Tag Archives: friends

Appliances, People and Other Crap That Gets Old

Last month I had to buy a new clothes washer.  I came home from work one Friday and dropped my casual dress shirts into the washer, as I did at the end of every work week.  After a few minutes I realized the washer had stopped.  In fact, after it filled with water, it had grown surprisingly silent.  The thing banged a lot when in action.  But when I checked on it, I was stunned to find it still filled with water.  No amount of manipulation – which, for the mechanically-challenged such as myself – meant yanking on the knob (as if I was in the midst of a raucous masturbatory session) and smacking it (again, as if in the midst of a raucous masturbatory session).  Aren’t you glad you decided to read something today?!

All of that was to no avail.  So I removed the shirts and squeezed out the water and searched online for a repair place.  I found one, but they couldn’t fix it.  I paid their fee – and never heard from them again.  I filed a fraud complaint with my bank, which gave me provisional credit.  But they ultimately decided I was hysterical and reversed the credit.

I was forced to get a new washer – and change banks.  I realized the obvious: my 10-year-old clothes washer had decided to give up on me (at the financially worst time!) and I had to get a new one.  My long-time good friend, Raymond*, came in from out of town shortly after that.  He was here when I bought a new washer through Overstock and here at the house when it arrived.  It turned out to be much smaller than anticipated – suitable more for a dorm room or efficiency apartment than a hyper-clean single man living alone in a 3-bedroom house – so I was forced to return it.

I then purchased a fuller-size washer and had it delivered.  Before Raymond returned home, he helped me disconnect and move the deceased appliance into the garage.  I had to empty out the bulk of the water by hand.  We both laughed afterwards, as I championed the fact two 50-something fuckers like us could move a massive appliance across several feet and through two doorways.  Personally, it was the most exercise I’d had in months!

Not long afterwards, Raymond encountered his own appliance-related fiasco.  His aging refrigerator had started causing him problems.  He was able to get it repaired, but it was still an unsettling prospect for him.  His health problems seriously impact his personal finances, and in the wealthiest country on Earth, people in his condition have to budget tightly.

The image at top is from a serious of text messages between Raymond and me as he lamented his refrigerator ordeal.  I couldn’t help but laugh loudly and told as many people as possible; people who are roughly our age.

At 15, my truck is showing its age.  The engine light keeps illuminating, and a headlight recently went out.  But it’s still operating relatively well!  Other things in and around my house are also becoming problematic.  My father had a fetish for scented candles, until I finally convinced him they were damaging the walls and ceilings with soot.  The kitchen sink had been causing trouble years ago – long before either of my parents passed away.  The water heater is leaking slowly.  My iron (my mother’s iron actually) committed suicide a few months ago in mid-session.  The roof has a number of openings, which allow squirrels and other small invasive varmints to enter and hide.  Their rumblings in the attic make me recall the mythical rat problem in “The Exorcist”.

Years ago my mother would tell me that life begins at 40; a rather common saying at the time.  She had just turned 40 when we moved into this suburban house in December of 1972.  Shortly after I turned 40 in 2003, I came down with the flu for the first time in my entire life.  The following April, I severely sprained my left ankle while walking my dog.  It had rotated as far as it could go without breaking.  I ended up on crutches and taking time off from work.  About 5 months before I turned 50 in 2013, I had a freak accident here at the house that severely damaged my right arm and landed me in the hospital for a few days.  If I had been alone, I probably would have bled to death.

It seems the start of every decade of my life coincides with something bad.  In the two months before I turned 30 in 1993, one of my closest friends died, and I contracted Hepatitis A that culminated in a hospital stay and nearly two months off from work.  Therefore, I’m not eager to see what awaits me come my 60th birthday – if I’m fortunate enough to make it that far.

A couple of months ago I was looking into one of my eyes in the mirror when I noticed a bruise on the outside of my left forearm, close to the elbow.  It immediately drew my attention for one simple reason – I have no idea how the damn things got there!  And I grew alarmed.  Occasionally my parents would end up with miscellaneous bruises; marks with an unknown cause.  It made me recall an even more unsettling incident from more than two decades ago.

I worked for a bank in Dallas, dealing with high-dollar clientele.  Many of my customers were elderly.  I was on the phone with a gentleman one afternoon when he halted the conversation and began mumbling.  I asked if he was alright.  He then noted rather casually – almost too casually – that he was bleeding and didn’t know from where.  A colleague passing by my desk at that moment noticed my eyebrows pop upward in shock.  I asked the man if I needed to call someone for him, as in 911.  He said no, that he’d be alright.

