Tag Archives: terminal illness

Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days Free for World AIDS Day

Shortly after my book Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days was published, I started a little tradition of making the Kindle/ebook version of it free for a few days starting on December 1st, in commemoration of World AIDS Day.

So have at it with my compliments, and feel free to share this post with people you know.

http://www.amazon.com/Holding-Breath-Memoir-AIDS-Wildfire-ebook/dp/B009TV4CE6/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1402448615&sr=1-1&keywords=Bevilaqua

The Annual Holding Breath World AIDS Day Free Book Promotion

I’ve decided to make a tradition that I actually care about, now that Thanksgiving is over (as far as holidays are concerned, Christmas, Halloween, and Valentine’s Day are the only ones I really love; don’t even get me started on how I feel about Columbus Day).  Last year, shortly after I published Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days, I realized that it would be appropriate to give free Kindle versions of the book away for World AIDS Day (December 1st).

This year, the book will be free starting tomorrow (11/29/13), and the offer will be good through Sunday, which will be World AIDS Day.  After that, I won’t be giving it away again until next year.

So far, the book has a 4.6 out of 5 star rating from 21 reviews on Amazon.com (and another 5-star review on Amazon U.K.).  As usual, if you download the book (or buy the print version) and read it and feel like leaving a review, I’d really appreciate it.  Every one helps, and they’re fun to read (except for that one 2-star one…).

Here ya go (and then I’m done with the book giveaways!):

http://www.amazon.com/Holding-Breath-Memoir-Wildfire-ebook/dp/B009TV4CE6/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1377225007&sr=1-1&keywords=holding+breath+bevilaqua

An Excerpt From Holding Breath

Some recent comments about life on the street, and about homeless shelters, on what I consider perhaps the best and most important blog on WordPress, Dennis Cardiff’s “Gotta Find a Home” (http://gottafindahome.wordpress.com/ ), reminded me of a part of my own book, Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days.  Since I haven’t posted any excerpts here in a long time, I thought I’d like to post that section here.

The section recounts a description–probably partially fictionalized where my memory of what David actually told me failed me, but, I think, accurate nevertheless–of a night David (the book’s hero) spent after leaving the hospital “against medical advice.” Here it is:

Swaying, he looked up toward First Avenue and then back down toward Tompkins Square Park.  He had to get inside somewhere and get some sleep so that he’d have the strength to get himself set up in the morning.  There was a shelter on 3rd Street, but even if he had a chance in hell of talking someone into letting him in this late he’d be up all night with cockroaches crawling on his face and crackheads and thieves roaming among the cots, looking for something they could sell or keep.  The hospital, he told me, had spoiled him for all of the things he could have put up with as a junkie.

There was a bandshell in the park, but by then Sam knew that he had to be inside somewhere, safe and unmolested so that he could really sleep.  It occurred to him that the subway station on Fourteenth and First was his best bet.  It would be warm and if anyone bothered him it would probably be a cop, giving him a wake-up call by beating a nightstick on the wall next to his head.  He could stretch out on one of the benches at the back of the station.  And if there was a problem he could just jump on the L train and ride all night.

First Avenue looked warmer and brighter, somehow, than Avenue A, so he went that way, stopping often, his arms crossed around him so that the chills wouldn’t split his chest open.  Passing NYU kids dressed up as bikers or junkies or punks, or young bankers downtown to drink and see the sights, all traveling in confused packs in and out of the little Polish-run bars and restaurants, he noticed that most ignored him or gave him a quick up-and-down look.

“Like I just crawled out of a manhole looking for money or drugs,” he put it.  It made him feel safer to know that they were more afraid of him than he was of them—that they couldn’t see his weakness.

By the time he made it to the subway entrance he thought that he might die before he got downstairs.  He was exhausted and sick to his stomach from shivering and not eating, and his chest felt like there was a fire inside.  His legs were numb, and as he hung on to the banister and put one foot after the other down the stairs it was as if he was walking on crooked stilts.

The air inside the station was so thick and hot that it seemed he could grab a handful of it.  There was no one down there except for a token-booth clerk, counting money.

This was the last obstacle.  Sam went to the window of the booth, trying to look as earnest and respectable as he could, and waited until the clerk had finished counting the wad of ones in her hand.  Eventually she looked up at him, expressionless.

