Somehow, 50

I felt the blood drain from my face, my mind. It’s a strange feeling, like submersing your head in a pool of nearly frozen water, but not as cold.

“What?”

Now I was finding it difficult to stand. There wasn’t anything to sit on so I leaned against the racks of VHS videos behind the counter.
The voice on the other end of the line repeated what it said, a little slower, each point a sentence like he was trying to teach a five year old quantum physics.

“This is Dr. Thomas. Your test results have come back. You have tested positive. For the HIV antibody. The virus that causes AIDS.

  1. I was 19 years old, and a single two minute call was all it took rip away everything I thought I knew.

I had run away from home at 17 for the third and final time, and after living with my meth dealer for a while, *not* sleeping in his unfurnished living room on the floor, I decided to leave, go somewhere besides San Diego. I didn’t know a single person in the Bay Area. It seemed like good a place as any to try and figure out who I was.

When I was finally able to think, I realized that I must have been tested on a recent trip to visit my adopted parents. They asked if I wanted a physical while I was there, and I agreed. I wanted to show them I was fine, healthy. That there was no reason to worry about me. That I didn’t need them. I figured out that they had also requested an HIV test from the doctor, and getting my approval wasn’t important. The call on that day was kind of a shock.

I had never used needles, had slept with maybe five men. I was exempt from AIDS, I was mostly straight and I was safe. I guess all it took was one of those men being positive, and everything working just right to infect me. Talk about rotten luck.

But that didn’t matter now. Nothing mattered. Across the Bay the City was dying, the plague was killing people and no one had any answers. I’d heard the treatments they had weren’t that much better than the disease.
That’s all I knew. That’s all I chose to know.

I figured I had about 18 months, maybe two years left to live if I was lucky, but much of that time would be spent in horrible pain, my body shutting down, my own shit and blood and fluids pouring out of me. All the sudden my self-imposed rule of never using needles for recreational drugs and never using heroin went to shit. When I started to get sick, I would handle it my own way. I wasn’t going to be a burden on anyone – just slide away and disappear.

Time passed. A year, two, five, and the sickness never came. Still, bordering the line between conscious and subconscious, I kept waiting for the day everything turned around. I knew it was coming.

As much as I wanted to go back to school, to learn something I could use, I couldn’t commit to the time. I didn’t have a future.

 

 

I destroyed the best relationships & deepest loves I have ever known, selfishly afraid to ever force anyone to feel like they needed to be loyal, faithful, as they stood by, helpless, watching me die. For the same reason I never allowed myself to have what I perhaps wanted more than anything in life – a child.

I took each day as it came, tried to make the best out of it. I studied myself and my beliefs, did all I could to learn about me and what life was. I taught myself to see the beauty in everything, every day. I tried to help, I learned from others, I read & continue to read feverishly, so at least I might have some wisdom, some inspiration, something to offer another. Maybe something clever & profound to say in my final breath. Only up until the past 15 or so years, every moment of my life has been spent expecting to die. It’s the only thing I’ve known.

It sure did fuck up my credit score.

Now, somehow, I’m only a few weeks away from 50 years old, and wondering how it is that I got here. I’ve spent years looking for an answer as to why. Why, of all people, me?

I’ve only been able to come up with one answer that makes any sense at all.
 

 

Life, Death, Dogs. A Rooftop Contemplation

The occasional whisper of tires as a car drives by below, an unintelligible shout, the scattered songs of birds. The only sounds at this hour. Only the crackheads & I seem to be awake. Even the sirens are quiet, sleeping.

It’s 4am & I’m up on the roof of my apartment building with a fresh cup of coffee, a cigarette, & Ruby. The clouds above reflect the city lights giving a faint glow, just enough to see by. A cool breeze plays with my hair, blowing it in my face then away. I wrap my robe a little tighter around me.

I sit on the short wall of my building, look down at the weeds growing in our forbidden & neglected back yard. Near the far right corner calla lily’s bloom, defying the otherwise abandoned and unloved desolation. With their beauty inevitably comes a warm sorrow as I’m reminded of when Striggy brought a gift of bone-white lily’s to my tent in Austin. With love & reverence I placed them on top of the pale blonde box I had picked up earlier that day, already made into an altar surrounded with candles, a picture of Bean propped up against the box that now held the ashes of the most amazing dog & companion I’ve ever known. She was killed by a freight train a few days before, found by friends lying between the tracks, her favorite stuffed toy a few inches from her head. Nearly 13 years later & the tears still fall for her.

