[I] may be crazy but I'm the closest thing I have to a voice of reason.

24 March 2010

Do You Wanna Die?

Dear Sweet Readers, Do you wanna be my angel? (That’s a wink and some extra love to my readers from BLIP.fm.)
I can promise you
You’ll stay as beautiful
With dark hair
And soft skin
Okay, here we go. This time I’ve given you a cast of characters, so you don’t go cross-eyed trying to remember names. No intro tonight, except to say that if you think I have attitude now (and I do), then just wait for the final installment tomorrow.

Cast of Characters for The Movie Lovers
Setting: 1960 to mid 1990s, when gay men were dying in droves.

Jose Sequeira (pronounced cicada, like the insect) Main character; Dina’s best friend and former student.
Dina Narrator; loving friend and devoted caretaker; sometimes pissy with her readers.
Frank Jose’s former partner; later his primary caretaker, and always his love.
Sonia Jose’s mom; from Nicaragua, she speaks very limited English; she and Dina share a March 2nd birthday.
Cliff Dina’s husband; loyal friend to Frank and Jose; Leo and would-be drag queen.
Jose’s Care Team Corey Baker, Caterino (Cat), Lupin (a Radical Fairy), Kay Exxo, and others.

Prelude, part 4 ....That year at the university was not the simple success I had hoped for. Nothing was.

Here’s a picture of me just a month before Jose died:
Tonight’s my night with Jose. Tonight’s also our Care Team meeting. Only Cliff, Frank, and I will be there. Yesterday I spoke strongly to Cliff about his not having stayed with Jose (he has Friday night, but Frank’s been taking Jose to the mountains for the weekend). I told him I thought he should trade nights with Frank and stay with Jose during the week (pull his weight is what I meant). Last night Cliff spent the night with Jose -- at the last minute because Kat, who had already switched with Frank because of a scheduling conflict, said he couldn’t make it last night either. This isn’t the first time he’s been late, switched, or couldn’t make it. I’m tired. I. Am. Tired. Lupin and Kaye have not been irresponsible, but they have done their share of missing meetings and not being here on their scheduled nights. Corey has bailed out of caring for Jose during the day, a promise he made to both Jose and Frank; he is the one we looked to when Jose’s parents had to leave suddenly. Frank has called Sonia. She’ll be here in a week. When Corey quit, he left Jose’s social worker with the impression that the nighttime Care Team was falling apart. It was a misapprehension -- and a jump to conclusions -- but now I am beginning to feel the same way.

We’re all tired. We’re all at different stages of grieving. I fill my hours and my head with work, and I spend my time burning with self-righteousness. Silently burning.
Back then, I was burning a good deal of the time: at work, in my marriage, over the actions of anyone whose level of commitment didn’t match my own. And every time I tried and failed to figure out why I couldn’t make my life work, I burned. Because I did not speak these feelings aloud, I prefer to think that no one noticed. Then again, before Cliff and I got into marriage counseling, we thought we were doing a good job of covering our feelings. Turns out no one could stand to be in the same room with us.

At work, my husband was my office assistant. And about the same time that Jose’s Care Team was struggling to hold together, my husband had come to realize his complicity in a power struggle that affected both my standing in the department and my ability to perform my job, a situation from which there was no extricating myself. He apologized, but there are some things that once you have allowed them to be done cannot be taken back nor undone. You just have to live with them. At work my psyche had begun to react to the cumulative effect of eight months of disrespect and helplessness the way my body might have reacted to eight months of Twinkies and Easy Cheez: my gut burned with a sickness that was my own fault. I had taken a position that carried responsibility but no authority, and when the graduate assistants working under me rebelled, I responded by gripping the reins even tighter. It’s what you do when you know you’re losing control and you’re out of options. Anyway, it was what I did. In retrospect, I can see that I took responsibility for problems that were mostly not of my own making. It was easier for me to believe I was in control and exercising that control badly than to admit I had no control at all, easier to accept responsibility for problems I had not created than to examine how poorly equipped I was to be an administrator: willful, rebellious, certain my way was right.

But with Jose, even when I didn’t know what to do, which was all the time in the final months of his life, I knew what to do: I loved him. That’s how I remember it, anyhow; I am learning that memory is a strange and sometimes over-flexible thing. It’s odd what the mind runs together and calls memory. Sometimes I think we need a different word. What we call “memory” is more often an attempt at understanding than a simple recalling of the events. Going through my I Ching workbook as I wrote about Jose, I came upon an entry with his name on it. I had posed this question: What may I expect of and from my friendship with Jose over the next six months, especially in terms of demands on my time and energy and rewards for time and energy spent? I was appalled when I read this. I have no recollection of thinking of Jose or our friendship in this way. I'm not entirely certain what I meant nor am I certain I want to know. I know that the date of the entry is less than a year before Jose died, right around the time I realized I needed to spend time with him now, and instead of stepping forward into that realization, I let the demands of my personal and professional lives engulf me. The I Ching responded to my question with the hexagram known as Inexperience, or “youthful folly”:
In its static form, inexperience suggests that a heretofore great mystery or a misunderstood part of your nature must unfold and come forth before further progress can be made. . . . Success is indicated. In fact, once the mystery is unraveled you may experience what is known as "beginner's luck."
The final line of this response, "Don't let this go to your head,” must have sunk in because while I bulldozed through the rest of my life full of “the right way” and “the wrong way”, with Jose I took a different path.

Here’s a picture of me with Jose during the last two months of his life:
6 May 1994 -- Home from the hospital today. He puked and puked and puked and I held him close, held the bucket and the paper towels, held a cold cloth to his head. Exhausted, we napped.

As we step out into the dark unknown, will our feet fall on something solid? Will we learn to fly?

9 June 1994 -- Last night Jose said, “What’s done is done, isn’t it?” He spoke of a journey. I promised to go with him as far as I can.

At breakfast he sits motionless before his oatmeal, his eyes following the movement of a figure I cannot see. He says, “I want to go with her.” When I ask him where she is going, he says, “Home.” I place the spoon in his hand and show him how to grasp it, but he does not know what to do with the spoon. I call the VNA nurse. Then I feed him.

17 June 1994 -- We took snapshots of ourselves today. Then we snuggled between the bars of the newly rented hospital bed and watched a video. Jose fell asleep halfway through. When he woke I remarked on how happy he looked. Quietly he said, “You know.”

When I am with Jose I radiate. When I realize that all this seeming normalcy is not, I collapse into darkness. Like a star I pulse bright and dim: joy and fear, joy and fear. “Yes,” I said, and then silently,
I know.
And then he died.

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1 comment:

  1. This is extraordinarily beautiful and insightful writing.