Like Frank Sinatra or Sid Vicious, I tend to chew and spit life my way. In the 1980s, not many gay men had a lot of straight friends but I did. Most of my gay brethren didn’t really like children. I loved them. And you didn’t hear of many gays throwing baby showers. I had a couple legendary ones in my apartment on Jones Street.
In 1988 I held one for my friends Teresa and Gary. Teresa and I shared a fascination for Gone With the Wind. She brought a Miss Melly gone awry level of energy to our friendship while mine was more Belle Watling, the sadder but wiser aging whore. Beyond the invitations I didn’t take the GWTW theme too far. I did add my own touches like the 1/2” cupie doll babies frozen in pink and blue ice cubes. And the male stripper from the Campus Theatre who I dressed in a diaper to serve drinks. He was a big hit and obviously enjoyed his work.
When his shift was over he went into the bedroom to get dressed. I followed to thank him and give him his money. He wanted to get frisky and told me “it comes with the rate.” Although I try to live by Gore Vidal’s dictum that you should never turn down an opportunity to be on television or to have sex, I just couldn’t ignore the 20 guests in the other rooms. I smiled, said sorry and sent him on his way. Despite that, it was a memorable evening.
The memories began 20 minutes before the party started with a call from Garden Sullivan Hospital telling me that my friend Jim had just died. He had lingered for months in hospice care and far exceeded the doctors original prediction that he would only be there a few weeks. In a moment of panic I called our mutual friend Marilyn in Australia to ask if she could notify the sister.
The family had remained at arms length and of little support during his illness but still they needed to be the first ones to know. I told her what was happening with my party. Marilyn told me to focus on the task at hand, she would make the call and we would talk again in the morning.
As the guests arrived I realized a couple of them knew Jim, some knew of him, but most didn’t know him at all. With so many AIDS deaths there was actually a protocol developing that I’d experienced a few times. If you were at some function and able to maintain your composure through the evening, you would carry on normally then quietly tell others who knew the person as you all left. So that’s what I did.
In the days following the baby shower I felt guilty for partying down after such devastating news and for not having a more emotional reaction. I’ve since learned that there is no right way to grieve, each time is different and, despite what made for TV movies teach us, there is no precise continuum for mourning. Even humor, alcohol or sex can work to get through the first awful days.
Two years before Jim died I visited him during a stay in San Francisco General. As I left he gave me an envelope of documents that he wanted me to read and keep for him. On the bus ride back downtown I opened it up. The first one I pulled out was his Will. As I started to read all I could think was what it must have been like for him to write the words that seemed to accept what was happening to him. And at only 35. There was nothing I could do about it. I rode home a sobbing mess on the 19 Polk.
The Story of Jim
- The Happiest Days
- Childhood Living
- Life on Pretty Lake
- Sensitivity Training
- Graceless Lady
- Life in Print
- Life on an Associate Professor’s Salary
- What’s the Date? 1968
- Alone with Art
- Life at Sterling Cooper
- Sliding Through My Hands
- Life as a Godfather
- I Know I’ve Dreamed You
- Image of Veta