So. It’s been thirteen years since. Since that night I sat in some nondescript room at the hospital five miles away from my house with your folks, all of us wrecks. Listening to the doctor — not the one who’d been your primary since I’d taken you to the emergency room eleven days before, when I got home from picking up my rental car after my second ever car accident, second in six months, even, picked up my car and made a grocery run and got home to find you sitting on the sofa wearing your glasses instead of your contacts, a full backpack beside you, and you greeted me with the words, “I can’t stand this anymore, take me to the hospital,” so I did, because you hadn’t been feeling well for the better part of two months, your parents told me after you… They told me later that you hadn’t seemed quite yourself when we took them out for their anniversary in mid-August, just six weeks or so before.
You were my roommate then, had been since January, you and Matt Yower the long-haired semi-Siamese, your Matty-Bear. Your stuff in storage (I know how that feels now, but I had no idea then), your life I guess, because you were spiraling down and I saw some of it, and some of your friends tried to tell me more of the ways you were self-destructing, but I didn’t see it, and they couldn’t make me, couldn’t force me to recognize what I’d never seen before. What I saw was bad enough, you know. The not being able to find a job, being pickier about locations than I thought wise for an unemployed-looking-for-work person, you pointing out to me angrily, almost condescendingly, that since your car had been repo’d before you moved in with me, a job Here was doable by public transit but a job There would be much more difficult.
I didn’t understand that then, either.
But when you did find temp work, it didn’t last long because…were you really staying so late at the office to look for work? Did you really fall asleep at the temp job(s) and get found the next morning? Did you do that sometimes, but other times, when I was waiting and waiting for you to get to my office so we could drive back home, were you maybe doing other things? Were you self-destructing, or was the weird behavior a result and not a symptom? I don’t know. I feel blind now, but I can’t blame myself for missing signs of one thing when you were always so very good at misdirection. I knew in high school you were a talented actor, after all. It just never occurred to me you’d keep on acting…when you weren’t acting out, and that was…
When did you give up on yourself? Was it after Chino? I lied like a trouper to my mom about that period, said you were in northern Cali doing data entry for the tax board. If only. If only. But was it after that? After you were diagnosed, only a year after my mom had died? Maybe after you started on the path your friends told me you were on — because some of them had been there and knew the signs? Or before all of that? When you’d do the mandated group counseling and feel it was more likely to inspire you to act out than help you deal with it or control it or whatever? Earlier than that? The second or third time you were arrested? The first? When you realized you couldn’t keep your parents from fighting? When you realized that who you were, at the most fundamental level of existence, meant that the church you’d been raised in thought you had no right to exist? Or, well, maybe you could exist, but you couldn’t BE who you were because Those People were damned and going to hell faster than you could say spit. Did you think of how your dad would talk about one of the arson cases he’d worked that happened to be related to a child-actor-turned-character-actor whose sexual orientation was one of those open secrets in Hollywood, how scathingly your dad spoke about that actor and everyone who was like him — and know your dad was talking about you, too?
Or was it when you finally realized that the music you loved couldn’t get you anywhere because I’m sorry, even if you’re hitting it sharp it’s still the wrong damned note and they kind of frown on that in opera. When you were on, you were awesome, and you had the acting talent too, and the looks, let’s not forget the dark hair and hazel-brown eyes and the body, which maybe wasn’t model “quality” but…dammit. You liked to joke that Mario Lanza was the reincarnation of Enrico Caruso, and maybe you were the reincarnation of Mario Lanza, and I remember pointing out once that “Voice-wise, that might not be a bad thing, but considering considering Caruso died at 48 and Lanza at 38, maybe you’d better hope you’re not!”
You did pass Lanza. But only by three years. And I’m honestly not sure now if making it in opera would have been the saving of you, or just led to an even sooner destruction.
I’ve digressed, haven’t I? I do that, you know. You did, too. You took such glee in telling me what your mom said after you took me over to meet them the first time — just a few weeks after our first date, your senior prom, you in a powder-blue tux with dark blue velvet trim and me in a dress that managed to be floaty and fitted in all the right places and was, as I recall, rather lower cut that anything else I’d ever worn, and isn’t it hell that the the first time you kissed me was during a slow dance and it completely drove the song that was playing right out of my head, and our after-party was, geez, going to Denny’s or Norm’s and having to park next to a dumpster because everybody else had had the same idea for late-night munchies, and since we’d also ended up parking next to a dumpster at the prom location, it immediately turned into Our Romantic Joke, and it lasted far longer than our romance did — anyway, the joy in your eyes when you told me your mom said that we both talked so much she didn’t know how either of us ever got a word in edgewise.
Kind of like that sentence.
And we’d talk about so much stuff, and go so far afield with it. And later, so often, I’d see you in a room full of people and you could absolutely dominate the place without half trying, and nobody seemed to care because you were just so damned good at it. Give you five minutes and you could talk intelligently with a complete stranger about something you hadn’t even known existed four minutes before. You always seemed so utterly confident, even arrogant sometimes but in a nice way, if that’s possible, but looking back, I have to wonder how much was true confidence and how much was hiding in plain sight? I mean, it took me years to figure out I was an introvert masquerading as an extrovert…maybe you figured if you put up a good enough front, nobody would know how flawed you felt?