Of course, a bruise is nowhere as serious as blood.  But I’m still wondering if I’m now at that point in time – the age where my body is subtly telling me it wants to lead a life of its own.  I’m not ready to let the bastard go yet!  Yes, I’m a writer, but I don’t want to melt down into a fat, grouchy curmudgeon surrounded by books and bottles of wine and vodka!  If you knew my present lifestyle, it may seem that way, but no one asked you!

Raymond turned 59 last month, and I told him I’m actually looking forward to turning 60 in two years.  I also told him something even more significant – we will age and mature, indeed, but we will never get “Old”.  I certainly don’t intend to let myself reach that point.  Raymond has been through a lot in his life.  Just half the crap he’s endured would send most people into therapy or a talk show.  And I’m still here for a reason, too.

Broken clothes washers or not, I’ll go on until my power system decides it’s had enough.  In the meantime, I’m still on the lookout for anymore rogue bruises.

*Name changed

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Dead Friend

Have you ever had a friend with whom you disagree on something?  You know what I mean – someone you’ve known for a while; shared things with; commiserated with; know some of their family; treated to lunch or dinner for their birthdays.  I have a few of those friends.  As a bonafide introvert, I don’t have many friends in the first place, so I value those relationships I’ve managed to maintain over any length of time.

I had one such friend, Pete*, until recently.  He and I have known each other for over 30 years.  Ironically, we attended the same parochial grade school in Dallas.  I didn’t know him back then, as he’s three years younger.  Even more curious is that our fathers had known each other; they grew up in the same East Dallas neighborhood and attended the same high school.  When Pete’s father died several years ago, my father was heartbroken, as the two hadn’t spoken in a while.  I attended the funeral service at a church in downtown Dallas.  In turn, Pete attended my father’s memorial service in 2016; his sister and her young daughter joined him.

Pete used to host annual Christmas gatherings at his apartment; his sister and her two sons, along with many of that family’s mutual friends, joining us.  In effect, I became part of their family.  I was fond of Pete’s parents, as he was of mine, and was truly excited when one of his nephews joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 2006.

So what happened?

Politics.

Last month “The New Yorker” published an editorial on the sudden and unexpected support for Donald Trump among Latinos.  In Texas trump won a larger share of the Latino vote in the last election than he did in 2016.  Reading the piece left me stunned – and curious.  How could a man who made such derogatory comments about Mexicans in general, the same one who hurtled rolls of paper towels at people in Puerto Rico, find greater support from others in those same groups?  Even though Trump had disparaged Mexican immigrants, I felt it was just a small step away from demonizing all people of Mexican heritage or ethnicity; people whose Indian and Spanish ancestors had occupied what is now the Southwestern U.S. since before Trump’s predecessors arrived on the East Coast.  Many of those people are also among the nation’s working class; the blue collar workers who form the unappreciated and under-appreciated backbone of any society.  And yes, even the white collar workers, such as myself, who have struggled through the chaos of corporate America.  Regardless of race or ethnicity we’re the ones who suffered the most in the last Great Recession and in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.  That an arrogant, elitist, tax-cheating buffoon of a charlatan can find kindred souls in this crowd truly boggles my mind.

Pete, on the other hand, said the editorial made “perfect sense” so him.  He had already expressed some support for Trump, especially in relation to his reactions to China.  He then went on to demonize both Joe Biden and Kamala Harris; dubbing them “evil” and decrying what he perceived to be their socialist agenda.  In other words, Pete was reiterating the paranoid mantra of right-wing extremists.

But he went further.  He bemoaned the stimulus payments coming out of Washington; claiming they were unnecessary and that anyone suffering financial distress during the pandemic and the ensuing economic downturn deserved no help or sympathy; that they should have prepared better for such a calamity.

Seriously?

I pointed out that I was one of those people struggling now.  I had taken off a lot of time to care for my aging parents and had managed to save some money over the years; adding that a lot of that hard-earned money was now gone and reminding him I have had trouble – like so many others – finding a job.  I also noted that it’s that people don’t or won’t save money; it’s that they can’t – not with both the high cost of living and stagnant wages.

Pete sounds like many evangelical Christian leaders – the folks he once denounced as the heathens of Christianity – the idiots who propagate the myth that poverty is a result of moral failings; that people choose to be poor because they have no desire to work hard and sacrifice.  He got upset with me over that; he – a devout Roman Catholic – being compared to an evangelical Christian?!  The people who read and study only half the Christian Bible?!  How dare I make such an analogy!

But that’s how I felt.  Then and now.  His new-found beliefs and sudden change of attitude are one reason why I left the Catholic Church and why I no longer align with any branch of Christianity.

