I don’t know why it has taken me so long to do this. I don’t know what has been keeping me from finishing. O.K., maybe I do know, but still why didn’t I just sit down years ago and get this all on paper? But, how exactly do you capture in words the greatest things, the worst things, the best things, and the important things that are your life? How do you relate your story and make it relevant to someone halfway around the world and make it poignant? How do you translate your hopes, your fears, your needs, your desires, and your spirit? Better yet, how do you tell someone that you have lost all hope, all desire, all of your spirit? How can you expect a total stranger to care about you or what you feel? How can you reveal everything about you, leaving yourself completely vulnerable? How do you explain that your heart feels like it is being ripped apart and life itself is secondary to your grief? How can someone else understand the peace that this brings? How?
It was a lazy afternoon. The gray of the sky made the tall buildings of the city stand out like humongous cardboard cutouts. The slowly moving mass of gray rain clouds circled overhead like a menacing vulture waiting to swoop down on unsuspecting victims. There were no flies, the temperature was getting colder, and rain clouds were an everyday occurrence now. Searching the sky it looked like the gray was taking over, it seemed not even a shimmer of light broke down into the city. Sitting on a bench, in West Hollywood, I thought this was perfect for my life. All gray, cold and fake. I went outside because it was just too depressing to stay inside all day. My fingers ran along the gray and silver scarf that my mother had knitted for me back in Scottsdale. I wondered if I would ever see her again; ever see any of my family again. I went over in my mind how the telephone conversation had just gone.
“Hey, Ma’! Yeah it’s me Bastian.”
“Oh, so the son who never call or write finally appears from nowhere. So what do you need? Money, food, -what?” trying to speak her best English in a thick voice, cascading her Russian heritage.
“Gee ma, it’s nice to hear your voice too.”
“I’m sorry Sebastian, I just a little busy right now. You need a something? Or you just want to talk?”
“I-uh, kind of wanted to talk ma’. Is dad around?”
“No, he out working to support your five brothers, the ones that still live here you know?”
“Yeah. How are they?”
“Maybe you call more often, you know how ‘are they?’ “
”Sorry I asked ma’. So how are you doing?”
“I alright, my back acts up every now and then, but otherwise my life O.K. And you, how you doing? You get arrested or something, that why you call?”
“No ma’, I just wanted to talk.”
“So talk. Tell me all about your awful life and then ask for my help, like I said you would when you leave to go to Hollywood and be movie star.”
“Gees mom, I didn’t come out here to become a movie star. I went to school here, remember? College, so I could make a better life for myself. You were the one who told me to go.”
“Yes, but why you must go so far away. Plenty of good trade schools here in Arizona. Your father could have trained you.”
“Shit, every time I call mom, every time. Same story, same guilt trip.”
“Well, I sorry, I just think that since we sacrifice our savings so you can go on vacation-”
“Vacation? Is that what you think I’ve been doing for five years,” I wanted to yell, then got myself back in control and started again, “Anyway, I have a business now with my friend from film school. I own a coffee shop and he runs it. The shop’s called ‘Bastian and Mickey’s’. I have some postcards of it if you’d like to see a picture.”
“A coffee shop? What, people in California buy so much coffee they must have separate shop for it? Or is that why you call because you need money to pay for coffee?”
“Jesus Christ mom. I don’t need any money. I didn’t call for money. I have plenty of money!”
“So, this not about money, then what?”
“It’s about me mom. I needed to talk to you and dad,” I paused here and my heart nearly leapt out of my chest, my mind raced at what I was about to do, I could feel tears stream down my cheek.
“Are you O.K.? Are you hurt, you sick?”
Mom breathed out deeply, “Please don’t scare me so. So what, what all this for.”
“I’d rather wait until dad gets home to tell you.”
“What? Some big secret you can not tell me, but can tell dad?”
“I would rather only to have to explain it once, mother.”
“Well, I think you tell me and I tell your father.”
“No, I wouldn’t feel right asking you to do that . . .”
“Oh, so now I stupid and can not be trusted with news. Or is there even news? This is just another one of your ways to hurt me, huh, to kill me more.”
“No, mom . . .”
“Oh go away, just let me be, I too stupid to trust.”
