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

25 February 2011

The Rapture // Prologue

And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

Samuel Coleridge
Kubla Khan

Dear Sweet Readers,

The words in my head have no order. No matter how I arrange them, they remain a pile of shards. The odd thing is that when the music plays and someone else’s voice is crying out the lyrics, the same thoughts compose themselves in a dance and my life slides into shape: a kaleidoscope of meanings contained within a whole that glitters with clarity. It is a beauty to behold. But time and time again I have raced to my keyboard only to find that there is no capturing this Kubla Khan I live in. The simple truth is that all thoughts now reside in my body - a place with dance but no speech - where they live as impulse and direction, and both say one thing.


Ultimately, I’ll have something to say about that body, my body, and the impulse to run from what it feels, but now... just now ...

For now, all you need to know is that no matter how I toss a lasso, my thoughts rush wild and headstrong. There’s no way to round ‘em up without also spooking them; they’d rather die than be corralled. I’ve been trying for a week now, a month, a hundred unbroken years, and as I write today I am drinking bourbon and eating salami and grapes. The salami is for protein, for the fact that I’ve hardly eaten since the writing began to flow, the grapes are because fresh food is good for a body under stress, and the bourbon, well the bourbon should be self-explanatory. I’m fresh out of opium.

This is February, the month before my birthday, the month in which I began My Zero BDay Blog, and as I said in that first post a year ago, this birthday has me by the balls. Had me. That zero birthday is done now and the birthday to come is just days away. Time to look back. What I found was that I started this blog grieving the loss of the familiar. Of course.

It’s five minutes of midnight. The Eels are singing “End Times” in the minor key of missing someone; a quiet guitar, a lulling rolling repetition of five notes.... I stand under the stars, bright and crisp in a rare cloudless sky, as the minor key and the rolling guitar sound the same notes in my heart that a favorite Chris Isaak song once did, one of so many songs I once narrated my life by. Now as I look at the stars, I wonder if these songs will ever speak to me the same way. “She’s gone now, and nowhere near,” they sing. “Seems like end times are here.”

I was melancholy when I wrote that, clearly, but I found that I wasn’t missing the woman I had been so much as the comforts of the familiar. That melancholy allowed me to start waving goodbye to the old life and to kiss the cheek of the woman I thought I deserved to be. See, I started the blog with the intent of bringing myself into alignment with time and space, for I am a woman whose decade long illness has her aging all out of sequence, a woman for whom time has meant only the long farewell to a season of life she didn’t get to experience. I didn’t get to experience. My hope was that blogging might provide some space for me to become comfortable in my now middle-aged skin. Believe it, people. By all units of measurement, I am just about halfway through my life and this year, as my father likes to point out, is the start of the next great adventure. The second half of life, Year One.

In all honesty, the Year One thing has me a bit freaked, but only because moving forward in my life requires admitting that I once spent a good chunk of it in a virtual coma. No, not a plugged-into-beeping-machines kind of coma, but the image is apt. The paralysis of bipolar depression in combination with thought-canceling chronic pain and a bunch of other stuff... well if you’re lucky, and I was, one day you wake up, look in the mirror, and say Holy Fucking Crap! Why the hell do I look so old?!

If you’re me, you start clicking those ruby heels together and then... you stop cold. There truly is no place like home, not for me. Home is somewhere I have no desire to return to. Ever. Home was a terror. Which leaves me in a very strange place. No way to go forward. No desire to go back. Looks like end times are here, you know? It really makes a person wish she believed in the Rapture. Makes me wish I believed in the Rapture. It would take care of a lot. Plus I could be holier than thou and certain I knew the One Truth that trumps all. But I could no longer be an opinionated bitch and that’s a deal breaker; I’ve got too much to say to go silent now.

This year, Year One, I plan to uncork things and shift it into high gear. I know! Those of you who are regular readers are thinking There’s a higher gear for this girl? When the cork blows, I’d better duck. Maybe. And maybe you can help me celebrate. See, this year’s February brought me something unexpected. Something in me broke - I couldn’t help but feel it - and I could have imagined the worst; God knows it’s been a hard year, one fucker of a year, for sure, but it seemed to me that this thing inside me didn’t break apart. It broke open, like a bud. The whole month of February has been spent writing - or trying to write - about the bodies I’ve carried, about the unseen wounds of wars fought internally and externally, and most of all, about the opening bud inside me that heralds a spring I could never have imagined would be mine.

Something is shifting. Something impossible to describe. 
Something is unfurling. Something miraculous. 

Maybe it is the Rapture. Of course my idea of rapture is distinctly different from my Christian brethren. My book of prayer was written by a Tibetan Buddhist master who, if I recall correctly, I met when I was twenty. Chogyam Trungpa was the Rinpoche from whom I received my Tibetan name. Orgyan Chodron. It means dharma lamp; light of truth.

