Here it is, Chapter 2 of The Movie Lovers. In Prelude you get the back-story of how I came to be caring for a dying man, what kind of life it was that led me to such a place.
I’ve imbedded “Fire” by Kasabian, though I can’t tell you why it speaks to me so. I can tell you that Jose contracted HIV from a man who turned out to be an IV drug user; a partner who hid his other life. I can tell you that when Jose died, his father still believed that his only son had contracted AIDS from a hooker, a story that was preferable to his learning that his son was a gay man.
That was the ‘90s. That was the time of AIDS. That was the time when no one, not even parents, wanted to know who these men were.
Prelude, part 1
This story is about a man named Jose and that which makes life worthwhile: friendship; friendship and the deep, abiding, even surreal permutations of love that true friendship can engender. Here’s the picture:
me and Jose, a darkened movie house, and my heart happy like it hasn’t been since I was a child of three;
me and Jose, a rented hospital bed, and my forehead dripping like a runner in the midday sun as I hold Jose to my body, hold the bucket to his face, stroke his hair and whisper, "It's all right sweetie it's all right sweetie it's all right";
me and Jose, the back deck of my house, and our intertwined voices high with laughter over some prank Jose has played, some tale he’s told, or more likely, how shocked someone has gotten over what he did, and on this day Jose turns and says to me, “But, Dina, you are unshockable.”
Some will read this story and think it’s about me, although that’s not what I set out to write; for me this story is about Jose. Some will think the story is about death and dying, that it’s about AIDS before drug cocktails made it a chronic but not fatal condition, and those things are certainly in here. Some will even think this story is about my need to preach to the choir, and as for that I can’t say, except that it’s true I don’t have a problem voicing my feelings about friendship, gender bending, gay men, or HIV/AIDS. Because I write about my friendship with one gay man in particular, Jose Sequeira, and about my friendships with gay men in general, this story is inevitably about AIDS. Jose died because of it. Most of the friends I had when Jose was in my life died because of it. And let’s get one thing straight right now: you don’t die of AIDS. You die from the complications that come from living with a compromised immune system. These complications run the gamut from opportunistic infections that lodge in the physical body to psychological infections that permeate our social and religious bodies, but that’s not what this story is about either, any more than disease is about punishment or redemption. Sometimes I think this story is simply about the difference between that which is considered normal and acceptable and that which is considered shocking. I laughed when Jose said I was unshockable and I never asked what he meant. Now I think maybe I should have. Now I think maybe this is not such a good thing, being unshockable, being someone who accepts individuals and behaviors considered outside the norm. In the ten years since Jose’s death, as I talked about my friend and told the twin stories of our friendship and his death, the transformation these afforded me, the price they exacted, I found myself shocking people all over the place. I wasn’t entirely certain why.
What I am certain of is this. When I met Jose, I was a stranger in my own life, and unaware that anything was amiss. And I am also certain of this. While I was born into the mainstream of life, I am not of it, and although I understood what words I was expected to speak and what path I was expected to walk, I could not make the middle way -- the expected path through life -- my own. Like a gay man, I can look like anyone else and I can sound like anyone else, but my internal experience has always been that of an outsider, someone who knows what it means to be invisible to others and lost to myself, and so it should come as no surprise that while I’m hopelessly heterosexual gay men have gravitated to me. I haven’t missed being in the mainstream, the path that even Dante called the straight way; I knew where it was, and I knew that I preferred life closer to the edge of things. This perspective worked just fine for me, until Jose died.
When Jose died in the mid ‘90s, gay men were the scapegoat for AIDS, and like any proper scapegoat they were heaped with the sins and secrets of society and sent into the woods to be devoured. Jose’s last year of life was a journey marked by this savagery. It was also a journey marked by love, the beauty of love unexpected, the grace of love unconditioned. At the end this journey with Jose, I remember waking to an oddly familiar sensation, one of being in that “dark wood where the straight way was lost.” This dark, lost place described by Dante is one I have known on and off since childhood, only this time, the experience was a little different. Through my friendship with Jose, I had gained a true sense of myself and found my place in the world. Or so I thought. But I’d wandered out into the woods with the goat and, like that scapegoat, I was not expected to walk back out. Family and friends, peers even, looked me as if I were a stranger, a lost soul, someone to be regarded with a potent mixture of awe, curiosity, and fear. Very few wished to hear the tale I had to tell.
Since the teller of any tale must be trusted to be believed, and since the story I have to tell is for everyone, from those treading the straight way though life to the boys in the band and even those who feel themselves lost in some dark place, let me begin by telling a little bit about myself, because this story is also for me. Simply put, I need to tell it. By the time I’ve finished telling it, I hope the love story that was Jose’s life is seen as simply one of the many facets of all life, gay, straight, or otherwise, a life that Jose used to kid me about by saying, “Dina, everybody knows that.”
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