I turn back facing the roof top, close my eyes, take in a few deep breaths as I find a strange comfort in this sadness. Now, it’s filled with love and warm memories instead of the anguish I carried inside for years, holding it tight, afraid that if the pain wasn’t there I would somehow be betraying her memory.

I know better now. I understand death better now.

I think of how exquisite this life is, how fortunate I am. Occasionally I still let the weight of it all get to me and forget these things, but not now. Not today.

I open my eyes and catch Ruby briefly chasing her tail. I chuckle silently to myself and somehow love her even more.

I think of the time I spent in Hospice. Months on end so close to giving up, so desperately wanting to stop being strong, and each morning having to somehow find just one reason to keep fighting. One reason to stay alive.

As impossible it seemed to be able to imagine at times, I needed to believe that I would somehow get better.

I had to know, with as little doubt as possible, that there would be mornings like this one to look forward to.

Do you know what it means…

As I weave the rings together, I half-watch various TV series that I remember enjoying, and this time, it’s Treme – a show based in New Orleans, centered around the music of the city – and the pain & frustration that Katrina left in her aftermath.
The first show of the series begins three months after The Storm – one month before I moved there, and the first time I ever stepped foot on the magick of its soil.
I find tears coming to my eyes frequently, as I remember the amazing people, the fun & friends I met that remain in my heart to this day, and the spirit of the city.
I had never experienced a city stronger, with more resolve, nor people with more love for their home.
Until I moved there, I had never truly understood what that word meant – only that I had never had one. I chose to call it mine shortly after I moved there, and in a strange and not so subtle way, I could *feel* that it accepted me into its arms. It loved me back.

I performed on the street as a living statue while living there, and my most common pitch – one of the best ones in the Quarter – was on Decatur Street in Jackson Square Park, directly across from Cafe’ du Monde.
I have many funny, sad, & beautiful stories from those months, one being a NOPD officer who had grown kind-of friendly with me in passing, and one day, as a group of about 15 tourists stood around me gawking & ignoring my tip box, I hear, seemingly over a PA system: “Put. Some Money. In The Box!” – and turned just enough to see him sitting in his car, smiling at me. I almost laughed at how quickly they reached deep into their wallets & pocketbooks, but couldn’t break character.
Another day there was the child being dragged along by his mother like a piece of old luggage, on her way to the next tourist shopping destination. She had him by the wrist, his arm stretched as far as it would go as he tried to look around at the people, the horses & carriages, and all the things that a young boy should be able to take the time to explore, to wonder about & ask endless questions to an annoyed parent.
As they were walking by me, the mother didn’t look twice in her one-person shopping stampede – she had the blinders of a well-oiled consumer, but the *boy*… the boy, he noticed that maybe something just wasn’t entirely right with that statue, with it’s white skirt gently luffing in the breeze, scuffed shoes… there was something that caught his eye, and as he looked up at my face, I caught his with mine – and I winked at him. It was something small – I just wanted him to know that *I* saw him. That he had a friend.

His jaw dropped and eyes popped open to near the point of being nothing but a caricature of a lazily carved pumpkin, and as he realized his feet needed to keep moving due to the ignorant machine of the relentless force dragging him along, he jogged to catch up & ran a little ahead so she might see him, remember he was there and listen as he said with the hope of her hearing him – “Mom – there’s someone *IN* there!”

A couple people in the series are street musicians, and as the camera switched to the other person, I saw that they were standing exactly where I did, and according to the show, exactly where I would be just a little over a month later.

This time, my eyes weren’t deep enough to keep the tears from falling.

Gods, I miss New Orleans.

NOLA.Statue

The Complications of a Kiss

For hours we talked. We talked of the Sun & the Stars, of everything around & under them. We talked of writing and authors, of our pasts and present. Of herbs and addiction, of friends and difficult relationships. We talked of romance. She said she was a hopeless romantic, I told her I was a hopeful one which made her smile. She talked about lovers, of past boy & girlfriends, but not having anything current to say from my side, I mostly kept quiet.