Here is today’s meditation:

We need not change ourselves, need not negate what we are. We can use what we are as inspiration. So [work, which is the fourth stage for the seeker], is taking delight in and working hard with whatever working base we have - our neuroses, our sanity, our culture, our society. We do not make sectarian distinctions or assert our superiority, but we take delight in what is and then work with it.
The Myth of Freedom and the Way of Meditation,* Chogyam Trungpa

Welcome to the Rapture.

* p 149, emphasis added
All contents of Sins of the Eldest Daughter / dinarozellebarnett.blogspot.com/
are copyrighted © and may not be used without permission from the creator.

13 February 2011

Best Friends, Wet Dogs, Birthdays and Jose

Tonight I'm going to let the words fall out in a heap. Someone will surely have a rake or a shovel and can move them if they block the door.

Starting with the post of a friend and fellow blogger whose work you totally owe it to yourself to read. No, really, Reading Oh Shit... She's Awake will change your life. It'll make you laugh till you snort. Yeah, you'll cry some, but whatever. That's life. As I was saying, starting from Lori's blog and moving forward to Jose's birthday, this is where my heart's been these past two weeks.

February 5, 2011 at 12:08 pm


I was moved by The Moon and St. Christopher, a little more than seemed usual for me (it IS a beautiful piece), but then I remembered that I’ve been in hiding. Again. It’s what I do. This morning I crawled out of my ground hog’s hole squinting and tucking my head, bracing for the more-brightness-than-I-really-want, but it was cloudy. No need to cringe against the light; the sky has me covered. Guess that means spring will be coming soon to my life, but not right now. And that suits me just fine.

I read on to Serendipity and Sadhappy Endings. That’s when it hit me:

the date of The Moon and St. Christopher

the fact that I’m still running from the hands of kindness
the date of your mother’s death and the note from your mother/yourself
today’s date
why I have tears in my eyes.

Today is the 5th. Jose’s birthday is the 8th. Was the 8th. It’s been so long since he died that I no longer register that day in advance. Now it just hits me out of the blue, like sudden sun.

I haven’t been writing, not on paper, but in my head the words are a jumble of desire piled up against a locked door. They’re all about love and why I love men that others deem unsuitable; I don’t feel the need to do what’s expected, only what’s expected of me by my heart. So, once again, I love a man who lights me up in every way but whose life choices bring silent disapproval from friends and family. Once again I’m bracing. And now it’s Jose’s birthday, too.

Ah… so that’s why I’m in hiding.

Thanks for opening the damn door, hon. I’ve landed in a whining, wet dog of a heap on the other side, but whatever. I’m here.

Sending you inarticulated thank yous, plus lots of wet dog hugs...


This poignant picture is a small part of a mural* in the Castro district, which, as unlikely fate would have it this year, is where I was on Jose's birthday. For the very first time ever. Jose loved Castro Street. For those who don't know, The Castro is the gayest part of the gayest city on the planet, San Francisco. And for those of you who haven't already read his name a thousand times on this blog, Jose Sequiera is the friend who holds the best-friend-key to my heart. He died at thirty. Had he gotten the HIV cocktail in time, this year would have found him firmly in middle age. Amazing. The mural - which runs maybe a quarter of a block and catalogs life before, during, and after AIDS became a death sentence - is something I knew nothing about until I found myself standing in front of it. In The Castro. On Jose's Birthday. It made me think of Jose not just because the man is on his death bed, and not because it was Jose's birthday, but because the man in the mural looks just like Jose. Imagine my reaction.

That's all I have to say. If you want to know more about Jose and me, head on over to The Movie Lovers. Or you could just read this. It's what Jose wrote to me the year he died on the occasion of my own birthday, which is just a couple of weeks away.


May the birds sing your name
May the rivers roar for you
May the stars twinkle like your eyes
May the trees sway in your presence
May the earth and the havens rejoice because you were born on this day.

Happy Birthday


Happy birthday, baby. Happy birthday.

*You’ll find the mural at the juncture of Market, 16th, and Castro Street.

All contents of Sins of the Eldest Daughter / http:/dinarozellebarnett.blogspot.com/ are copyrighted © and may not be used without permission from its creator.

05 February 2011

War. What Is it good For?

What follows is a reprise of a post I wrote nine months ago when I was serializing my book, The Movie Lovers, here on Sins of the Eldest Daughter. I am moved to repeat it because I recently posted the very same chapter, in full, on the new Movie Lovers blogsite, and when I did, something in me broke. I imagine it broke open, like a bud. At least I like to think that’s what happened.

