Tonight I feel crappy. It’s not the flu. It’s not a migraine. Not just allergies, either, though that overheated fast-food fryer smell is noxious, and no, I can’t find where it’s coming from. So what I’m dealing with here, near as I can tell, is olfactory-hallucination-induced nausea. Plus a headache. And a belly ache. So, tonight I get to meander. Here ~hands over a beer~ this should make it worth your while.
Tonight it’s one week till the eve of my zero birthday. As luck would have it, just as I was feeling crappy enough to plop my ass down in front of the TV for a spell, Philadelphia started. For those who don’t know, Philadelphia is the 1993 movie in which Tom Hanks won an Oscar for his sensitive portrayal of a successful lawyer with AIDS who fights for his rights after being fired. Bruce Springsteen won an Oscar for Streets of Philadelphia, a song that still has the power to make me cry. I watched the movie - and the Oscars that year - with my best friend and movie partner, Jose Sequeira. A year later, Jose died of the same complications as Hanks’ character: CMV: it lodges in your brain and begins slowly closing things down, a kind of Alzheimer’s of the boardwalk at the end of the season.
Okay, I’m cheating here. I did a search of CMV in the text of The Movie Lovers. That’s the collection of stories I wrote after Jose died. Anyway, I just needed an easy way to explain CMV, cuz I’m going somewhere else with this. See when I sat down today, I believed Philadelphia had hit theaters the year after Jose died. I was surprised not only to see that it preceded his death but also that Tom Hanks was so young. We were all young then. We just didn’t know it, dealing with so much death. And hard on the tail of that thought: my zero birthday. Did I mention that I was already feeling crappy?
In Philadelphia, Tom Hanks’ character develops Kaposi’s carcinoma first, and dark brownish red cancer lesions begin showing on his head and neck. Staring at these in a mirror, he says, “Every problem has a solution. Every problem has a solution. Every problem has a solution.” Me, I’m looking for the solution to my life: how I ended up where I am, with my dearest circle of friends long dead (or shell-shocked) and the next circle departed with my divorce (he got custody of the friends); how my long-married self ended up single and with just a handful of true friends at this juncture.
Now don’t send tea and sympathy just yet. I don’t feel sorry for myself. I’m doing what I do best: taking my life off like a dress and laying it out to study until I can understand why it fits the way it does. It doesn’t. So, it’s a good thing this year that what little remains of the familiar is being torn away. I’m four-square behind it. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. Here’s the funny thing. Some of what I’m missing most tonight, something that’s no longer in my life, is one of the most painful periods I ever lived through.
The CMV that eventually took my best friend’s life first appeared two years beforehand, and day by day I watched Jose hunker under a blanket, ashen, sitting on my couch while life drained out of him. I lived in a quiet state of panic. He survived, though, and for the next two years Jose and I lived like kids at a carnival: riding every ride and eating every kind of food on a stick like we’d never get older, never get tired, never get sick and have to go home. Our lives weren’t perfect, nor our hearts trouble free, but when we were together ours was a brighter, prettier world than most mortals inhabit.
That last part, yeah that was from the book, too. I’m learning that some of what I’m having the hardest time saying goodbye to is also what I want most to leave behind. I’ve been carrying Jose’s story - and mine - in the form of The Movie Lovers for longer than I care to say. It’s time for that story to become a book, to fledge and fly - or land splat; not every bird makes it. Whether the result is failure or flight, all I want for this birthday is an empty nest.