“Mom, it’s not that, it’s just that I think it would be easier if dad was there to help you to understand,” I was getting really worked up now, she knew just what to say to make me go berserk.
“Oh, now I too stupid to understand what my son say! Well maybe I go then since I too dumb, so I don’t make you dumb too.”
“Stop it!” I screamed into the receiver, “Just stop damn it.” Tears pouring from my eyes as I clenched my teeth and shut my eyelids hard. I couldn’t help but choke down a full on bawling I felt coming up.
“This sound too serious to wait. What is it?”
“No, mom I can’t,” between sobs, “Not without dad there.”
“I think you tell me now, or I hang up and you never call me again.”
“Mom . . .”
“No, that is how it is. Tell me now.”
I drew quick short breaths in to regain my composure, then said, “Mom, I can’t.”
After a long pause I finally broke down and let it out, “Please don’t interrupt me once I have started. If you need to ask me questions, wait until I’m done. I didn’t want to tell you like this, over the phone, but I can’t stand it any longer. Mom, remember my friend Mickey, the one who I have the coffee shop with. I told you we were living together to save money and all that, the truth is, we moved in together because we had been seeing each other for two years.”
Mom said, “An? Of course you see each other you live together. This the big news, oh I knew was trick to hurt me . . .”
“Mom, we were married.”
Mom stopped dead in her words, like she had been struck with a cast iron skillet. “You and who are married?” she said very slowly.
“Me and Mickey were married. We have separated now.”
“I don’t quite understand, was this for play or something?”
“No,” I nervously responded, “We were really married, to each other, and only each other. Mom, I’m trying to tell you that I am gay.”
The words rang through my head as I sat there on the bench. After that last line, there had been a long pause from the other end of the line and then I heard my mother set down the phone and begin sobbing out loud. In all of my 26 years of life, I had only heard my mother cry one other time, when my older brother died from Diabetes eleven years ago. After a few minutes of that, I thought I heard the receiver being picked up and Jeremiah my youngest brother got on the line and asked what I had said and what was going on. I told him I would explain to him later. Jeremiah said, “O.K. bro, but it looks like you killed her this time Bastian.”
“I gotta go Jim,” was all I could utter.
What the fuck was that? Why did I feel bad, she was the one who never listened, who never cared about how I felt, who always shooed away my feelings and told me to lump it like a man. Why should I care if she ever wanted to talk to me again? I should be glad that she was finally reduced to an emotion that did not revolve around pride, strength, or duty. I could see her all curled up on the floor next to the brown corduroy couch with the orange and brown crochet blanket on the back to cover the cigarette burns where dad had fallen asleep and nearly killed us all. Curled up there on the green shag carpet, in my childhood home, crying, bawling, heaving great big sobs over her gay son. Her heart cleaved in two by the great gay bandit that was I. I felt worse now, than ever before in my life. Not poverty, not disease, not any worldly thing but the death of her oldest son and my homosexuality had made this rock of a woman reduce herself to a human emotion such as tears. I did not even want to think about what my father would say, how many chickens would have to suffer needless beheadings now because of me. My family used to mean everything to me, my mom a great source of strength and incredulity, my father wisdom and diligence, my brothers – hapless idiocy. Now I had shattered all that. All this disorder just because I chose to be gay. Well, Monty, can I see what is behind curtain number two now, just to rub it in?
I let a heavy sigh out loud and slumped down into the graffiti and fiberglass bench and pulled my jacket tightly around to warm myself. What the hell was I thinking, what had I just done? There was no need to tell her like that, no need to make her cry, I could have waited, and I could have not told anyone. Man that sure was a selfish thing to do, I thought to myself. My mom was not the most open-minded person in the world too; I knew how she would react. Now I would be banned from the holidays, she would disown me; things were going to be rough with her and the family. Mom ran our house with an iron fist, nobody breathed without her approval or permission. I was completely alone now, and it was my own fault. It was then that I noticed a single ray of light breaking from the clouds. It made it’s way down through the smog and rain, pushed aside the cold grayness and shot itself down at my foot. Then I saw him – and Joseph said, “Hello.”
“Excuse me for interrupting,” came the low, soft voice of the stranger in the blue leather jacket and brown corduroy pants, “Can you tell me where the ‘Persian Cafe’ is?”
