A short flash into a memory
|I can’t tell you his real name, though I believe he is dead. The year was 1985-ish. He and I were in the military, shortly before “don’t ask, don’t tell”. We usually worked on the same shift, though when we were on opposites, whoever was doing the coming in brought the coffee or Pepsi. We were good friends and truly enjoyed each other’s company. We hung out on our days off together, commiserated about our relationships with each other, that kind of thing. Looking back on those days, my naiveté surprises me. Did I think there was an attraction there? No, we were friends and we were both happy to keep it that way.
When a friend comes to you and says, “I need to talk to you.” what goes through your mind? Given my upbringing, I immediately thought I had done something wrong and was about to be called on it. Following him into the darkened supply room, I wondered what the hell was going on and why he didn’t want me to turn the light on…”leave the door open though” he said. He took my hands in his, took a very deep breath as he looked into my eyes and said, “I found out that I am HIV positive.”
The dimness of the room was a blessing. I tried to put my arms around him, to tell him I was his friend and whatever he was about to go through, I was there for him. He didn’t let me touch him. As he backed away from me, I asked him what he was going to do. He explained he would be going back home as soon as he was processed out. How he was going to a place back there that would take care of him while he was dying. In my head, I pictured him in a cold room, full of people dying from AIDS. Him shuffling along with an IV pole and tubes hanging off him. Through my tears, I saw him turn away and head for the door. I grabbed him by the arm and kissed him on the cheek. I thanked him for his honesty, told him I loved him, and would be thinking about him for a long time to come.
I never saw him again. His loss was tangible and I physically missed him. A part of me was gone and not coming back. It took me months and a move across the world not to think about him without crying. My heart went out to his family. I wish I could have reached out to them. We could have grieved together. He was a warm, wise and wonderful young man. The world has been a colder, harder place since then. I can only presume that he is dead, though I don’t know for sure. It was in the early days of AIDS, and those diagnosed, usually died.
So here’s to you, my dear young friend. I know that heaven is a joyful place, but you brighten it with your smile. I miss you.