I reiterated my discussions with Pete to friends and a relative who his both agnostic and generally conservative.  The latter considers himself a Republican and has been very successful in life.  He also subscribes to “The New Yorker” and had read that particular editorial.  And he found it “awful” that so many Texas Latinos supported Trump who he does not like.  He also noted that anyone can experience financial problems and that a lack of personal resources isn’t always a sign of any kind of moral failings.  Like me he was raised Roman Catholic, but – unlike me – is not in any way spiritual.  He also reassured me that I’m not a failure.  A few other friends have told me the same.  At times like this, I need that kind of support.

It’s a shame I felt the need to sever ties with Pete.  I mean, how does a 30-plus-year friendship come to an end over an editorial?  Is that something that needed to happen?  I wonder if I was overreacting or my past hyper-sensitive persona had suddenly resurrected itself.

I’d like to know if any of you folks have encountered the same dilemma.  Have you ever felt the need to end a friendship with someone over such strong personal disagreements?

*Name changed.

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Retro Quote – John Churton Collins

“In prosperity, our friends know us; in adversity, we know our friends.”

John Churton Collins

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This Is Why I Write

“I loved words. I love to sing them and speak them and even now, I must admit, I have fallen into the joy of writing them.”

Anne Rice

So far, 2020 has been one of the roughest years in the lives of many people.  Not just here in the United States, but across the globe.  For me, it’s been extraordinarily tough.  Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I became leery as my savings dwindled.  My freelance writing career hasn’t proven as successful as I’d hoped, so writing gigs have dried up.  My mother’s stroke at the end of January sent me into an emotional tailspin.  I felt incredibly guilty sending her to a rehabilitation center.  But, as her own health failed, I realized she was entering the final stages of her life.  She finally passed away June 22.

My mother worked in the insurance industry her entire adult life, retiring in 2003 at the age of 70.  She was earning pensions from the last two companies where she worked.  One has already informed me there was no final beneficiary payout, and I’m waiting to hear from the other.  They have to (snail) mail me some documentation that I have to complete and sign and return to them with a copy of her death certificate.  Okay, I’m thinking, this is the 21st century.  Did they not get the memo?  It’s like much of the Southeastern U.S. with the Civil War.  But it’s not financial; it’s an issue I have to resolve from a legal perspective in order to probate the will and get this house transferred into my name.

Still, I remain unemployed, with little financial backup.  I’ve had to delay utility payments – something I’ve never done in my entire life.  Now my truck is showing its age.  Like a dog, 14 is old for a vehicle.

Moreover, I thought briefly I had contracted the dreaded novel coronavirus.  Symptoms like fever and a persistently runny nose alarmed me.  The lethargy overwhelmed me.  I kept thinking (hoping) these were the effects of allergies – a constant plague in my life.  Or perhaps I’m simply recovering from the stress of caring for both my parents.  Maybe it’s male menopause.  (I’ll be 57 in November.)  I didn’t know.  But a friend recently suggested another problem: a lack of exercise (which I’d already admitted) and/or an iron deficiency (which I’d already suspected.)  Thus, I purchased some iron supplements and have become determined to reinvigorate my various exercise regimens.  I’ve been out walking along an exercise trail behind my home these past couple of weeks.  During one of those I actually made an attempt to jog – and promptly stopped.  You just can’t go months without running and then expect to break into an Olympic-style sprint!  I’m watching middle age gently fade from my soul in real time.

That same friend, however, said something to me last week that offended me more than anything else he – or most anyone else – has ever said.  We’ve always had a sometimes-contentious, yet brutally honest friendship.  But he coyly criticized me for spending so much time on my writing – and this blog; that I’m wasting that time and energy on my creative pursuits instead of trying to find a full-time job.

His comments stunned me.  I promptly reminded him of my previous years of employment; where I slaved away over hot computer keyboards during weekdays, before turning to my creative writing endeavors in the evenings and on weekends.  I’ve always felt a greater sense of responsibility to myself and my community than to suffer for my art and live off the grid and on the edge.

I write because I enjoy it.  I feel I’m good at it.  It’s the one thing about myself in which I’m 100% confident.  Writing is mostly all I’ve ever wanted to do with my life.  It’s therapeutic.  It’s kept me from hurting myself and others.  I understood long ago that my chances at becoming a famous author were slim.  But I don’t write stories in the hopes of becoming wealthy and renowned.  I fully realize the odds of that are incredibly rare.  I’m not naïve – or irresponsible.

I continue to search for full-time, even contract or part-time, work.  And I continue to write – on this blog and my stories.  I’m not writing now just to piss off my friend, which would suck up too much of my energy.

Once more, I write because I love it.  It’s who I am and who I always will be.

There are some parts of our souls upon which we can never give up.