I was stunned and sat there for a moment in silence, and then I realized the man’s deep brown eyes were staring down at me, waiting for an answer. “The…the what?” I finally managed to stammer out. I was staring like some teenage schoolgirl talking to a teacher she has a crush on, or a teenage schoolboy.
“The ‘Persian Cafe’? It is supposed to be on this street, at least that’s what this brochure says,” the man said still looking at me and then he showed me something in his hand – a somewhat weathered pamphlet titled ‘Seeing L.A.’. Taking the brochure from the man’s very tan and muscular hand I turned it around so I could read it. “It says it should be right on this corner, but I can’t seem to find it,” the dark haired stranger continued.
“Uh, no actually that place has been closed down since last year, they don’t update these very often,” I blurted out setting the brochure down on the bench next to me. I was too nervous to continue speaking; I looked away and then back at my feet.
“Damn, I really could use a good cup of cappuccino, and that brochure said it had the best in town.” I kind of half shrugged, half ignored his comment. My palms started to get clammy, my mouth was going dry, and I had not felt this way since the first time I went on a date with Mickey. The stranger waited for a few seconds and then saw that I was avoiding his company and turned to leave saying, “Well thank you for your help anyways.”
Finally getting my bearings I stammered out after him, “Well – they used to have the best Cappuccino in town, until my place opened up. That’s why they aren’t in business anymore.”
The tall stranger chuckled, “O.K. then, are you saying I should try your place? Kind of odd to sit on a bench in downtown L.A. advertising coffee by talking to strangers, is that how you put them out of business? Most people would just get a billboard or something.”
For the first time in a long time, I laughed, really laughed. Somewhere deep inside me, something warmed. “Yeah, I guess it is odd to do it that way, but I get a lot of dates from it!”
We both laughed, and the man reached out his hand and smiled, “My name is Joseph, and you are…?”
“Oh, forgive me, how rude. I am Sebastian, Bastian. Of ‘Bastian & Mickey’s’,” grasping Joseph’s hand, I could feel a tingle shoot up my arm, through my chest and out my throat.
“So, Bastian, how about getting some of your cappuccino?”
“Sure. It’s this way,” gesturing down the sidewalk I turned to go, “It’s very close, we can walk there in a few minutes.”
The young man, who had introduced himself as Joseph, was quite striking. Endless brown eyes, dark and neatly combed hair, a well-built physique hidden beneath very tasteful and I guessed, expensive clothes. Joseph looked like a New York model. As we walked down the sidewalk, Joseph told me that this was his first time in Los Angeles, and that he was planning to live out here now. “Did you at least find a place to stay before you came out here?” I questioned gazing into the young man’s chiseled facial features.
“Well,” Joseph began, “I left my old hometown of Gary, Indiana very suddenly, and hadn’t expected to make it all the way to California. I will make it out here, somehow. Somehow, I always make it, I focus on the now and never worry about the past or the future. Although both are important, why should I worry about things I can’t change or foresee?”
“You sound very level-headed and confident, I wish I was that sure of myself.”
“I’m not really either, I may end up worse than when I left Indiana! Never know, but if I sit around and never try anything I may regret it someday. So I just go and strive for the best. I have a saying that goes ‘Move on to it’. It is just a little saying that I repeat to myself whenever I am having a tough time. It reminds me to ‘just get on with it’ whatever ‘it’ is.”
“If you don’t mind me asking, your life in Indiana didn’t sound bad from what you told me, so why did you leave?”
“No, please lie to me. Of course the truth.”
“I was engaged to marry someone I did not, and would never, love as spouses should. I felt trapped in a life that had been created for me. I was sick of people telling me what and who I was or wasn’t. I was dying inside, lying to myself and others, and headed directly for a mental breakdown and eventually worse.”
I stopped and stared at Joseph, without saying a word after that about it, we both knew why he left Indiana and was in California now. “My, uh…my café’s right here,” I motioned to his right. It is a small, open fronted café with black marble floors and rosewood bench seats and green sofas that line the crowded spaces that butted up to the striking Salmon pink walls.
“Um – take a seat here and I will go and get us some cappuccinos,” I managed to stammer out.
“Oh, great. I love the decor of your place, so very early fifties, with a twist of the current century,” replied Joseph. Stopping in front of Joseph for a moment in amazement, I realized that in the past four years that my shop had been open, not one person had ever noticed that I had simply, but elegantly combined the two eras in the shop decor, not one until Joseph.