I looked into her ice-blue eyes and I could only think of clichés to describe them, and worried about a piece of the glitter surrounding her eyes falling into one. I found it kind of dorky and cute the way sometimes she stifled her laughter by pressing her tongue against her upper lip. We talked outside of time, the world moving on around us.

Although we could have sat there enjoying each other’s company for much longer, the growing soreness in our asses had something else to say about it. It was time to stand, to go. It had been a lovely time together, getting to know each other, finally meeting a decade after she had first heard my name from a mutual friend.

Instead of parting ways outside the café, we sauntered down Market Street, side by side weaving around the people & construction, enjoying the continued conversation & moving slowly, more as if we were strolling through a park on a warm spring day than in the rush of San Francisco as it left work & headed home. As far as I could tell, we were the only ones there.

“This is where I turn. I’ve had a wonderful time.”
A warm hug. I answer, we go our separate ways. On the way home I walk faster, at my normal pace, the hint of a smile playing on my lips as I hope that it actually will be soon, and, newly inspired, think about what I’ll write.

At least that’s what I expected to happen, but we kept walking, taking now about hidden treasures in Golden Gate Park. She says she’ll take me to the “Faerie Door”. I imagine her being able to take me through it to her true home. Now walking through Civic Center Park, I begin to wonder where she’s going. My mind starts spinning. Maybe she has an errand to run that just happens to be in the direction of my apartment. Yeah, that must be it. If it were ten, fifteen years ago, if we were walking away from a bar a little tipsy, if pretty much everything were different, then I could accept that she might be coming home with me – but these days? A lovely woman I just met coming home with me? What a silly thought. That just doesn’t happen to me anymore. She must have someone else she wants to visit close to me. Maybe she wants to get some Vietnamese food to take home. Quit having such foolish thoughts, kSea. You know better.

We wander up Hyde Street together, each step getting closer to my home and she is sill by my side. I start to get nervous, confused, trying to remember how to do this… this boy/girl thing. The game, the ritual. I can’t. Hell, the last lover I had was three years ago, and I don’t have the slightest idea of how to read all but the most blatant & obvious hints anymore – and those I’d likely even have trouble with, looking around the room for someone else and wondering if they were actually directed at me.

I need to calm down. This could be, and most likely is, entirely innocent. I don’t know what I’m thinking. Really. I have no idea.

We turn the corner to my apartment, which is now about 20 yards away. A friend of hers once looked at an apartment in the building next to mine I find out, and then I’m opening my gate. I apologize beforehand about the mess & dog hair everywhere. I refrain from saying that I wasn’t expecting company, thinking it might come across poorly and accidentally give her the idea that she isn’t welcome & make her uncomfortable.

I quickly grab the clothes off of my couch & toss them in the walk-in. “That’s your closet?”
“Yeah! I have another one right there.” That’s it, kSea. Suave as ever. Christ.

She sits on the couch without asking or waiting for me to say anything, and I like that. It makes me feel like she’s comfortable here. I offer her anything, and thankfully she’s happy with water. I can do that. I have water! I pull my finest ex pickle jar out of the cupboard for her & make sure it’s company clean, not just “me” clean. It passes. Must have been a good day when I washed it.

When I come back into the room I notice that she’s taken her hair down and nearly drop her water. It’s beautiful. She’s even more beautiful. I sit down beside her, leaving a good foot & a half between us. It’s a small couch. I mentally take the word “loveseat” out of my head.

The talking continues, she likes my knives (are you fucking KIDDING me?) and says she used to have one exactly like this one. We talk about knife throwing. (I can’t even make this shit up. Dear gods.) I tell her stories o fme as a child, crashing my mom’s car into our house at 11, setting my mattress on fire at 8. We laugh. Compare notes of families, talk about adoption & blood.

I’m terrified. This is what I’ve been doing my best to avoid every time I went out, and doing it very successfully for over three years. With clothes on, I look okay, but I’m reminded at the times I have to look in the mirror what I look like without them. Scarred & discolored legs, the umbilical hernia looking like a fetal twin sticking out of my abdomen, the inguinal hernia less horrible, but at the top right of my pelvic bone. Even if you know what to expect it’s hideous. I try not to look at it unless I have to. I don’t want anyone else to have to.