Image: Fernando Doglio

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Men Are Dogs

Most straight women will agree with this title.

One of my best friends, Pablo, and I have one of those unique friendships.  I think he’s think; he thinks I’m built like a Greek god.

But, like most men, we consider ourselves dogs.  I do tricks, and he sits up and begs for it.

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Slurp

A close friend of mine came down from Wichita Falls, Texas the other day to spend a few days with me.  He brought his new companion: a chocolate brown Chihuahua named Cocoa.  Like most small dogs, Cocoa is delectably adorable and innately vicious.  Little dogs have always reminded me of little women: small, cute and surprisingly mean.  I should know!  One of them gave birth to me!

Last night, as Robert and I watched TV, Cocoa curled up in her bed on the floor nearby and – after a while – I could hear her scrounging around.  I had noticed she had been chewing on one of her back legs and, concerned for her welfare, peeked over the coffee table – to see her curled up quietly.

I then realized Robert had set down his phone and had his leg hiked up over his head and – and, you know, even as a 50-something-bisexual-recovering alcoholic writer, there are some things I can go my entire life without seeing!

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Circling

Yesterday, April 30, marked a unique anniversary for me.  It’s been 30 years since I started working for a major banking corporation in Dallas.  I remained there – laboring over hot computer keyboards and angrier customers – for 11 years before I got laid off in April 2001.  But, I just realized: 30 years since that first day!  Wow!  The year 1990 still sounds relatively recent; attributed mainly to the 1990s being the best decade of my life.  A lifetime ago.

And, it’s amazing how much has changed since then.  Both society and me.  I’m more confident and self-assured now than I was in 1990.  I came of age in that final decade of the 20th century and I’ve improved myself in the many years since.  I’m not holding onto the past – not anymore.  I’m just reflecting.  I’m at the age where I find myself comparing life between then and now more often.  I’ve packed enough years into my life to do that.

It makes me recall how my parents often did the same.  ‘It’s been how long?!’  I heard that so many times; from when I was in grade school to the weeks before my father died in 2016.  Now, I find myself doing the same.

I’m certainly not upset about it.  I’ve experienced all of the good and bad life has to offer in various shapes, sizes and colors.  That happens, of course, as one navigates the rivers of our individual worlds.  It’s inevitable and unavoidable.  Making it to the half-century point of my life was a major milestone.  The alternative is not as attractive.

After the funeral of my Aunt Margo in 1989, we gathered at her house in suburban Dallas where she’d lived for over 20 years.  Sipping on beverages and eating food Margo’s neighbors had prepared, my mother and her two surviving siblings began regaling the group with tales of long ago.  My mother recounted one quaint moment at a church with her niece, Yvonne, one of Margo’s daughters.  After the priest had led the congregation in recitation of the ‘Hail Mary’, Yvonne – about 2 years of age – loudly asked my mother, “Aunt Lupe, what’s a womb?”

Startled, my mother mumbled, “Uh…I don’t know.”

“Oh, come on Aunt Lupe, yes you do!”

Behind them, she said, much of the fellow worshippers chuckled.  Even the priest laughed, she told us.

My father, sitting on a couch beside me, smiled broadly and uttered, “See, she remembers those little things.”

For me, those “little things” have added up.

A few years ago, at a gym I patronized, I got into a discussion with some young men about work.  They weren’t just friends; they were colleagues at a major financial institution.  I mentioned I’d labored at the bank for over a decade and found myself regaling them with tales of answering phones and mailing out scores of paper documents to clients and colleagues.  One of them told me that they all used their cell phones to stay in touch with people – clients and colleagues – and were connected all the time.  Little paper, he noted, almost 100% digital or electronic.  I laughed.  It didn’t make me feel old.  I realized immediately it was just progress.  But they enjoyed my description of such oddities at the time as telecommuting and video conference calls – along with reels of digital tape for recording phone calls and people trying to figure out how to refill the copier with toner.  I recall vividly a number of people with hands coated in the small-grain black powder and seeing toner EVERYWHERE.  I finally figured out how to insert the powder – using latex gloves I brought from home, with a bundle of dampened paper towels from the men’s room.  Curious gazes sprouted onto the faces of those young men at the gym; perhaps uncertain whether to laugh or express wonder.  I couldn’t help but laugh and say, “That’s how life was like in corporate America many moons ago.”  And, in turn, they collectively burst out laughing.

In my 20s, my father advised me to work as hard as possible during that period of my life; making small sacrifices along the way to ensure a solid future for myself.

“Work as much as you can while you’re young and save as much as you can,” he pointedly said, almost as if warning me.  “You’ll be damn glad you did when you get to be our age,” referring to him and my mother.