I took a week to pause and consider why it was that posting Longtime Survivor hit me harder than I expected. First there’s the fact that I recently got to see a friend who has served three tours in Afghanistan. He is stateside now, but I can see he will never be home from war. Not long after, I saw The Wounded Platoon, a Frontline report on soldiers who served in Iraq, soldiers who found that they did not return alone; the invisible wounds of war came home with them. And last but certainly not least, Jose’s birthday... it comes next week.

When I began serializing The Movie Lovers on Sins of the Eldest Daughter, I remember thinking that AIDS would be the the current generation’s Viet Nam; AIDS being the much ignored and reviled undeclared war that played in the background of their childhood, a war that only they would be able to put into context and finally understand the days, the decades of days, when AIDS was a death sentence born in silence by an entire generation.

I have carried these bodies so far. I did not anticipate ever setting them down. And, so, without further ado, yadda yadda, the reprise:


Yesterday I looked up and realized that 1994 was gone, that it is, quite literally, history. That was a realization I thought I might never have. I have carried the bodies so far. I did not anticipate ever setting them down. Today I sat in the living room of a new friend and heard him say, “When our class, 1994, when our class left...” and I did the math. He was speaking of his high school class. I finished grad school in 1990. I knew, even before I answered his questions about The Movie Lovers and this blog, that I was speaking to the generation I’ve been waiting for. It is so fitting that this should be the class of ’94, and I know Jose would appreciate that as much as I do, being a writer of fiction and a man of consummate timing.

I used to do so much counting. Days since Jose died. Years. 1994 became my Year Zero. Everything from that moment separated into two categories. Before Jose’s death. After Jose’s death. People began to ask “Isn’t she done yet?” They didn’t mean the book. “It’s been a year. Isn’t she done yet?” Grief doesn’t have a time line, but today when I heard that year and I did the math, today I realized that I no longer needed to say “It’s been a decade and a half since Jose died.” I no longer wanted to measure my life from that fateful point; I no longer had to.

Tonight I let the bodies hit the floor.

LONGTIME SURVIVOR (HIV University), part 3/end

It was May of ‘94, early in the month I think, and it was hot, too hot: too hot to stand in the sun, too hot to move without sweating, and too hot for an already nauseated Jose to ride comfortably in the back seat of an old car without air-conditioning. Somehow I feel I should have known that last one, but we can only see as far as our experience allows.

Jose’s parents and I had brought him home from the hospital in the heat of the afternoon, and I parked my Rambler next to the back stoop because it was the quickest way into the apartment. But Jose was disoriented that day and uncharacteristically stubborn and he simply, for no reason we could discern, refused to go. A debate broke out in Spanish. Standing in the heat of the sun, what I noticed was the side of the building. Its gray paint had begun to blister but not yet to peel. A moment’s observation. In the time between that day and Jose’s death I would have many hours to study this tabula rasa, hours spent in five and ten minute increments sitting on these steps or atop the retaining wall, Frank chain smoking to the filter, me picking at the brown grass and dirt, both of us breathing the overheated smell of garbage as we worked to save the man we loved, something which we both knew couldn’t be done. I ended the debate between Jose and his parents by taking Jose firmly by the arm, walking him around to the front of the building, up the front steps, over to his front stoop, up those steps, and into his stuffy south-facing apartment. A distance of maybe forty or fifty feet, the trip took ten minutes and left us bathed in sweat. At each set of stairs, each step, I instructed Jose how to walk. Which foot to lift. When.

I got him inside. I got him comfortable. Then he began to vomit. And vomit and vomit and vomit. The jarring ride in my old car, the unseasonable heat, the long walk to his apartment, the toxoplasmosis, the drugs for the toxo, all these had conspired against him. His mother grabbed a bucket. His father brought a cool cloth. I held Jose close to my body, held the bucket close to his face, stroked his hair, and told him, “It’s all right sweetie it’s all right sweetie it’s all right.”

When I got home that night my left eye burned with the splash of vomit that was no longer there and my head burned, as with a fever, with the words Jose had spoken so often: all body fluids are dangerous. Even urine might have blood invisible to the eye. Certainly bile could have blood from an inflamed esophagus or stomach. Later -- days? weeks? -- I called an ICU nurse who told me it’s standard procedure to wear goggles when intubating a patient; when a person coughs or chokes, internal fluids get sprayed out along with the exhaled air.

“How careful is too careful?”

“It only takes once,” she said. It’s what we once heard in sex education classes about the risk of getting pregnant.

That night I returned home to my husband after holding my best friend in my arms while he puked, holding him not because he was drunk or heartbroken but because he was too sick to know what was happening to him; home to my husband and the dark of our back deck, home to make small talk and then to quietly to say, I’ve been exposed; home to make love -- the first time in a long while -- with no questions and no protection.

Jose died a month later.