Even as rusty as I am, I know I could have swayed our conversation with a couple questions to a place where I could have found out if it was alright to kiss her, if she would allow me to, if she wanted me to… and I would have loved to. But everything inside of me wouldn’t let it happen for fear of the possibility of it going further. After some time she puts her hair back up. I feel like an idiot, just wishing I could get past all that’s inside of me. A warm hug, and we take the elevator downstairs. I bring Ruby so I have a reason to walk with her just a little more.

My Dr. had called me that morning, telling me that the surgeon still won’t agree to do the surgery on my hernia’s, now two instead of one. He says that there’s a 30% chance of complications due to the ascites (fluid retention) in my abdomen, but I can’t help but call bullshit. Though there may be some fluid, I work hard keeping it as minimal as possible with teas & herbs, and if he did do the surgery I’d work even harder, agreeing to even take the prescription diuretics they want me to. But still, he won’t. He’s afraid, he’s concerned, and he doesn’t have any idea how strong my will can be to live – when there’s something to live for.

It’s been nearly three years since I’ve even kissed a woman romantically, hoping that one day, with all the fighting to get the surgery done, he might give in – but still, there’s that 30% chance that I could die hanging over everything, hanging over a life that I now don’t even have the morphine to mask the oppressive loneliness.

What he doesn’t seem to understand is that, as my will to live fades, the chance of dying without the surgery keeps growing – with each memory of a kiss that never happened.

Old Bones (aka why I won’t let myself die.)

I spend much of my days lately going through my past, reading each post, filtering out those that say little and creating what will be a book out of the others. Remembering who I was, and trying to figure if there is still some of him inside of me, or if he’s still there, buried under all that’s happened since and trying to dig his way out.

Some of the things I’ve written are still saturated now with the same pain I felt then – but some things I read make it worth it.
This is one of those things that make it all worth it…

~ ~ ~ ~ ~
’06 – – – Because this makes me feel that everything in my life that got me to today was for some sort of reason…
I’ve been reading this almost every day since I received it in the mail about a week ago.
Every time, I get choked up.
Frequently, tears fall.
and I don’t think I will ever understand what I do to deserve things and people like this in my life
simply by living it the only way I can believe in…
***
(Sometime in ’05)
Dear kSea,
I find myself hesitant to write this as I don’t wield words nearly as deftly as you do. There is very little art in my language – pragmatic ramblings at best. And yet here I am putting paper to pen anyway. Because I miss exchanges with you. Because the internet feels cold and incidental. Because I’m hopeful that intention can affect distances, mental if not geographic. Because it’s so nice to get real mail!
There’s a part of me that’s worried about you nearly since the day I met you. Me being the mother that I am and you with your constant chaos and complete lack of social safety nets that I rely on in my own life. Yet some how you have managed to amaze me with your resilience and your will to survive time and time again. You’ve given me pause to question some of the things I give power and importance to. Boiled life down to it’s essentials.
When you were leaving S.F. for Boston my worry spiked. You seem like a mythical creature on the endangered species list – magnificent and otherworldly, but fragile and only possible in certain realities. Your disregard for those social construct nets is something that seemed possible only in a defiant city like S.F.
7.4
Wow, I wish I’d put a date on the first half of this letter. I wrote it possibly over eight months ago. It got lost in my papers and I suddenly found it just recently. But I read those words and realize it still holds true – all of it. So, I continue…
Nonetheless, out you ventured into the cruel world that never seems to appreciate it’s mythical creatures until they’re gone. But in a world stingy with it’s magic you’ve milked it, found the leaks and siphoned it, nurtured it’s growth in sidewalk cracks, passed it on like notes in class. You NEVER cease to amaze and inspire me.
This praise and awe does not come blind to the darker side. I know that you carry anger, bitterness, resentment, malice and cold along with all the glitter. It doesn’t make the wonder any less real – more so, in fact. The fervor with which you hold on to the beauty of the world comes in part from your knowledge of how ugly it can be. In times I’ve heard you resent your will to live. The thing is it’s not just a will to not be dead, but a will to live. To really live and take life for all it’s worth.
I guess this is really just a long winded way for me to tell you that I love you and I’m immensely grateful to have you in my life.

