In the old days (the 90’s), I used to be able to rattle of all of the opportunistic infections that an HIV/AIDS diagnosis would/could inevitably bring to one’s table…pneumocystis, of course, Toxo, CMV, MAC, KS…acronyms for death sentences that cut short the lives of our friends, our generation..
The most distintictively insidious was PML, one of the rare infections that actually has the hutzpa and the ability to cross the brain barrier…Although each of the aforementioned ‘murderers’ were capable of changing and debilitating beyond belief, PML was the most dreaded of the bunch…
Overnight, it aged you…just like that…you became a, skeletal old man within days, hours. Bent, stooped, incontinent; it changed your face, your hair, your skin; transformation was astounding…over night, young men morphed into their great-grandfathers. ..of all of the cruelty handed out to the health-conscious, body conscious, HOT men, PML was the harshest mistress.
The last time I saw Lizzie, Debby and Steve had told me that if I wanted to say goodbye, now was the time. PML had come to Liz–be prepared, they warned…..We drove to the old HungaDunga house, walked up the stairs, and I too was shocked at the transformation of the old blue house! Mourning doves cooed from their cages in a new entryway/windowseat; the decor and interior design/decoration astounded every sense! Whose house is this, I wondered…it looked nothing like the old commune as I remembered it…
Except for the kitchen…the glass cupboards seemed familiar and reminescent of the old San Francisco Victorian, refurbished and lovingly restored…Sitting at the table in the kitchen, sat Liz. I had been warned at the door that this was “kind of a good day”, but that our visit had coincided with lunch. I sat in a chair across from him, as Steve prompted Liz with various, you remember Linda…now don’t you phrases, and I sat, trying with every fiber of my being, to keep it together and to keep from losing it.
The elderly gentleman who sat across from me was not Liz…the elderly, stooped gentleman had the same demeanor of those that you see in nursing homes at mealtime; all focus and intent only on the next spoonful lovingly delivered by whoever’s kind hand was doing the serving. His hair was white as snow, cut very short to blend with the early hair loss on top. A clean white tee shirt poked out from below his shriveled neck, and a blue plaid, flannel shirt topped that and a burgundy corduroy jacket, buttoned almost to the neck completed his afternoon outfit.
It was the shirt that got me. My father’s shirt. The same old-man flannel shirt that I had bought him for Father’s Day the year he died. He loved that old shirt, and always managed to have it on, it seemed, when I arrived in town for a visit..that goddamn, blue flannel shirt meant nothing but death to me; I could barely look at Liz in that shirt.
When it was time to go, I came to Liz’s side of the table, crouched down and told him how good it was to see him, how much he had meant to me, and for him to take very good care…he looked at me, unknowing, not a glimmer of recognition, and repeated, “thank you, thank you, thank you very much”…
He died the next afternoon.