Monthly Archives: October 2012

Shelter

As Bob Dylan’s “Shelter From the Storm” is on the book’s playlist, and as it’s so in keeping with recent events up north, I was going to post a link to it here today.  However, I’m not able to find a link to a Dylan version of the song (I’m guessing it’s a copyright thing).  The song–particularly its opening lines–is one of quite a few that remind me of my time with David, particularly the first few weeks after we met, and also just in general of the AIDS epidemic at the time in New York:

“Twas in another lifetime/One of toil and blood,/When blackness was a virtue/The road was full of mud./I came in from the wilderness,/A creature void of form./’Come in,’ she said, ‘I’ll give you/Shelter from the storm…/In a world of steel-eyed death and men who are fighting to be warm/’Come in,’ she said,’I’ll give you/Shelter from the storm…”

As his caseworker, it was my job to find David, who was homeless at the time, a place to live.  What I didn’t know on that day when he first walked into my office– strung-out, wet, feverish, and just about at the end of his rope, I think–was that I would be sharing that shelter with him until the day he died, eight months later.

1989 does seem like another lifetime now.

(Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days can be found on Amazon.com at: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009TV4CE6.)

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My Intolerance for Intolerance

These days, I live in northern Florida; I live on the beach, and it’s beautiful, but (as I mention in my Author’s Bio. for the book, and on my “About” page here), I dream pretty much every single night about being back in New York City.  Maybe one day I’ll move back.

Northern Florida is–to my surprise, really, as I’d always thought of the town I currently live in as kind of a happily eccentric hippie haven until I actually moved here permanently–a bastion of the far Right and Christianity in its most conservative (and, in my mind, intolerant) form.  I’m so far to the left that I’m on the brink of falling off the map (something which was usually not much of an issue at all “up North”), so I often feel a bit disoriented when I’m out and around here.

I don’t ascribe to any one spiritual path, but if I were forced to describe myself I guess I’d have to say that I come closest to being a Buddhist with a firm belief in God (although I understand God in very different terms than God is often portrayed in the Abrahamic religions).  Because of that, I’m trying to learn equanimity, and non-judgement, and unconditional compassion.

But every so often something I see or hear down here (not that I never experienced similar things up North; it was just either less often or not as blatant) that is a serious challenge to the abovementioned three goals.  Two of the worst (as you might suspect, if you’ve read or know anything about the subject of my memoir, Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days) have had to do with AIDS.

The first was a bumper-sticker.  Down here, I see a lot of them that simply annoy or disturb me, but I’ve become somewhat used to them.  One day, however, I was driving behind one of the big-ass trucks that so many people down here like to own, and I saw, much to my surprise, a red AIDS-ribbon bumper-sticker. I hadn’t seen one of those in a LONG time, and certainly didn’t expect to see one in Jacksonville.  For a minute, it made me happy.  Coming up a little closer behind the truck, however, I saw that someone–either the truck’s owner, as a joke, or someone else who’d seen the sticker–had shot at it multiple times with what I assume was a BB gun or something.  I was sickened.

The other incident–excuse the expression, but there’s no better one–pissed me off more than just about anything has in a very long time. I was driving, and listening to the radio–one of the not-so-great rock ‘n’ roll stations down here.  One of those snarky, frat-boy-type announcers that are, I suppose, considered “funny” to some came on to make a “joke” that had something to do with encouraging I.V. drug users to shoot more drugs so that more of them would get infected with HIV.  The people at that station would have been pretty taken aback at the profanity that I unleased upon them at that moment.  That was last year, and–even with the dearth of decent music to listen to down here when I’m driving–that was the last time I ever listened to that damned station.

So far, my own capacity for tolerance goes only so far.

(Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days can be found on Amazon.com at: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009TV4CE6.)

Another Song from the Playlist: “Hurt” (Johnny Cash Version)

I’d never heard this song–either the original version by Nine Inch Nails or this cover by Johnny Cash–until the latter somehow accidentally showed up on my iPod one day while I was going through some of the worst of my delayed grief, seventeen years after David passed away as a result of AIDS.  Like “Streets of Philadelphia,” it knocked the breath out of me the first time I heard it (and often still does).  I don’t know everything that was going through David’s mind during the last eight months of his life, but, like the lyrics of “Streets of Philadelphia,” the lyrics of “Hurt” (and the way Cash sings them, and the video itself) seem very likely to be the kinds of thoughts that a man–an almost lifelong heroin addict–who knows that he is dying might have.

Still, I will never see David’s life as an “empire of dirt”; I will always believe that it was worth much more than he had, I think, come to believe it was.  As I write in Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days, “Like any life, it mattered.”  That’s actually kind of the point of the book.

The song is here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SmVAWKfJ4Go

(Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days is available at:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009TV4CE6.)

A (Somewhat) Different Kind of Grief

As I said, I don’t want to post too many excerpts from Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days here, and the one that follows will be the last (the book is available at: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009TV4CE6).  However, what I’ve written about here is a very important part of the book; when I learned about what “disenfranchised grief” is (the definition here is by Kathleen R. Gilbert, Professor and Associate Dean at Indiana University, and is the best one I’ve come across), it finally explained to me why the grief I’d suppressed to a great extent after David passed away came back to hit me like a hurricane sixteen years later.  It may be useful to others who experienced losses in similarly “unacceptable” relationships, so I wanted to post it for them:

“Nor did I have any idea that there was a name for what I’d somehow believed was peculiar to me, and that, especially in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, there were many people who had found themselves in the same position.  The term for it is ‘disenfranchised grief’; I don’t remember how I came across the definition online, but reading it gave me, for the first time, an understanding that at least I wasn’t alone in my transgression of the rules, and that I could perhaps at least start to forgive myself for prematurely laying my grief aside and moving on at the time:

Disenfranchised grief is the result of a loss for which they do not have a socially recognized right, role or capacity to grieve. These socially ambiguous losses are not or cannot be openly mourned, or socially supported. Essentially, this is grief that is restricted by “grieving rules” ascribed by the culture and society. The bereaved may not publicly grieve because, somehow, some element or elements of the loss prevent a public recognition.