“Be right back” I managed to get out and walked over to the counter, crossing the black marble inlay of a Celtic sun in the floor of the entryway.
Swimming in disbelief about how my day was going, how it had started and was now progressing, I turned in front of the long wooden counter at the back of my store and walked up to the young man tending to customers.
“Hey baby,” came the smiling greeting from the bronze and silver man behind the counter. “Who in the world is that with you?” questioned the young man motioning towards Joseph.
“Oh, um hi Mickey. Him? Oh that is just some guy who wanted to know where to get some good coffee, and of course I told him yours was the best in town. Now give me two cappuccinos please” I said and leaned over the counter and gently kissed Mickey’s lips in our friendly greeting.
I grabbed the drinks and quickly made my way back to Joseph, I had lived far too long in WeHo1 to let a gorgeous guy like him sit around by himself for any amount of time. As I rounded the corner back to the front of my café, I saw that Joseph was already in trouble. An old hyena had spotted my young friend and was moving in for the kill. As I slipped up beside the tragically clueless fresh meat from the Midwest, I cocked my head to the side and listened to the end of the bullshit this prowling old scavenger was weaving, “ . . . yeah so anytime you want to stop by and take those head shots I am sure I can get you some work.” The hyena made a move to give Joseph his card, but I intercepted with a look and let him know, “He’s already got representation.”
As soon as we were alone again, I told Joseph that he had better be on guard, “There are a lot of people out here who will try to take advantage of you. I know how it feels, I come from a place where people are nice and treat each other with respect, that doesn’t work here. Men, especially old men like that smell fresh meat from miles away, be on your guard.”
Joseph shot me a sideways look and asked, “Kind of like guys who sit on park benches and pick up on young innocent men?”
“Oh sarcasm, we don’t get much of that around here. Funny,” was all I could say back and quickly turned my face to hide my flushing cheeks. I could see where this was going, and I was scared – glad, but scared. Hopefully things with Joseph would be on a different level than Mickey.
I didn’t know how to react to his death. I had loved him, but when he died, I was not in love with him – God that sounds so cliché. Let me express it this way then. I would always love him; he always has a place in my heart. I was very upset when he died I had not expected it to be so sudden and for him to look so healthy. I had always heard from friends and from overhearing things at the coffee shop that people with AIDS died slowly. That people who were infected died agonizing prolonged deaths after years and months of battling the disease endlessly. I had watched specials on MTV about it and 20/20 in-depth stories with Sam Donaldson, or whoever. Look, I cannot even say the words, I keep referring to it as “it”, even just then. It is AIDS, “acquired immunodeficiency syndrome”. A website I read said that it starts off as HIV, “the human immunodeficiency virus, and eventually weakens your systematic immune responses to attacks until you are left virtually defenseless against even the most minor virus, which can cause death.” Man, that is some fucked up shit right there. Whoever came up with AIDS is one wicked bastard.
What that website didn’t say was that AIDS has taken some of the greatest friends I have ever known from me. That AIDS took my first love, my best friend, a lesbian I knew, a little girl, and may come for me someday. So far, I have tested negative for HIV/AIDS, but it has only been two years since Mickey came up positive. Let me tell you, for anyone who wants to know, the day you find out your ex-lover of two years has tested positive for AIDS, is the day your sex life dries up. My little warrior might as well have dried up and fell off because he was not going to see the light of day or any more action for a very long time. When Mickey called it felt as though someone had punched me in the stomach, all the air rushed out of my body. Joseph was lying in bed next to me and he could see it in my face that something was horribly wrong.
“What is it?” he eventually blurted out.
“I think I am going to be sick,” and I was. I threw up on the bed, on the tile floor, on the rug, at the bathroom doorway and stopped just as I got to the toilet. Joseph later said I looked like one of those old sprinklers, puking here, there, here, there, rat-tat-tat-tat-tat.
“What the fuck is it?” Joseph nearly screamed.
We sat on the bathroom floor and he rocked me as I told him, I was still in shock. I told him what Mickey had said, that he had tested positive, that I need to get tested, so did Joseph. The whole time he just sat there looking intently at me and when I finished he said, “Get dressed,” very calmly, “we are going to the clinic now.”
