AIDS

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When I as 17 and still a virgin, but considering not being one with my first boyfriend,  one of my best friends, a wonderful dancer with a rapier wit, came over to the apartment where I lived with my mother and ran into our bathroom and threw up. I rapped on the door. “Do you want some Pepto Bismol?”

“Nah, ” he gasped. “I don’t want to throw up pink.”

“What difference does it make. Are you colour coordinating your puke with your outfit? You want some of my scrips? I got valium, I got compazine,  I got something else, it’s not that good , it makes you shake and I don’t even know what it’s for?”

“No, shut the fuck up. Just let me throw up in peace.”

So I did and took the drugs myself, apart from the shakey one. When he finally emerged, pale, long legs shaking, drenched in cold sweat, I gave him some water and asked him what happened.

“I was in the West Village last night, this place called Uncle Pauls. I don’t even know if there is an Uncle Paul.”

“But how did you get in, you’re only 14.”

He looked at me as if to say , oh really, how stupid can you get, that’s exactly why I got in.

“So I had some drinks and then went out and this guy was in this car and he said hey get in, and you know you have a few drinks, anything seems like a good idea.”

Then what happened?

“I don’t really remember, we went to the docks on the Hudson. He parked. He took his dick out. He told me to do something. I did it.”

“Did you want to do it?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know. I have to throw up again.” So he went to throw up. When he came back, I said,

“I don’t think you like what you did, on account of the throwing up when I asked if you liked it.”

“So what are you saying? Does that mean I’m not gay?”

“I dunno. Are you sure you don’t want the compazine? It really works. I think you might be gay but maybe just don’t like what you did, where you did it and who you did it with.”

“I don’t think you would know about it. You are a virgin. And straight.”

“You could be right, but so could I. Why don’t you try something with a guy you do like and see if you throw up?”

He thumped the table. “It doesn’t work like that. You go to clubs, you go in cars, some shit happens in back rooms, with whips and shit. It’s not your world.”

“Is it your world?”

“I don’t know.”

“Do you want to do it again?”

“Yeah, just to find out.”

So he did it again, and other stuff and he really liked it. I think he had fun, more fun than dancing even.  He wore tiny little shorts with all his bits hanging out.  He thought it was normal. He got lots of different jobs, most of them paid pretty well. He was a make up guy. He did Joan Rivers once and once the wife of the then head of the UN Boutrous Boutrous something. He said she had really bad breath but bought a ton of stuff.

Round about the early 80s we started to hear whispers of this gay cancer thing. By the mid 80s, my friend got tested and it was positive and they put him on AZT, the only drug available at the time. It made him really sick, but it was hard to know what was the illness and what was the AZT, though technically, his T cell count wasn’t low enough to be considered full blown.

Years later, I moved to England and was pregnant with my first child. My friend had settled down with a rich guy but didn’t seem that into him. He came to visit me and though he looked pretty sick by then, he made a beeline for Soho and I didn’t seem him for a few days. When he came back he was sort of exploding from both ends and rattling with drugs. When it all calmed down,  I said, are you proper sick, now, not just the before bit.”

“Yeah, I have AIDS.” He didn’t bat an eyelid. “Don’t fucking cry on me, I hate that shit.”

I gave him pasta and pesto.

“I hate pesto, ” he said, and pushed the dinner aside and took about 40 pills and got into my single bed. I cuddled up to his bony frame.

He sweated and shook and sweated and shook and then took a bath and shat in the bath and I cleaned it up.  The next day he felt better so we went to The Tower of London. He said he loved London. Then we went to Harrods and bought a bunch of stuff on the guy’s credit card, the one he didn’t love. Then they took a trip on the Orient Express.

He went back to New York and got sicker and sicker, even though he was on a new type of drug therapy. He was plagued with parasites. My sister stepped up to the plate and really looked after him as much as she could with her own young family. I was pregnant with my second child and he came to London once more, with a different rich guy. This guy was nicer. We all sat in their hotel lobby drinking coffee and the guy got up and left and said, “I am leaving so you can talk about me.”

Drew said he was nice, but he couldn’t really do the physical side of things anymore, but he was nice.

Maybe six months after that, my mother called to say he was dead. I cried my head off and took a long walk. She said they tried to scatter his ashes in Central Park but the wind changed direction and the ashes blew in their faces. That was him all over.

A few months after that I went to NY and visited his mother, who had once had three sons, and now had none. They had all died.

She cried and said, “I slapped him. He went running round the apartment throwing up and shitting and he just wrecked all my stuff so I slapped him and said goddamnit just do all this stuff in one place, so there is one stain, this is gonna cost me a fuckin fortune to clean.” And she cried her head off for thinking about money when her son was so sick and dying.

And just listening to it, and imagining him running round that apartment, which looked like John and Yoko’s white room, I started to panic. I felt his presence, and he was saying get me the fuck out of here, if I go here, instead of there, I will feel better. And he went everywhere with rich boys and he never felt better in any of those places. And I had to stand out on the balcony and gulp down air. I took a Dial a Ride back to my mother’s. She was minding my daughter. My son was back in England.  Up until that moment, I ran away from death, like Drew tried to. There, I’ve named him. After that I went totally the opposite way and became consumed by it. If I knew someone who died, if I knew them and loved them, even just a little, I would crack up just a little bit more, until my very best friend died and I went totally nuts.

A little over a year ago a really good friend died and he made me promise not to go crazy or take drugs if he died. I have kept my promise.  Because he said if I didn’t he would haunt me.  I am done with being haunted. It’s really much better on Scooby Doo. In real life, you are not really living if you are living haunted. You are living with the dead. Now I live with the living. It’s a lot more fun.

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