Last autumn one of my cousins, Laura, held a Thanksgiving gathering at her house, with her two daughters and the young son of one of them.  Her mother (my mother’s younger sister) lives with her.  Both women sat at the dining room table talking after the meal, while Laura and I stood in the den conversing.  Also present was one of her nephews, Andy (on her ex-husband’s side of the family).  My parents had first met Andy around the turn of the century, before he even entered kindergarten.  He grew to like them, especially my father.  I didn’t meet him until the summer of 2005, after a lengthy stint working in Oklahoma for the engineering company.  On that particular Saturday, my cousin had come to visit my parents with her daughters and Andy who was visiting for the weekend.

I had my dog, Wolfgang, corralled in a back bedroom and finally brought him into the den to meet everyone – whereupon the little monster I identified as a miniature wolf vocally unleashed his suspicion of the newcomers.

“Why’s he barking so loud?” Andy asked with a laugh.

“He’s just not used to seeing this many people,” I told him.

While the rest of us continued talking, Andy and Wolfgang were more focused on each other.  Andy eventually dropped to his knees, as Wolfgang sat and cocked his head back and forth; the way dogs do when they’re still trying to figure out something or decide if they like you or not.  I told Andy to let Wolfgang sniff the back of his hand, before petting him, which he did.  Within no more than a moment, the two were playing.  Yes, a little boy and a little dog make good playmates!  They got along very well.

At that Thanksgiving gathering last year, Andy was 23 and had grown into a strikingly handsome young man with a deep voice and a full beard.  He said he worked for a trucking company north of Dallas and had earned a sizeable income in 2018.  I immediately congratulated him and then told him to save as much of that money as he could.

“Don’t go out buying cars and motorcycles and drinks for everyone in your crew when you go out partying,” I advised.  As a very young man, I knew Andy was almost naturally prone to getting the best products life has to offer.  I truly did not want to see him work so hard, only to end up destitute at 50-something.  “Work hard and play hard, yes.  You’re young.  There’s no harm in going out with your buddies and partying and meeting women.  Just don’t do that too much and waste all that money eating and drinking.  You don’t want to turn into an angry old fucker like me or Laura.”

Both Andy and Laura burst out laughing.  But I feel Andy understood how serious I was.  I then asked him if he remembered Wolfgang and I recounted that day I first met him and how he had played with the dog.  He had to think for a moment, before he finally did.  “Little gray dog with big brown eyes, right?”

“Yes!”

He asked me what had become of him.  I had to explain how the dog’s health had begun to fail at the start of 2016 and the stroke-like episodes he’d started to experience were a heart murmur gradually worsening.  I then detailed how Wolfgang acted on the day my father died and how he himself passed away less than five months later.

Andy stared at me blankly for a few seconds – and I thought briefly he was going to cry.  His eyes seemed to quiver, before he muttered, “Oh, man.  Sorry to hear that.  I guess that was kind of unexpected, huh?”

“No,” I answered.  “Dogs get old and sick – just like people.”  No, Wolfgang’s death wasn’t unexpected.  When he turned 10 in 2012, I told my parents we needed to brace ourselves for his eventually demise.  It seemed they didn’t want to talk about it.  I could understand.  We never discussed how and when our German shepherd, Joshua, would die – until the day we had to carry him into the vet’s office.

Another thing my parents had advised me to do many years ago was to complete my higher education.  I promised them I would and even after I started working for the bank, I maintained at some point I would return.  I didn’t fulfill that promise until 2007.

About 10 years ago I attended a dinner party with some close friends and met a young woman who had dropped out of college because she was having so much trouble at that time.  She was now gainfully employed, but still longed for completion of that collegiate endeavor.  I strongly suggested she make the effort because it would be worth the trouble.  “You’ll find life gets busier as you get older,” I said.  “It just does.  You realize you want to do more things.”  I emphasized I wasn’t chastising her or telling her what to do with her life.

Someone else asked, if I felt at that point in my life, it was proper to give advice to younger people.

“I don’t like to say I give advice,” I replied, “because that’s almost condescending.”  But I was entering the phase of my life where, if I know or meet someone who’s making the same mistakes I made when I was young, I feel the obligation to relay my own experience with that issue and how I dealt with it.  As the adage goes, hindsight is 20-20.  Education had grown to become more important to me as I reached my 40s – and, as with my creative writing, it’s not so much that life kept getting in the way.  I let life keep getting in the way.

It’s a curious sensation, though.  Life is now coming full circle.  And it actually feels pretty good.

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Knowing You…Sooner Than You Realize!

If you want to know for certain that someone’s response to your Facebook friend request is sincere, just reply: ‘Great! Coming over this evening! Already have yr address. Bringing nachos, wine coolers, Hydrocodone & baby oil. Can’t wait! See u tonight!’