Second only in ‘bastardocity’ (sic) to the person who created HIV/AIDS is the lab genius that invented the test for determining if you have these diseases. You go and give them a sample of your blood and think to yourself reassuringly, “At least it will all be over and I will know today or tomorrow.” WRONG. You have to wait at least a week for the results to come back, and if you live in a big ‘mo2 city like I do in WeHo, then the shear volume of tests mandates at least a two week waiting period for your results. Let me tell you, those were two of the worst weeks of my employee’s lives, imagine if you can a man that operates a coffee shop that barely breaks even waiting for test results that his life may depend upon. I was definitely not up for any boss of the year awards those two weeks.
The greatest word in the English language, besides orgasm, has to be negative. I nearly passed out from worry when we entered the room where they were to deliver my life or death sentence. The small cubbyhole of an office was drably painted in salmon pink, accented with fiberglass orange chairs from the set of “Laugh In”, and anchored by a large pressed wood desk against the wall. The corkboard behind the desk was obviously used and abused, missing large chunks in certain areas, it had posters and fliers attached to it, all mocking me. “Play it safe, keep it under wraps,” read one poster with a picture of an unrolled condom. “See Dick Drink, See Dick Do Drugs, See Dick Have Unprotected Sex, See Dick Get AIDS. Don’t Be A Dick,” read another. “A dental damn may save your life, or your partners,” was another antagonistic brochure. I wanted to stand up and shout, “O.K., I get it! Quit rubbing it in, I’ll use condoms from now on, I won’t do drugs or drink, I’ll get a damn dental damn (although I did not know what one was), just please let me be o.k.” My pulse quickened as I sat there and waited, and waited, and waited some more. I will give these clinics one thing; they are not rushing through anything, tests, appointments, lunch. I was starting to become a nervous wreck.
I nearly fainted when the nurse walked into the room. She opened up my chart, blurted out, “Sebastian?” I replied with a slightly paranoid head nod gripping the orange chair so hard I could feel the fiberglass tear. “You are negative for HIV/AIDS. Have a nice day,” with that she got up from her chair and wiggled her large round white butt out the door.
I should have shouted, I should have stood up and grabbed Joseph to kiss him and tell him that I loved him. I should have thanked my lucky stars I was negative. All I could do was sit there in amazement, nothing to say, awestruck. Joseph gave me a little nudge, “Are you ok babe?”
All I could muster was, “Have a nice day? What a bitch.”
That was the biggest relief of my life. I can’t tell you how much weight and stress that moment lifted off my shoulders. I shuddered silently and nearly lost myself into an emotional heap, but I steadied and held myself together. I was so ecstatic that I was not positive. I loved being negative, I wanted to get a big button that said “Kiss me, I’m negative.” Life seemed to be looking up finally; I had dodged a real nuclear sized pile of dog shit this time. I vowed only to have safe sex, and to get tested more often. Things had never been better than the last few months of my life, with the exception of Mickey having HIV. No more wondering what thing life would throw at me next, no more worrying about what if this happens or that, no more drama. It seemed as though life finally said, “You know what Sebastian, we have been kicking your ass for a while now, take a breather bro you deserve it.” I should have known that nothing in my life comes without a price this one would be the worst ever.
Joseph did not test positive until months later. We had decided to go every three months and get an HIV test and a general STD check-up. I had to go into work on the day we had scheduled to go in and get our results; stupid employee blew up the milk-frothing component on the new machine. Don’t ask me how, I think my employees get progressively more stupid as they work for me, the coffee must have that effect. Joseph said he would stop by later after hitting the clinic and we could do lunch. When he did not show up two hours after lunch, I got worried. When he did not come home after work I was panicked. When he was not home at 1 am I was sick to my stomach and vomited. At four fucking am I heard the key inserted into the lock and I shot straight out of the bed and was ready to unleash hell. He strolled into the apartment and I was ready to let him have it, but when I saw his face I knew something was wrong. He didn’t smell of cologne or other men, he did not reek of cigarette smoke or alcohol, he smelled like – like the wharf.
My emotions got the best of me and I began to cry, “Where have you been?”
“I was down at the wharf watching the fishing boats come in. Did you know they run pretty much all night, even still? It is amazing. I could sit there all day and watch them, like little ants pulling into the harbor scurrying around unloading their ships then back to the sea.”