“Hi,” he said.  She lifted her chin a little.  He smiled in his gentlest way (the eyes in the photograph, only a little more desperate, more calculating).  “I was wondering if you could help me.  I’m sick and I lost my wallet and I have to get across town or my wife is really going to worry.  Can you just let me through the gate and I promise…”

“You got to pay your fare,” said the clerk, clearly, with a rhythm she obviously used to say the same thing a hundred times a day.

“I just told you, I don’t have my…”

“I just told YOU, you got to pay your fare.”

“Look, please just give me a break.  I’m really sick.  I can’t walk any more.”

“Pay your fare.”  She went back to counting her money.

Sam felt that he might cry.  He’d been arrested once for jumping a turnstile, and he’d spent the night in a bullpen so crowded that he couldn’t sit down, and stinking so much of piss that he didn’t want to.  At the time, having been locked up once or twice before, he’d taken it pretty much in stride; that night he thought it might kill him. He started to walk back over to the stairs, just to sit, but someone was coming down.  It was a teenage girl.  He considered asking her for a token but he was afraid that the only thing that would come out would be a whine or a sob.  The girl went to the token booth.

“Fuck it,” Sam whispered to himself, and he turned and quickly ducked under one of the turnstiles to the other side.

Behind him he heard, “Pay your fare, sir,” but he ignored it and walked to a bench at the end of the platform.  The station smelled almost as bad as the bullpen but he didn’t care because he was going to sleep.  He cleared some pages of the Post off of the bench, took his shirt off and made a pillow out of it, and lay down.  He slept, as he put it, like a dead man.

There the memory ends, not with the image of Sam sitting across the table from me, reciting his story with the attention to detail of a man to whom nothing has happened in a long time, but with that last one, the picture that my mind supplied as illustration:  Sam, viewed from a point far up the subway platform, curled, oblivious and half-naked, mouth slightly open and hair clinging to his damp, smooth forehead, on the bench nearest to where the track goes dark and curves away. 

http://www.amazon.com/Holding-Breath-Memoir-AIDS-Wildfire/dp/1480164518/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1377225007&sr=1-1

Free Kindle Book–A Reminder and a Note

I’m posting this for those who might have missed it yesterday.  The Kindle version of my new book of poetry (which contains the five poems included in my first book, Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days, along with many others), A Rough Deliverance: Collected Poems 1983-2013, is FREE on Amazon through this Sunday (11/24/13). The link is below.  I’m hoping to get some reviews on the Amazon page and elsewhere by doing this; it really makes a big difference.  After Sunday the price of the Kindle version will go back up to $3.99.  The print version will be available within the next few days (and will be eligible for the new “MatchBook” program, through which someone who buys the print version can also get the Kindle version for a substantially discounted price–in this case, 99 cents).

For those who already downloaded the book early yesterday, when the promotion started, I wanted to let you know that I made some late changes to the text a little later in the day–I changed the Preface, and added a list of the poems at the beginning to make them easier to find within the book.  If those things matter to you, you may want to re-download the book.

OK–no more changes any time soon!  Here’s the link:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00GREJ626

A Rough Deliverance Ebook Now Available on Amazon

So I got ambitious and got the manuscript for A Rough Deliverance: Collected Poems 1983-2013 ready for publication much earlier than I thought I would.  The Kindle version is now available on Amazon.com (the print version will be out shortly as well).  This is how I’ve described the book:

A Rough Deliverance begins with poems the author wrote as an ambitious, conflicted, and sometimes naive 22-year-old college student just learning to navigate her life on her own,a young woman who wanted nothing more than to be a “famous poet.” 

It closes with poems written by a woman thirty years older–in some ways very different, in some ways very much the same, perhaps wiser and perhaps not. She is not a famous poet, but she is someone who has loved deeply, witnessed the ravages of an epidemic from the “front lines,” grieved, traveled extensively, made terrible choices and perfect ones, over-indulged and abstained, raised a wonderful son, wrestled with anger and shame about the past and fear of what’s to come, and finally learned to see all of it as absolutely worthwhile. 

This is a collection of poems that documents a ragged, imperfect, and ultimately joyful life lived one deliverance at a time. 

The poems are about love, family, alcoholism, suicide, travel, chance meetings, sex, AIDS, and many other things.  If you read poetry, or if you’ve liked some of the poems I’ve posted here recently, I hope you’ll take a look (as always, reviews on the book’s Amazon.com page, and elsewhere, are greatly appreciated!).

