It was 28 years ago. While much of that time is hazy save for a few of little consequence, there is one single moment that is cut into my memory – a deep jagged scar that will never go away.
I was living with Aleph, Rip & Jennifer at New Method Warehouse, heaven and haven, some time before moving there from my first home in Berkeley, the YMCA on Allston Way. I had run away to the Bay Area at 17, knowing absolutely no-one but eventually met some of the better people. People who are still my friends.
This isn’t about them.
After two years, I had begun talking to my adopted parents again, and they proposed coming back down to San Diego to visit. They would pay for the flight, everything – just a brief time to say hi, maybe try to mend some things between us.
Missing the beach and feeling as nostalgic as a kid can feel for certain things – the Pannikin Cafe, where I spent most of my days alone & wishing I wasn’t so insecure & withdrawn, sitting at the corner table of their outside patio watching people, writing & drawing in my journals, pretending to be all adult & doing my best to figure out life – and the abandoned building on Pearl St, the only abandoned building in La Jolla, which I found my way into one night and called home for a few months after I left my parents house.
Memories. Sure, I would come visit.
While there for those few days, they suggested that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to get a physical – just a routine thing at our family doctor to make sure I’m healthy and doing alright. Eager to show them that I’m fine, flourishing, rosy-cheeked & flourishing, eager to show them that they can please stop worrying about me, I agreed. I don’t recall much more of the visit, but I suspect that it went mostly fine, or as fine as it could. Back to Berkeley, back to New Method and playing on all of Rip’s music equipment, back to work at Tower Video on Telegraph, back to free time at Cafe International, coffee and writing, still trying to figure out life and taking most of my instruction from ‘Barfly’. Back to just watching the days pass, one by one, an inconsequential life.
Life was simple, good. Me & my ’68 Dart, rolling with Aleph blasting Public Enemy & the Chili Peppers on the boombox that sat between us, changing the words to “Me & My Friends” to include each other, singing at the top of our lungs & making stupid faces…
A few weeks after I returned from San Diego, the memory of the visit already fading into the place where ‘things that happened and don’t matter’ resides in the mind, I was at work ringing up video rentals and putting boxes on shelves, when Chase, a girl who I worked with, called me over. Someone called and actually asked for me. That was rare, but whatever. I waled behind the counter, pressed the blinking line button, and confirmed “Yeah, this is Casey, what can I do for you?” As I listened to the unknown guy on the other end of the line, his voice grew dim but it was still the only thing I could hear. I felt the blood draining from my face, my knees buckling. Many years later I would experience the exact same feeling again when Baruzula told me that my Bean had been hit and killed by the train…
What the person – Dr. whoever on the other end of the line told me didn’t make any sense. I couldn’t have it… could I? Yeah, I had experimented, played around, but only a few times. It was fun, I had fun but it wasn’t really for me, I liked girls, women, more. I mean fuck, I didn’t even know what it was, no one really did at that time, besides a brand, a curse, a stigma and a near guarantee that anyone who had it would soon die a slow, agonizing death. I was healthy. I felt great. How could I have it? How was I supposed to feel? How could I possibly be HIV+? I wasn’t even TESTED! This is a fucking lame joke, asshole. How was I, when was I… oh……. wait.
Without my knowledge or consent, my adopted parents had requested an extra test during my physical.
In the time it took for the doctor on the other end of the line to say four words, my entire world changed. My story was rewritten.
Some things were obvious effects; I wasn’t concerned about trying to live anymore, not worried about if I took too much of this or that drug I would die. As long as I didn’t end up a burden to someone, as long as it was clean, whatever…
But there was one thing that in looking back now, I truly appreciate; Without question, this knowledge insisted that I looked far deeper inside of myself than most have reason to. It has forced upon and blessed me with a wisdom that I can offer to others and help people with. In the strangest of ways, it has become a gift.
Nearly every decision I made and continue to make comes with necessary introspection, a conscious decision, from deciding where I want my life to go to what may become of the most innocent flirtation. Little can be done without first reaching deep inside of myself and looking at it from every view I can consider.
While that may seem oppressive and prohibiting – and sometimes is, it has also granted not only a profound self-knowledge, but an absolute lust and appreciation for the things in life that don’t require me to do anything more than simply choose to say, with enthusiasm and joy: “Fuck YES”… then unfold my wings, and remember how it feels to fly.