“You were there all fucking day, and night! I want an explanation.”
“I could just sit there and stare for hours on end,” there was a glassy, far-off look to Joseph’s face. He was not even in the same room as me.
“You prick, you are not even listening to me!”
“I heard you Bastian, I just can’t tell you. I can’t tell you I am leaving you.”
“You’re leaving me, what the fuck is this. You goddamn bastard who is it, what is it. Fucking tell me!”
“I am dying. I have AIDS.”
It took a moment for that to sink in and then my knees buckled, my whole life drained out of me, I went numb all over. I must be dreaming. This had to be a very bad, however realistic, bad nightmare. I slid down to the floor staring straight at him, unable to speak. Please, please let this be over soon. I want to wake up now I don’t like this dream. I wasn’t dreaming and Joseph was really going to die. He sank down the wall next to me and wrapped both arms around my frame; we stayed there that way for many hours. After the first few minutes I cried loud, shuddering, life ending sobs. He cried too. That was over within the hour but still we stayed like that, bundled up together against the front hallway wall, until I felt him rousing the next afternoon.
This time, the disease did what I had always imagined it would do to a person. First, Joseph refused to take the seemingly endless amounts of required medicines that could prolong his life for months, or even years. Since he had already developed AIDS he already had to learn to be careful to avoid even the smallest of colds or contaminants. Joseph began to look gaunt, he lost nearly twenty pounds the first four months after learning he was positive. His clothes hung off his body now like a rag doll and his familiar wide smile was replaced with an expression that anyone could see was turmoil and exhaustion. The littlest things were now the hardest to do. Getting out of bed in the morning became a later and later ritual.
“I hate this. I want to die,” he announced one morning about five months later, “I am exhausted, too weak to even slit my own wrists. I can’t eat anything because it all comes back up. I can’t even take a shower because the water is too hot and too cold all at once. This is a living hell. I am a prisoner of my own stupid body, I want to die.”
“Babe, please don’t say that,” I begged, “If you would only try to take your medicines-“
“Why, so I can hallucinate, or get gas so bad I can’t stand myself, or a rash from the medicines, why would I want to do that?”
“Because it might make you live longer, think of me babe, do some for me at least?”
“Think of you? Think of me Sebastian. I am the one who is dying here. I am the one who can’t walk more than two feet because my legs are so weak and brittle that they may split. I am the one who coughs and vomits everyday till only bile and blood spill out of me. Think of you, all I think about is you and that is why I don’t put a gun to my head.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t know what to say Joseph. I love you too much to give up on you.”
“And I love you too much to give you false hope. Realistically, I only have a few more weeks, maybe months, let’s just put our energy into enjoying that time together.”
That reality was too much for me, my mind had to push it out. I didn’t want to face the truth that I was losing the best thing that ever happened to me. The next few days I went through the motions with Joseph pretending to see the reality of this situation, pretending I had accepted it and wanted only to comfort him. Secretly, deep in my soul, I hoped and prayed that some miracle would happen and even without medicine he would get better. That did not happen, Joseph only got sicker.
I don’t know if anyone else has had the unreal misfortune of having to be present while their life, their future, their happiness slowly dissolves into nothingness, but I cannot imagine a worse fate. Joseph became another person the last few weeks. His face looked like it was a thin layer of skin stretched over skull, his chiseled features were replaced by sharp bones, his beautiful tan skin turned yellow as his kidneys and liver failed. I dreaded seeing him like this, I dreaded being around him. I know I am horrible for that but this forced confrontation of reality and death was too much too fast. I sometimes found myself wishing it would just happen, then he wouldn’t suffer anymore, and neither would I.
One day, very close to the end, Joseph suddenly looked up from his hospital bed and in a moment of pure lucidity told me, “I know you hate to see me like this Bastian, I know it hurts, it kills me to put you through this. I think maybe you should stop coming around, maybe it will make it easier for both of us.”