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00GREJ626

A Poem From Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days

This is one of the five poems included in my book, Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days:

 How You Looked (VA Hospital, Spring, 1990)

David, let me wash and cool

your swollen feet while you’re awake

so nothing can get worse, at least

for now, at least not here where we

are so alone, the nurses masked,

reluctant to come in the room.

 

I’d almost tell you how you looked

asleep, all afternoon,

your body on a boat

losing course, slipping over fish, the sun

a yellow wine that whispered

in my head to let you drift.

I watched your face fall fully

open, saw your sheets come loose

and drop apart, your body a mirage,

your belly hollowed-out and vaporous,

your penis arched and cool

dozing there, flawless in the glare.

 

The sound is just the rush

of water and a washcloth

in a bowl. Tell me if it feels too hot

or cold. You’ll feel my fingers

run across your toes so thick

I’ll never pass a towel through. Your skin

is breaking up like desert floor,

no longer big enough to hold you in.

 

The ebook is available on Amazon.com for $3.99; with Amazon’s new “MatchBook” program, if you buy the print version you can also get the ebook for .99.  Here’s the link:

http://www.amazon.com/Holding-Breath-Memoir-Wildfire-ebook/dp/B009TV4CE6/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1377225007&sr=1-1&keywords=holding+breath+bevilaqua

The book’s Facebook page is here:

https://www.facebook.com/HoldingBreathAMemoirOfAIDS

Yeah…Facebook

When I first published Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days a year ago, I created a Facebook page for it.  Then I got tired of spending so much time on my personal Facebook page, and closed my account.  Unfortunately, that meant that I had to deactivate the book’s page as well.

Then I realized (duh) that I didn’t necessarily need to close my account entirely–I can simply stay off of my personal page (thereby demonstrating my high level of self-restraint), but still reactivate the Holding Breath page.  So that’s what I’ve done.

Anyway, if readers of this blog would be kind enough to go over to the page and “Like” it, I’d really appreciate it.  Of course, I’d appreciate it even more if you read the book, and that is my segue into telling you that Amazon just launched its “Kindle MatchBook discount”, whereby people who buy the print version of the book ($10.76) can also get the ebook for a big discount (99 cents, down from $3.99).  That way, in case there’s someone on your holiday gift-list who might be interested in reading a love story that takes place in the midst of the worst of the AIDS epidemic in New York in the late 1980’s, and you’d like to read the book too, you can get both at a discount.  Just sayin’…

Here’s the link to the book’s Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/HoldingBreathAMemoirOfAIDS

And here, again, is the link to Amazon’s page for the print version of Holding Breath, in case you’d like to take Amazon up on its kind offer (they’re like that over there):

http://www.amazon.com/Holding-Breath-Memoir-AIDS-Wildfire/dp/1480164518/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1377225007&sr=1-1

 

A Birthday, an Anniversary, and a Book Sale

Today would be David’s (the man about whom I wrote Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days) 66th birthday.  Although his life was very often something close to hell–perhaps something that he sometimes wished he’d never been born into (I don’t know that for certain, of course; he always struck me as remarkably optimistic, in spite of things)–I feel that his birth is also something that I should always celebrate in some way.  David changed the course of my life for the better, and permanently.  I sometimes wonder what I would have been like if I’d never met him; it’s not a pretty thought.

The following is an excerpt from the book about his birthday in 1989, six months before he passed on, and my realization a year later that it was approaching again, and that he was gone:

“I found an entry from 16 October 1989 that mentions his birthday.  Part of it got wet at some point and the ink ran, so some of it is illegible, but what I can put together of it says:

In six days it’ll be David’s birthday…short year ago that (I took him out) for lunch and he told me…about his life.  (We were supposed to) go see (the building’s owner) about his apartment, but it was pouring rain and (we didn’t think he should) stay out in it so I bought him an umbrella and he walked me to the PATH station.  I kissed him on the cheek and wished him happy birthday and he looked surprised, as I guess he should have been.  Then I went home and he went back up to the Marion Hotel.