But back to later. Listening to your doctor tell us the latest EEG was close enough to flat-line that your folks could legally take you off support. Four days after sitting in a similar room, if not the same one, and finding out from your primary — a neurologist? Maybe — that the very first thing you’d complained of when you were admitted wasn’t the having-trouble-swallowing thing that had gotten so painful you could hardly eat. It was the headaches. The blinding headaches you’d never gotten around to mentioning to me, or to your folks, probably because you knew one or another of us would have heard “headaches for a week” and dragged you to a doctor. No, you went through it alone, in excruciating pain, for fucking WEEKS before I came home with the rental car and made taking you to the hospital my second trip.
I remember visiting you on…Wednesday? Tuesday? No, Wednesday evening after work. You’d had the spinal tap that day, so maybe you’d admitted to having a few headaches whose cause they couldn’t pin down, hence the needle in your back. You were so uncomfortable when I got there I offered to rub your back a little — I’d started massage school five months before, and you were a very willing practice body, and even though this time it was just you leaned forward in a hospital bed and me slowly rubbing your back one-handed, I could see the tension leave you, see the rate drop on the BP monitor you were wearing. I don’t remember what we talked about, but I remember that.
The next day they told you you had cryptococcal meningitis. A quick dip into Wikipedia suggests the most likely culprit is C. neoformans, although how the bloody hell you would have picked it up is anyone’s guess. Dispersed pigeon droppings? Christ on a cracker. But you told me over the phone that it was the kind of thing someone with a healthy immune system would have knocked down without even knowing they had it. That it was a filthy, dirty disease. And I wondered if you meant the meningitis, or the AIDS, and figured it might be some of each. I didn’t visit that night, you told me you were still not up for it after the spinal tap. When I called on Friday, you told me again what you had. When I asked if you wanted me to visit, you said no, but to please come Saturday morning.
I said I would. I told you I loved you. And you said, “Thank you,” in a voice like you were falling asleep.
In all the time I’d known you, you’d never replied to “I love you” with “Thank you”. And you never did again, unless your folks called later and you said it to them.
Three o’clock Saturday morning, my phone rang. Full cardiac and respiratory arrest, they said. Re-established, they said. But. Not good. Not at all good. And nobody thought to put a DNR on your chart, because you were young and otherwise healthy (theoretically, at least) and now that they knew what you had they could treat it. It would take a while to knock it down, but it was treatable.
I think it was suicide by natural causes. I think you started feeling poorly and knew SOMEthing was wrong and growing more wrong every day, and I think you looked at your life and decided this was the first step on a long, slow slide to the bottom you just didn’t want to be on. So you waited. And waited. And waited. Until whatever it was would be so well established that maybe, just maybe, you could let go. I think you let go that Saturday morning, in the darkest watches of the night, and you never came back. But lack of a DNR meant your parents had to wait for that mostly flat EEG before they could let you go.
So we visited you for three more days, knowing you weren’t there, would never be there again. I talked to you, held your hand, said you didn’t have to worry, that I’d take care of Matty-Bear for you — and I did, even after he developed diabetes and I had to give him insulin shots twice a day, until the afternoon I came home and found he’d gone to sleep in the printer cart in the sunny window and never woke up again. He lived until at least April of 2005, I know that because that was the Season of the Recording Studio in My Living Room and when I got caught on the wrong side of the La Conchita mudslide, David said he’d be okay giving Matt his insulin.
I talked. I held your hand. I cried. I cried so much, even though I knew it wouldn’t do any good, but you know, sometimes it’s just hard to stop. Hell, I probably stroked your hair. And then at last, they could — I could — let you go.
On your 41st birthday, we scattered your ashes. At least your birthday that year didn’t fall on Thanksgiving. It does this year. Should be…interesting…if this doesn’t exorcise whatever it is that’s wending its way through my brain at the moment.
Sometimes I miss you so much. Other times if you were here I’d shake you till your teeth rattled like castanets. And I’d ask why. Why didn’t you tell us. Why did you wait. But you always hated why questions. You always looked at them as accusations, as judgments, never as a simple request for information. We didn’t have too many fights, but the ones we had did seem to spring from why questions. Well, the ones that didn’t spring from my catching you in some stupid lie. For all I know you lied to me day in, day out, for most of the 25 years we knew each other. I don’t really think so, but I did catch you often enough that I always wondered, the next time, why the aftermath of the last time didn’t cure you of it.
Probably because you were human. Probably because I am too.
I don’t know why I felt like writing this. Why this year instead of, say, the tenth anniversary of your death? And I don’t know. Maybe just because it’s 13, and you and I always enjoyed twitting the triskaidekaphobics of our acquaintance. So.