Oh my God, was I really being that transparent. I have to be the worst person alive. I couldn’t believe that I was acting this way. In that moment I saw that I was being completely selfish, a complete bastard, I needed to be the one reassuring Joseph, making him as comfortable as possible and here he was consoling me, giving me a way out. “Don’t you dare say that,” I told him looking right into his eyes, “I have been an idiot and running to hide from this whole situation, but I love you. I will not stay away; I will be here more from now on. Joseph I can’t stand the thought of losing you, but even worse, I can’t stand the thought of not having you all to myself for even a little while longer.”
Joseph didn’t respond, he put his head back on the pillow and smiled that wry little smile, and went back to sleep. In that moment I woke up, not literally from sleep, but from the numbing self-apathetic stupidity I had recently found so comforting. This is it, I told myself, Joseph is going to die whether I wanted to admit it or not, I can’t change that. What I can do is show him how much he has meant to my life, how he has changed me forever, how he will live in my heart from now on. I went home as he slept and wrote him a poem that expressed how much he meant to me, I put it on the front table and went to rest for a few hours. Tomorrow when I woke I would show Joseph I was going to be there for him for anything. Tomorrow.
The next morning I woke up early. I went down to the hospital with a springier step, a new lease on seeing the love of my life. When I rounded the corner to Joseph’s room things seemed different. His mother was standing outside his room and I nearly collapsed. She had come out a few times to visit Joseph, but never to the hospital, she said she couldn’t bear the sight of her only child hooked up to all those machines. She had been crying and started in again when I came up to her and said, “Hello mom.”
“Oh, Sebastian, hello. Honey Joseph got real bad last night.”
“It’s ok, mom, I know I have been an idiot. That is all going to change starting today, I am a new man totally devoted to Joseph.”
“Oh god,” she wept, but these were not tears of belief, but something else, “Bastian, I didn’t want to call you, it happened just a little while ago. Honey Joseph passed in his sleep this morning, after I came to visit him and we talked. He couldn’t go on dear he was too tired. He said to tell you that he ‘knew’, and it was ok.”
The paper and flowers I had been carrying slowly dropped from my hand and landed softly and neatly on the scratched white tiles of the floor. I turned towards the door of his room, and there Joseph lay, no tubes, no breathing machine, no nurses or doctors annoying him with heart monitors, or blood tests, or arguing with him to eat. I stood there for a long time thinking about all the things I had wanted to say as I slowly stroked his hair, things that would have to go unsaid. It is amazing how many things become meaningless in those moments where you are forced to face death head on. Joseph lay in his bed, much the same way as when I left last night. He was dead now. He had died and I had been at home sleeping.
Something that his mother had said suddenly struck me, Joseph had wanted me to hear that “he knew.” He knew? He knew how much I loved him, how much I would miss him, how hard it will be without him? He knew that I was crushed, that I was unable to move literally rooted to the spot in front of his bed? He knew that I hated everything, that I blamed God and everyone around me for not saving Joseph? He knew that I wanted to rip down the stupid starched curtains and turn over the cart beside his bed? He knew that my love for him would never allow me to forget him. He knew that our time together was not wasted, that we had made that connection that people always dream of. He knew I had held him in my heart like no other and he felt the same way. He knew it would be ok.
I left he hospital that day and took his mom to our apartment. I showed her all of our pictures. I made coffee and we sat and talked about his childhood, about our trip to Hawaii, about Joseph. We made plans for his funeral and called all the necessary relatives. We cried together many times but we laughed more. She had to get back to her house, things must have been in “tatters” as she said, but she would be back soon, and this time his dad would accompany her.
“Joseph was a one of a kind man, mom. You should be proud,” I said as I led her to our apartment door.
“So are you, Sebastian, so are you. My son saw that special something inside you that told him you were two spirits of the same accord, never forget that he loved you and you loved him. I expect you to carry on his memory long after I am gone, I trust you to do that.’
That was the moment that I never looked back. I cried many times, remembered the good and the bad, and shared his story, as I share it now. The most important thing I did after Joseph’s mom left, I picked up the phone.
“Mom? Yeah, it’s me Sebastian.”
Frey Curran is a secondary English teacher and Speech and Debate Coach. Frey earned his BA in English Literature from CSUSB in 2001, his MA in Composition with a focus on literature from CSUSB in 2013, and a single subject credential in English from CSUSB in 2010. Writing is more than cathartic for Frey; it is a soulful remembrance of lived experience and painful lesson. Frey lives in Grand Terrace where his whole immediate family and husband live.