* * *

The year Jose died, Philadelphia made a star of Tom Hanks and the title song remains an anthem to the devastation of that opportunistic collection of diseases we call AIDS. Philadelphia, as I mentioned, also bears the dubious distinction of being the first feature-length film to deal explicitly with AIDS since Longtime Companion came out in 1990. But in the summer of ‘89, the year in which the story of Longtime Companion draws to a close, I didn’t know anyone who had died of AIDS. I hardly knew anyone who had died. I wasn’t yet thirty. Thirty was when AIDS was still considered news and Congress passed the Ryan White CARE Act and a small but certain segment of the nation was saying, It’s about time. Thirty was when Frank and Jose were becoming fast friends with Cliff and me, when the four of us saw Maya Angelou speak and heard the resonance of truth in her voice when she said, “Those who have gone before you have already paid your way.” Thirty was when Jose called weekly to announce which movie he and I just had to see. We were crazy about the movies and crazy about each other; seemed we were best friends in an instant, though that can’t be true, but it was. Thirty was the start of Jose’s tenure as my best friend, the very last best friend I’ll ever have, because to be best friends you have to be young in a way that I’ll never be again.

* * *

It took me a year after Jose’s death before I worked up the courage to have myself tested, a year of alarms sounding in nightmares, a year of immobilizing grief. At some point during that year I finally realized, for certain and forever, that the world isn’t safe. It never was, of course, and I can’t tell you if the moment at which that became clear to me was when the bile hit my eye, when the best friend I’ve ever had stopped breathing, or if I simply found myself having a lot of those moments and finally stopped counting them, stopped tracking, stopped backtracking, and began letting it all wash over me like waves on the beach. What I can tell you is this: what they say about ignorance is sometimes true.

Wondering whether I’d been infected was frightening, but I needn’t have worried. At the turn of this new century, the CDC Surveillance Report on HIV and AIDS cases in the US had three things to say about how a person is exposed: Sex, drugs, and blood. It’s a chant that plays like the B-side to the boomer generation’s mantra: Sex, drugs, and rock and roll! All the rest, all that we imagine about how we may become exposed to HIV, is simply variations on this theme, variations on a theme of fear. I’m okay. But I’ve been watching my little corner of the Postmortem Bar, and it’s filling up like a last minute barbecue on the first real day of summer, filling up with my close friends and family friends, casual friends, co-workers, acquaintances. The three people walking on the beach at the end of Longtime Companion are very much alive. How they get to be at that bar as their dead friends and lovers reappear, I don’t know, but miracles like that are just one of the things I love about the movies; Jose, too.

Here, then, is the miracle in my movie: at the Postmortem Bar I’ll get to see Carl, the English department secretary from the university where I was a graduate teaching assistant, and I’ll catch up with a beloved linguistics professor there, too; I’ll see Jim, the eldest son of my grandmother’s best friend, like an uncle to me, the man whose mother still believes, as the Seventh Day Adventist church wills it, that her son’s death was caused by the sin of his lifestyle; I’ll see Gryphon, the clothing designer with the sterling bone pierced through his nose, who hand-constructed one-of-a-kind, antique-fabric kimonos for my auntie’s boutique; I’ll meet the young men, fifteen or twenty of them, whose pictures were pasted in a handmade shadow box that sat atop a red silk-draped altar in Jose’s room and to which he had gestured and said simply, “My friends who have died”; I’ll see Randy, my younger sister’s best friend and roommate, so dear to the family that our aunt referred to him as “one of the kids,” the man who would later arrive at my doorstep with books and pamphlets, tissues and kind words, and answers to questions I didn’t even know I had; I’ll see Garrett, who was always “going to beat this thing” with yoga, special diets, positive thinking, and who looked so bad after Jose died that Frank locked eyes with me and said, “Garrett’ll be next”; I’ll see Aaron, who died a year after Jose, and he’ll hug me and tell me he was always one to feel that he had to take care of those he loved, that he was dying and didn’t have the energy to take care of one more person and that’s why he sent me away, tears, astonishment, and all; I’ll finally get to meet Michael, the partner of my closest friend, Jim, the love of his life; I’ll meet the brothers and partners dear to all the men and women I met in my AIDS grief group; I’ll most likely see the neighbor from across the street and he’ll see his live-in “nephew,” whose empty hospital bed was all I ever knew of him; I’ll see the acquaintances, co-workers, and neighbors who haven’t died yet but will; I’ll see Jose; and I’ll see all the friends I held in my mind’s eye when Jose entered the hospital for the last time and I called my father in tears to tell him something that, even then as a man of fifty-odd years, he could not imagine: “In ten years, half my friends will be dead.”

It’s been nine years so far, and that circle of friends is gone. All dead.
Or shell shocked.

All contents of Sins of the Eldest Daughter / dinarozellebarnett.blogspot.com/
are copyrighted © and may not be used without permission from the creator.