Katy said...

What a beautiful and bittersweet story. I wish all of todays young people would read this. It is a perfect reminder that AIDS is still a real issue and is still just as deadly. Losses like the ones you have seen in your life time are tragicand sad. With what we lnow today, they are preventable if only people would realize they are not invincible and AIDS is still very real.
Thank you for sharing such a beautiful story.

Katisha Moreish said...

I've signposted this blog on Facebook, Dorien. I am sorry for the losses you have experienced. I truly hope that people realise that our friends and family remain under threat from this terrible disease and take action to prevent its spread. I am grateful that you are still with us and love reading your posts here and on FB.

Dorien/Roger said...

Thanks, Katy and Katisha. Like all great disasters, the memory of those early days of AIDS fades over time. It is our duty to be sure we never forget the incredible toll AIDS is still taking.