Don’t doubt me on this one! It’s saved me from countless fake friendships and wasting too much time preparing nachos for the lactose-intolerant!

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Last Wish

I first posted this essay five years ago and I’m posting it again, as this day marks the 25th anniversary of the death of one my closest friends at the time.  It’s hard to believe so much time has passed – a quarter century.  Now my father is gone, and my mother may not be far behind.  Other people – friends, acquaintances, coworkers, etc. – have come and gone as well.  That’s to be expected from living more than fifty years on Earth.

There are those moments or events that settle into our lives, take root in our minds and never leave.  For me this is one such event.

 

autumn-leaves

September 12th fell on a Sunday in 1993, and I was sick.  I lay in bed that night, listless and fatigued, when the phone rang at 10:12 P.M.  Curiously, I hadn’t turned on the answering machine, as I always did before going to bed.  But, I knew who lingered on the other end – even before I answered.  It was Linda*, the mother of one of my best friends, Daniel.

“He’s gone,” she whispered, her voice raspy and quivering.  She’d walked into his bedroom earlier that evening and found him with his eyes half-open.

We talked for quite a while, although I don’t remember all that was said.  But, I do recall telling her, “It’s over.  It’s finally over.”  Then, I went to sleep.  But, I wasn’t sad.  In fact, I was – not happy – but relieved.  Daniel had stopped suffering – and maybe so would his mother.

That night, though, I wondered why I was so sick.  Just allergies, I kept thinking; that’s all it was.  I’d realized years earlier how my allergies usually coincided with the Atlantic / Caribbean hurricane season, becoming most severe in August and September.  In reality, it’s the change from summer to autumn, when mountain cedar and ragweed blossom with impunity.  But, I have this obsession – almost a fetish – with tropical storm systems, so I make that odd comparison.  Yet, that year was different.  The infection seemed to have settled in my stomach, instead of my sinuses.

I’d felt fine the preceding weekend.  I’d visited Daniel and Linda that Monday, Labor Day.  I gave Daniel a much-needed bath and shave, trimmed his nails and put him back to bed.  I also vacuumed and mopped the kitchen floor.  I chatted with Linda for a while.  Her hands trembled, as she sat on a couch; as much from growing arthritis as dealing with Daniel.

“I don’t know how much longer I can go on,” she mumbled, staring at the floor.

“You’ll make it,” I said, trying to reassure her.  What else could I say?

I’d met Daniel at birthday party for a mutual friend four years earlier.  We were two completely different people, but had a few things in common: dogs, cars and rock n’ roll.  Like me, he also had been born and raised in the Dallas area.  He was the third of four children to parents who were mixed Irish and Cherokee Indian extraction.  He didn’t have a happy home life.  When his father wasn’t working, sometimes six days a week, he was drinking booze; occasionally, he’d burst into drunken rages, a stereotypical drunk-ass Irishman or Indian and lash out at anyone nearby.  Linda often bore the brunt of his attacks, until the night her oldest son lunged into his father.  For Linda, that was the proverbial last straw; the catalyst that prompted her to pack up the kids and leave.  By the time I met Daniel, his father had died.

As I’d planned, I took the day after Labor Day off from work.  I visited my gym to lift weights, worked on a short story and partook in a Tae Kwon Do class that evening.  The Tae Kwon Do session exhausted me, even though it wasn’t particularly intense.  I thought nothing of it until the next night, when I returned to the gym and left after less than an hour.  Fatigue settled over me like a ton of hot, wet blankets.

I awoke the next morning feeling awful; body aches and chills and a stomach that was churning like – well – like a hurricane.  My supervisor sent me home just after noon.  I sat near the building, waiting for the bus.  The late summer sun warmed me up, and I stopped shivering.  I felt well enough to stop by a fast food place on the way back to my apartment – and regurgitated the food that night.  I stayed home the next day, but returned to work on Friday.  I spent most of Saturday in bed; no energy, no strength.  Damn allergies, I kept telling myself.

On Sunday, I visited my parents for lunch as usual.  My father grilled steaks – their thick, juicy aromas wafting throughout the house, intermingling with the scent of the butter-saturated mashed potatoes my mother made.  But, I couldn’t eat.  I was still nauseous.  My dad suggested I visit their family doctor, if I didn’t feel better by the next day.  He even offered to pay, since my finances were strained at the time.

I had just purchased my truck six months earlier and was still paying off credit card bills for repairing my previous vehicle.  I had health insurance at work – with a $1,000 deductible.  I told them I’d be fine.  It was just those goddamned allergies.