And I’ll never forget getting mailed a PB&J sandwich.
And I found this picture and thought you’d like it.
Much Love,
Whit

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

There was a time when I loved myself.Thought I was indestructible.
I’ve learned more since, but I still believe the latter. Not many people live through what I have been through – they give up.

I never will… but one day I just might want to go. IF I ever feel like I have given all I can.
I don’t see that day being anytime soon.

I love you. All of you. If you read this – thank you. I will do whatever I can for you. For us.
Just in something of a low spot for the past years.

I will fly again.

Just another beautiful night…

Sometimes life throws you something that you didn’t expect & are better for it. This was one of those nights.

Rose was kind. Kind and wonderful enough to actually PM me and offer to put me on the list, if I wanted. With all the people I know, I hardly know her – but she is the sigle one who approached me without me first asking. I would do anything I could for her because of that. It’s stupid how easily I’m devoted & loyal. I don’t think that’s a fault – at least, not for anyone but me. (Though I kind of think by saying that, I’m now fucked… We’ll see.)

Aaaanyway, I walked from my apartment to Baxtalo Drom (The Lucky Road) – the show she produces and has for quite a while – and in the rare times when I was able to go always had a wonderful time.

Of course, in those times I was lit on morphine, so the times I had, full crowd, amazing performances, all the bells & whistles to make a great evening… were somewhat dulled.
Morphine sucks. (My public service announcement.) (Your welcome.)

Tonight however, my noggin was ALL screwy – sober as hell on the way there, I could barely walk straight. Muscles weren’t working right, mind was jittering like a scratched record – I was a mess. But hell, I looked better that I was and can almost always pull off a little bit of conversation. I made due. No one suspected a damn thing. I’m a pro at this – false smiles were the first thing I learned…

It didn’t take long tonight before the smiles on my face were real, weren’t something contrived. This is what I wrote in my notebook:

“In times like this, I see the fun others are having. Intimate, shared, free.
Regardless of how I’m feeling in mind or body – most times – I do my best to let it contamine me. I begin to honor my smile, I begin to dance. I forget everything but NOW, and there is nothing better than this.”

So yeah, it ended up being a good night. I smiled, danced a bit – and then it was time for me to leave. So I did. Duh. Just felt like it. No good-byes. NEVER good bye..

Until again, if I must say something…

Realizing I had only eaten a bowl of cereal today, and thinking that maybe I should eat something more so the sides of my stomach don;t grind against each other, I decided to do the worst thing imaginable, short of eating a puppy.

Burger King. Bacon Double Cheeseburger. I hang my head as I write that. Good thing I can *almost* touch type. I had to close my eyes.

I ate half, hating myself with every bite – but then, I found at least a bit of redemption. As I walked up 9th street, half a burger in hand, I crossed Market and came upon the Wells Fargo Homeless Troupe. Always there at night, most just kids like I was – when I was.
I offered the still warm 1/2 burger to them, and after a few who said thanks bit no I found one who was willing to eat this crap. Hunger doesn’t let you choose. I felt good & wrong at the same time. It was confusing.

Further up the street I met my 2nd stage of homeless, and though on most every day I walk through them & their really bizarre things for sale, I heard a tune being played on someone’s radio. Didni’t know it, but saw three people dancing.

So I decided to dance with them, and did. WE did.

I find it so beautiful. Regardless of who you are or where you sit or what your situation is…
IF you can let that go, if you can dance with *anyone* – that’s all that matters. That’s all that matters because that will put a smile on your face and light up your fucking heart, and

and welcome back to human. Welcome back to love.

And then I walked another block, turned the corner and was shortly home to Ruby. She was all wiggly ass to see me again. I LOVE that!

I fucking love this life sometimes. Most times.
When I think about how many times I could have taken or lost it, not to experience nights like this…

I love it all times.

And in that, there is magic.

 

Passion

There is a certain point where security becomes confinement. A point where freedom feels too open-ended & vast.

But in between these is a small line that we do our best to balance on, arms out and leaning from side to side That is what we – the dreamers, artists, writers; those who thrill on fulfilling the potential that we have been blessed with – struggle to maintain.

We must continue to tap into our inner strength, to inhale the beauty of life until our hearts nearly explode in wonder and amazement & love, to squeeze every drop out of what we have to give to the world so that we feel our lives were not lived in vain.

That, in the end, we made a difference.