Autumn’s got me thinking about him, too.  And the fact that I actually did get TB from him.  It’s stupid, but I almost like the idea that I caught something from him.  Any bond…

Today is also the first anniversary of Holding Breath‘s publication (no coincidence there), so this seems like a good time to put the Kindle version of the book on sale for a few days.  So, from today (21 October 2013) through Wednesday the 23rd, the price will be reduced from $3.99 to .99.  Once again, here’s the link to the book’s Amazon page (where you can also read the reviews):

http://www.amazon.com/Holding-Breath-Memoir-Wildfire-ebook/dp/B009TV4CE6/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1377225007&sr=1-1&keywords=holding+breath+bevilaqua

Here’s a description of the book:

In 1988, recently out of a graduate Creative Writing program in New York City, Nancy Bevilaqua was an aspiring poet in need of a job. She answered a newspaper ad seeking caseworkers for people with AIDS, and, much to her surprise, got the job. She shouldn’t have been surprised; in 1988 AIDS was an epidemic completely out of anyone’s control beyond some toxic and ineffective treatments, and fear and misunderstanding of the disease were rampant. Very few people wanted to be in contact with people who’d been infected with HIV.

A year later, a 41-year-old heroin addict named David was assigned to her as a client. Something about him drew her to him, and in very little time the boundary between “client” and “caseworker” dissolved, and she fell in love with him. For the next eight months she lived with him in his Lower East Side apartment, caring for him and waiting with him for the inevitable end.

Before succumbing to the disease, David asked Nancy to write a book about him. Twenty-two years later, after going through an unexpected and very painful period of something she learned was called “disenfranchised grief”, she finally published Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days, which is a loving account of her eight months with David, and the grief she’d had to hide for so long.

And Back To the Book

Perhaps it’s time to post another excerpt from Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days, here, if only to get myself and the blog back on track.  And no–of course it’s not a coincidence that this particular excerpt is to some extent about birds (there are, actually, quite a few references to birds in the book).

It’s actually a complete, albeit short, chapter, entitled “Permission.”  Those of you who have cared for terminally ill people (or who have read Kubler-Ross’ On Death and Dying) will probably recognize this stage of things, and the painful dilemma it entails:

PERMISSION

One of my blog posts, written many years later, was this:

Every so often I find a sick or dying bird on a sidewalk somewhere.  When they’re in that state, too weak or tired to be afraid of me, it’s easy to pick them up and take them home.  Very often they’ll look up into my eyes for a moment as if they’re trying to gauge what my intentions might be, and as if they’re saying, Do whatever you’re going to do; I’ve given up.

Every so often I can save one.  More often, it’s too late, and all I can do is hold the bird in my hands to keep it warm until it dies.  It will doze in my hands for hours, occasionally waking with a start, trying, it seems, to look as if there’s nothing wrong with it, trying to convince both of us that it’s fine.  Gradually, though, its eyes will close again.

There have been times when I thought that I prolonged a bird’s life beyond the point where it should have ended.  Thinking that I was giving comfort, I may have, in fact, made it suffer more.

I couldn’t imagine letting go, but I know that at one point I forced myself to tell David that it was O.K.—that he could stop fighting, that I’d understand.  I remember saying it as we sat together on the futon one night.  David didn’t answer; it was nearly impossible for him to speak at all by then.  But something did change after that.  He seemed relieved, somehow, and he started to let go of life.  Telling him that was one of the things that I did right back then. 

An Excerpt From the Book

“If the progression of David’s illness that winter was noticeable beyond, perhaps, more frequent fevers and his sleeping more and more, I must not have allowed myself to acknowledge it. I doggedly went about the business of doing everything I could think of to keep him going—scrubbing out the bathtub every day before he took his bath, washing eggs before I cooked them, keeping him warm by any means possible, still hounding him to keep his clinic appointments and take his meds and drink his Sustecal so that he wouldn’t lose too much more weight, making sure he ate properly. He was probably sitting up more at night by then, watching for the rats, thinking thoughts that sometimes put that sweet, mysterious, lost little smile on his face.

One evening, probably some time in February, sitting on the edge of the futon, he started to chant in a high, broken voice, almost oblivious to my presence. When I asked him what he was doing, he told me that he was singing Chippewa prayers, “to take this thing from my body.” By the following morning, his formerly unwavering optimism that he would somehow beat the virus seemed to have just disappeared. He must have felt overnight that his body had gone past the point of no return, and come to understand that the prayer, his last hope, would not change things. There’s a notation in the journal I wrote just after he died about how he looked that morning over breakfast at our Dominican restaurant, the hood of his blue sweatshirt pulled up over his head, his eyes huge, sadder than I’d ever seen anyone’s eyes look. He hardly spoke—something which, for a man as talkative as David had always been, was alarming in itself. I seem to remember reaching across the table to take his hand and sitting there with him in silence, but perhaps that’s only what I wished I’d done, in retrospect.

According to the journal, we spent most of the rest of that day in bed.”

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