I had been anticipating that call from Linda for months.  I knew somehow it would come at night.  She called me because I was one of the last friends Daniel had remaining; one who didn’t turn his back on him.  That’s just not my nature.  I didn’t have many friends back then and I still don’t.  But, the people I do consider friends mean a lot to me.

It’s amazing, though, the number of friends people lose when they fall on hard times – even when they become terminally ill.  Some time in the 1970s, my mother’s hair dresser became seriously ill and had to be hospitalized.  When my parents visited him, he mentioned they were among the few who’d made the effort.  All the people who were quick to accept his party invitations where mounds of food and alcohol would be served were curiously absent as he lay in a hospital bed hooked up to an IV.

I think Daniel had known he was HIV for at least two years, but he didn’t start getting sick until the spring of 1992.  By then, he was unemployed and uninsured; he could no longer afford his suburban Dallas apartment.  In May, I and another friend moved him back into his mother’s home in another Dallas suburb.  Daniel’s health deteriorated throughout that summer, but unexpectedly – almost miraculously – began rejuvenating by fall.  He gained weight and color returned to his face.  He actually looked pretty good when I spent Christmas Day with his family, including his two older siblings; younger sister, Andrea; sister-in-law; and a niece and nephew.  I took a photo of them as they gathered around a couch; one that Linda placed on her refrigerator, beside another picture of her beloved mother.

We all thought – if only for a moment – he would make it.  In less than six months, however, Daniel’s health began crumbling again.  And, one by one, his gallery of friends slipped into anonymity.

I took my father up on his offer.  After a cursory exam, the doctor stepped back into the room and asked, “Have you ever had hepatitis?”

“Hepatitis?  No.”

“Well, I think that’s what you have.”

Hepatitis!  If he had told me I was pregnant, I would have believed him sooner.  Hepatitis!  Wasn’t that an old world disease – like small pox or typhoid?  No one got that shit anymore.  But, that’s what I had – Hepatitis A, the contagious kind, and a particularly vicious strain of it, too.  The doctor hospitalized me – almost against my will.  I stayed there through the following Wednesday – the day they buried Daniel.

“Where’d you go?!” Linda cried that Wednesday night on the phone, a sense of betrayal coating her voice.

I told her what happened.

Her anguish shifted to empathy.  “Why didn’t you call me?!  I would’ve come visit you!”

“But, Daniel had just died, Linda.  And, I was in the hospital.”

“But, you’re my other son!”

I had helped Daniel pick out his burial suit in the spring of 1992.  He hadn’t bought a new suit in years.  He must have scoured through a hundred of them before he latched onto that one.  He zipped it up and stored it in the back of his closet, complete with a matching tie and a new white dress shirt.  He was proud of the ensemble; he wanted to be buried in style.

“You are going to be a pallbearer,” he asked me, “aren’t you?”

“Of course,” I said.  What a silly question.

Watching a loved one die and not being able to do anything about it is the most frustrating emotion anyone can ever experience.  I’d seen cancer consume my Aunt Mariana, my mother’s older sister, a few years earlier.  It just wouldn’t let her go, until one rainy Tuesday morning in June of 1989.  She’d already known tragedy.  Her first husband died in a freak car crash in 1968; practically leaving her to raise their six kids alone.  In January of 1983, one of her daughters took her own life.  Mariana had entered into a brief marriage with a man who – later on, as she fell ill – didn’t seem to understand she was in no mood for sex while undergoing chemotherapy.  What, I beseeched God, did she ever do to deserve all that?

I asked God the same of Daniel and Linda.  What did they ever do to bring this upon themselves?  God remained silent.  He / She always does.  But, it made me angry nonetheless, and I finally just blurted out, “Fuck you, God!,” into my darkened bedroom.

Daniel was especially close to Andrea who’d completed nursing school about two years before he passed away.  She had moved into an apartment complex across the street from him and became involved with a truck driver named Jimmy.  Jimmy was part Cherokee, too, and unfortunately, fed into the stereotype of the same drunk-ass Indian as Daniel’s father.  One night Jimmy returned to the apartment he shared with Andrea and attacked her.  She managed to call Daniel before Jimmy snatched the phone from her.  Daniel had been asleep, but donned a pair of exercise shorts, charged across the street and barreled into his sister’s apartment – where he beat Jimmy into a bloody, shriveling mess.  The police took both of them to jail, but released Daniel almost immediately.

Recollecting what his father did to his mother, Daniel was unrepentant about Jimmy.  “Now, he’s going to have to tell the guys in prison that an AIDS-infected fag beat his ass!”

