(Christy’s post from Tuesday was so beautiful and moving that I have decided to follow suit and post my own tribute to a friend who I lost to AIDS. This is a re-posting of a blog I put up on Dec.1, 2005 at my own blog, Incomprehensible Demoralization.)
It’s World AIDS Day and the Bush Administration is throwing its arm out of the socket patting itself on the back for promoting its "ABC" plan, which allegedly saves lives by de-emphasizing realistic means of protection against HIV in favor of some pie-in-the-sky notion of "promoting abstinence". This is one of the many things that I feel is grounds for Bush being drawn up on Crimes Against Humanity and tried in the Hague.
How many people have died, are dying, or will die as the direct result of decisions our Great Leader has made? Take the AIDS dead, add to that the dead in Iraq, then factor in the people who died waiting for FEMA in Katrina and its aftermath, plus children with no health insurance, and the two stars that have gone up in the CIA lobby since Valerie Plame was outed…?
But that’s not the point of this post. I’m going to tell you about my friend Patrick.
We met in history class in seventh grade. He was popular, athletic, charming, and charismatic. I was pimply, scrawny, socially inept, and reviled throughout the school as The School Fag. (Every school has one.) Somehow, we became friends. And stayed friends. He was the drummer and I was the singer in "BOI", our first band. We erupted out of the closet simultaneously. We spent hours and hours on the phone. Eventually, he moved to Atlanta and I moved to Athens. Still, we spent almost every weekend together and spoke every day. We were hugely influential on each other. He gave me soul, got me out of my head, and taught me the value of a good beat. We were best friends, spiritual brothers, partners in crime.
Patrick was in what he thought was a monogamous relationship in 1991 when his boyfriend infected him with HIV. I was right on the verge of a trip to England when he called and told me that he was seropositive. I told him I would stay in the US. I could always go to the UK later in life.
"No," he said, "You go. I ain’t studyin’ dying right now. I’ll be here when you get back."
Freddie Mercury died when I was in London. It made me sad not just because the world had lost an incredibly talented performer and composer, but because I saw it as a grim foreshadowing of a day that I would face with my best friend.
Patrick fought the good fight. He took his medicines like he was supposed to. He ate right, eschewed drugs and alcohol, worked out, and took care of himself. I, on the other hand, smoked, partied, stayed out until dawn, took every drug I could get hold of, laughed aloud at the notion of exercise, ate whatever I wanted, and generally behaved abominably.
On Thanksgiving, 1996, Patrick came for a visit to my mother’s house. As always, he was glowing, healthy and strong. My mother saw something that I did not, though.
"Anything you need to say or do in your relationship with Patrick," she said, "Do it now."
Yeah, yeah, whatever, mom.
That Saturday, Patrick was struck down by the first of the unbelievable headaches that were the first signs of the brain tumor that would kill him. Over the next month, he lost 110 pounds, erupted in shingles on his head and all along his spine, lost his sight in one eye, and changed to the point that I would never have recognized him. For that month, his (very religious) family did everything they could to keep us apart. They had always thought that I was a bad influence on him. (Hell, he didn’t "turn gay" until we were friends.)
Then, after Christmas, in a rare lucid moment between the onslaughts of agony, his parents asked him if there was anything he wanted.
"I want to see David," he said.
And that was the beginning of the thaw between me and his parents. Finally, they would let him take my calls. Finally, they told me what hospital he was in and let me visit. I was working two jobs, but I took every free moment I could to drive down to our home town and bring him new music, books, and other treats. We would open the sun-roof on my car and drive for hours. We went to the mall, to my mom’s house, to the park.
Poor Patrick looked like a survivor from Dachau. He could only walk haltingly with a metal cane. He trembled and shook with uncontrollable spasms. He was still six feet tall, but only weighed about a hundred pounds, if that.
One day, we were out in the car, sunlight streaming in, music blasting. He put his hand on my arm, "David?" he said.
"Thank you," he said, "Having you here makes me feel human again."
Then one Sunday night I came in late from Athens, then got up and called Patrick’s house on Monday. "Hey," I said to his father, "Could I speak to Patrick?"
"He’s gone," his father said.
"What, to the doctor or something?"
"No, David. He’s passed."
I don’t know why I didn’t expect it, but I just didn’t. My stomach fell. The wall in front of me swam as tears filled my eyes. Gone.
That was 1997. I still miss him. I still hear some amazing song and my first urge is to run to the phone and call Patrick to tell him about it. I still hear his laugh in my head. I still have a hole in my life where he was. You can only have one Best Childhood Friend, and when they’re gone, they’re gone.
(painting, "The Crying Man", Mike Glier, 1989)