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A Holiday Excerpt From Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days

I have a shadow of a memory of going out with David to buy a Christmas tree one cold, overcast afternoon in December.  We’d been sitting in the apartment, spending a weekend day in the usual way, when I decided that we had to get a tree for the apartment, and that we had to get it right away.  David, always game for anything that would give him a chance to regain his bearings in a world in which simple little pleasures like holiday traditions were permitted and possible, followed me out the door and over to Essex, where we picked out the tree, and then helped me carry it back home.  It would have had to have been a fairly small one, but I would have insisted that it be real so that the apartment would smell like Christmas.  I seem to remember that David was too tired by the time we got home to help me decorate it with the cheap ornaments and lights that I’d bought in the discount stores on Delancey Street, and instead sat on the bed watching me do it with that happy, bemused little expression on his face as I hung ornaments and no doubt chattered on about Christmas.  It was important to me that he at least have a tree for Christmas.

I was obligated to spend Christmas Day with my family in Connecticut, as I did every year, but David and I did spend Christmas Eve together.  We’d spent the day on Suffolk Street, doing whatever it was that kept us happy and occupied back then.  In the evening we went to my mother’s apartment in Peter Cooper Village for dinner.  David was nervous; we all were.  He wanted to make a good impression.  It had been, I think, a long time since he’d made a good impression on anyone other than me.

When we arrived, my mother was watching a show about tuberculosis on T.V.  For a few minutes, we all just watched.  No one knew what to say, or had the sense to turn it off.  Other than that, the evening went fairly well.  My mother gave David a green button-down shirt as a Christmas gift.  (Years later, my mother told me that she’d worried about eating from the plates and using the utensils that David had used afterwards.  I was shocked to hear it, even thought that kind of thinking wasn’t at all unusual at that time.  Still, I was, and will always be grateful that she invited him to dinner that night.)

On New Year’s Eve I know that I was with him.  I remember the apartment being dim and vaguely festive, still scented with the pine-smell of the tree, lit either with candles or Christmas lights, or both.  Late that night I sat on the bed and tried to call one of my favorite clients, a very young gay man named Jon, who was blessed with the most loving, supportive family I’d encountered in my time working with people with AIDS.  His father answered, and told me that Jon was either sleeping or in the hospital–I don’t remember which.  Weeks later, I learned that Jon had actually died several weeks earlier.  His father didn’t want to upset me on New Year’s Eve.  The family had come to think of me as a friend, as Jon had.

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

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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

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.

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