In November of 1992, I happened upon the obituary for a guy I’d known in grade school.  He was 29 and had died after a “brief illness” – code words, a friend told me, for AIDS.  I revealed the true nature of Daniel’s death to only a select few people.  Even in the early 1990s, the affliction bore a terrifying stigma.   I told most everyone else – my parents, my colleagues – he’d succumbed to cancer.  I just didn’t want my folks to worry anymore about me than necessary.  My workplace, on the other hand, was populated with evangelical homophobes – the kind who preach forgiveness and compassion, but practice hate and bigotry.

Daniel always introduced me as a “true friend” to people he knew.  I was embarrassed, since I felt I was doing nothing extraordinary.  But, to Daniel, I was someone who gave my compassion and generosity, asking for nothing in return except trust and respect.  I promised him I would stay with him through the end.  And, I did – until the night he died.

For anyone who’s ever lost a relative or friend, there’s always something that triggers thoughts of that person; something relatively small and insignificant – a color, a sound…something that literally makes us stop and think about the better times we had together.  In 1992, a group called Snap! came out with a song entitled “Rhythm Is a Dancer.”  Both Daniel and I really liked that tune.  We’d visited a nightclub together in late 1992 where the deejay played it.  I don’t know what it is about that song, but it bridges a connection to Daniel and how good life was for me in the early 1990s.  So, I listen to it now, and all the feelings of  friendship and those carefree days flood my subconscious.  It’s just one of those things that transport me to ‘Way Back When.’

Daniel had two dogs when he returned to his mother’s home – a male named Alan and a female named Veronica, both Lhasa Apsos.  The male was fiercely protective of him.  The female was spoiled; Daniel had the habit of carrying her wherever they went, instead of letting her walk.  As Daniel’s health waned in the summer of 1993, he and his mother made the painful decision to turn them over to the local animal shelter.  Two years after Daniel died I seriously thought of purchasing a dog and just happened to peruse the ads of the local newspaper for animals, when I saw a blurb about an “adorable white Lhasa Apso named Alan.”  I almost fell off my easy chair.  Is it…no, it couldn’t be!  Surely, it’s not… I didn’t know what to think.  I realized, though, that I couldn’t afford a dog at the time.  I could only hope some good families adopted Alan and Veronica.

We measure the important events of our lives in the increments of time we know: one week, one year, five years, ten years.  Seven weeks after Daniel died I turned 30.  My colleagues at the bank bought me an ivy plant – which I still have – and treated me to lunch.  They also bought me a mechanical red crab emblazoned with the words ‘30 AND STILL CRABBY.’  You wind it up and it marches along the surface in the standard sideways crab walk.  I still have that crab, too, buried among my slew of possessions.  In seven weeks I’ll turn 50.  Life keeps moving, no matter who lives or dies.

I’ve always wondered why I never dreamed of Daniel.  I didn’t expect his ghostly apparition to appear before me one dark and stormy night – albeit something like that wouldn’t have frightened me.  But, I kept thinking he should at least visit me in a dream to tell me he’s alright.  Or, I hoped he would – just for my own peace.  Is he mad at me?  Did he think that I’d abandoned him at the last moment?  But then, I realized I’d never dreamed of my Aunt Mariana either.  And, we were family.  When I was a child, she’d sit me down at her dining room table and feed me.  Was she mad at me, too?

No – of course not.  I finally understood that I’ve never dreamed of them because they didn’t need me anymore; me or anyone else.  They’ve gone on to another and hopefully better life.  My job was done, as far as they’re concerned.

I did for Daniel what few people – friends or relatives – would do: I took care of him at the worst possible moments of his life.  I bathed him, I fed him, I took him shopping for that suit, I gave him all the undivided love and attention I could muster.  I even cared for his mother because her own body – racked with arthritis and emphysema – allowed her to do only so much.  Some people do good just to send a get-well card.

September 12th fell on a Sunday in 1993, and I was sick.  I couldn’t do anything about it then and I can’t do anything about it now.  I did what I could for my friend – the first friend I’ve ever had who died.  My last wish for him and everyone else who has gone before me is to know that they’re safe and happy.

I’ve finally convinced myself they are.

*All names have been changed.

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Sweet Visions

Last week I posted a haiku writing from a close friend, Preston*, who I’ve known for more than 20 years.  Haiku (or hokku) is a Japanese verse form of poetry that follows a very strict composition of three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five syllables and is often a prelude to a longer poem or a story.  The terse nature of haiku verbiage always challenges the writer to capture what is absolutely necessary for that particular moment.  Such brevity is more difficult than most imagine, but just a few carefully chosen words can evoke extraordinary visions in the minds of an audience.

Smiling was easy

When our eyes were bright and clear

We were so naïve.

 

– Preston

 

*Name changed.

Image: Faunaimage

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