Some of those “elements” might include a “relationship that is not socially recognized” (for example, partners in a lesbian or gay relationship), or a manner of death considered to be “fault” of the deceased (AIDS, suicide, drug overdose, etc.), or the simple fact that the deceased was not the legal spouse of the person left behind…

The description continues:

Because of the lack of social recognition, disenfranchised grief is a hidden grief and this “hiddenness” can paradoxically increase the reaction to loss…It can intensify feelings of anger, guilt and/or powerlessness, thus resulting in a more complicated grief response. Rituals may be absent or the grievers may be excluded from rituals…

Disenfranchised grief may lay hidden for years, only to be triggered by later losses…

That about covers it, doesn’t it? There were all manner of bereavement support groups around at that time, but none, as far as I know, were for AIDS Caseworkers Who Fell in Love With Their Drug-Addict Clients. There wouldn’t even be a good acronym that you could make up for that.”

A Song About Addiction and Love

One of the reasons I wanted to create a blog for my memoir, Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days (available at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009TV4CE6) was that at the end of the book I’ve included a playlist of songs that seem to me to be as much a part of the story–both of my eight months with David in 1989 and early 1990, and of the painful days of grief right after his passing, and then again many years later–as any other element (I’ve always been the kind of person who needs a soundtrack to virtually everything I do!).

I’ve wished that there were a way to just somehow insert a soundtrack into the book, as if it were a movie, but so far that’s not an option.  Here, however, I can at least amuse myself (or, in some cases, make myself sad) by inserting YouTube videos of the songs listed on the book’s playlist.  If you do read the book, listening some of the songs might very well add to the experience.  (With the exception of Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia,” which I already posted here, I’d recommend in most cases just listening to the song without watching the video itself, as the latter will probably be a distraction from the content of the book–if you’re playing it as an accompaniment to the book, that is.)

So now I need to decide which song to post today…Got it–“It’s Been Awhile,” by Staind.  It’s about the best song about addiction I’ve ever heard, and it’s beautiful, and so much of it (particularly the line about seeing the way candles light someone’s face, which is something I mention in the memoir) reminds of me of David.  Here it is:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K2NGe9mLAEc

Jesus, and Loving a Heroin Addict With AIDS

I won’t be posting many (if any) more excerpts from Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days here, for the all-too-obvious reason that I’d like people to buy the book.  But I did want to post this excerpt:

Except for when I was a child growing up in a very Catholic family, I’ve never been a ‘religious’ person in the traditional sense…

Recently, however, I’ve become a big fan of Jesus—not Jesus the Son of God, not Jesus, product of the Virgin Birth, not the bloodied caricature in gaudy prints on people’s walls, and certainly not the holy battering-ram used by those who chatter on about their personal relationships with him while at the same time using his image to justify the self-righteous, intolerant, and breathtakingly cruel behavior that he tried so hard to get people to change—but Jesus the man, the teacher.

Growing up, in church and Sunday school and elsewhere, I’d heard phrases like ‘God is love,’ and ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself,’, and ‘Judge not, lest ye be judged,’ and ‘Blessed are the merciful,’ so often, and from so many hypocrites, that the words, and the things that Jesus actually tried to teach, became nothing more than empty slogans that I no longer even heard.

But I’ve begun to hear them again, and to understand what Jesus, the man, so desperately and ultimately in such futility tried to teach.  A short time ago I was having a discussion with a man who had made a comment to the effect that the homeless should just help themselves.  Thinking of David, and of all the other people I’d met and worked with over the years who had found themselves desperate and with nothing left that would be considered valuable in this world, I tried to tell the man that, once someone reaches that state of having nothing, it becomes almost impossible for him to help himself.  Those people—the despised, the sick, the ones driven by circumstances to desperate acts—are the ones with whom Jesus would have wanted to spend his time, and are the ones to whom he felt God’s love should be channeled through those who have the means to do so.  It’s those who have the advantages of wealth, education, health, and decent childhoods in which love was freely given, and who nevertheless refuse to help those without those advantages and think of them as inferior and unworthy, whom Jesus would, perhaps, despise, if he ever despised anyone.

People have sometimes told me that I had “compassion” for David.  I tell them that compassion had nothing to do with it—I loved him, loved spending time with him, couldn’t imagine how I could go on living my life once he was gone…

…Yet perhaps it was the fact that, by some twist of fate or destiny, he found someone who loved him unconditionally, loved him as he should have been loved from the beginning, when he had reached that point of having nothing, that helped give him what he needed to find his better self.  He must have known that it was there, as I always did, but maybe if he had been left alone and with nothing in those last few months he would not have been able to reach it in time.

Jesus, the man, the teacher, would have loved David, and he would have loved that I loved David too.  That, in itself, is enough to make me a fan.”

Facebook Page

I just wanted to mention that Holding Breath has a Facebook page at:

http://www.facebook.com/HoldingBreathAMemoirOfAIDS?ref=hl

Most of my posts about the book will be here, but “Likes” on the FB page (if you do, in fact, like the book!) are of course greatly appreciated!

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