Previous Entry Share Next Entry
Chronicle of a Plague, Revisited; Andrew Holleran

Little Boats

“They did nothing but make vases!” a German friend said one day, exasperated, when we entered this gallery. “In Berlin they store them in bomb shelters!” They do seem alike. Perhaps it is the monotony, the apparent sameness of the Greek vases, that numbs the viewer, for the same reason a crowd of men at Tea Dance leaves one blank: They cancel each other out. Reproduced in great numbers, even the beautiful item is meaningless. All the vases are of the same color, and, with variations, the same shapes; there is even a large chart against the wall explaining the functions of each, like an exhibit illustrating the various coins of a foreign nation. I could not tell one from the other for years. Then the New York Times carried a story one day about the acquisition of a vase depicting the death of Sarpedon; and a friend told me about Leagros. That was enough. When it seemed to me that the crowds at Flamingo, with their redundant physiques, were missing the point – when the tambourines and ethyl chloride, the rites of Tea Dance, seemed as suffocating as any law prohibiting sodomy – I would come into this pale room whose wooden floor creaks, and go to the glass case that holds a vase depicting the death of a warrior in the Trojan War. There, above the frieze of men in armor, the fallen hero with a wound in his side dripping blood, is an inscription in Greek that says, Leagros is fair.. It is a mash note written to a youth the artist admired. We have been around a long, long time.

Reading and Writing

Most of us have seen the statistics by now. Many of us have seen our generation wiped out in announcements from the Harvard School of Public Health. Some of us have been told we were terminally ill by Barbara Walters. Which is why one stops reading the stories finally, turns off the TV when the topic is introduced, or closes the galleys of books like the one that arrived this morning, wondering if – when dying – you will think, Oh, this was covered in chapter six! (As a friend said, “No one has to teach me how to die.”) As admirable as the writing or publishing of books about AIDS may be, I really don't know who reads them with pleasure – because I suspect there is one thing and one thing only everyone wants to read, and that is the headline: CURE FOUND.

My Little Trojan

Our hero asks his next trick to use a rubber, and together they watch his penis shrivel. The next man refuses to even consider it. The third one agrees by saying, “Sure. If you eat what's in it afterwards.”
Our hero is insecure enough already – he hasn't the confidence of his friend, who tells him he waits till his partner is so excited it doesn't matter, and even claims that it delights young people when he brings it out. “Oh! A scumbag!” they gasp. “I've never seen one!”
Our hero soon loses his initial sense of enchantment, however – and before very long he has learned why people do not want to use the things. The reason is simple: In the midst of pleasure, the rubber recalls disease, danger, death, his own friends' illness. Its use is prudent, rational, sensible. But sex is a surrender to what is not prudent, rational, sensible. It is the escape from these. In the heat of lust – generated by small concessions that are themselves rational – he loses his resolve.

Emmanuel's Loft

Matthew came out, nicely dressed, on his feet, and entertained us. (“Ah, he is much better when you are here!” said Emmanuel.) We talked of Fire Island, summer, fashion. I asked where to find good khaki pants. Then he pulled up his blouse to show us the permanent IV that had been surgically implanted in his chest: a plastic plate below his collarbone to which the tubes were attached. He hooked himself up. The nurse came twice a week. His mother – a gray-haired, bespectacled woman with a gentle voice – went into the kitchen to clean up, and, when she had finished that, came out and began to Windex some of the windows at the end of the loft. “How dirty they get,” she said when I passed her on my way out – as if that were the only grime that had accumulated in Manhattan, I thought.
“He was wonderful,” I said to my friend on the street.
“Very wonderful,” he said. Then he shuddered. “I didn't like seeing that thing, though.”
“I thought he looked wonderful, too.” I said.
“I thought he looked awful,” said my friend.
“I don't know what I'm doing here,” Emmanuel said when we took a walk to the Hudson River down the same street the next day, and crossed to the Esplanade, busy with cars, bicycles, and boats offshore. “I feel I am just maintaining myself, just trying not to die. It's very strange.” He said this in the same calm voice he used for everything: dispassionate, detached. I did not ask if he resented having to care for Matthew, after trying to get him to leave; or if it frightened him to see in Matthew the progress of an illness he had; or if he ever thought the evenings at the Saint, the baths, the drugs he had taken because they amused Matthew, were what had caused all of this. There was no point. They were stuck together now; something unforeseen had imprisoned them in that loft, just two of many tragedies being played out in rooms all over the city, scenes that would never make the newspaper, or even the gossip of the dinner table, because they were exactly what everyone wanted hidden behind walls. Pain, Hannah Arendt wrote, is the last private thing.
A few months later Matthew decided he'd had enough of pain, of tubes, medications, and vomiting. One Saturday he announced his decision to refuse the fluids that were keeping him alive. He called his doctor. The doctor did not disagree. So on a Saturday afternoon, one of those Saturdays when Matthew used to stand behind the counter at Bloomingdale's helping women select the correct face powder and blush, he opted out – and by the following morning, around six A.M., one a day when, years before, he and Emmanuel had been dancing to what was called Sleaze Music at the Saint (the best music, the music you wait all night for, the music that comes only at the end of an evening, that is finally relaxed, sensual, melancholy, the cream of the night), he died.
“He never complained,” Emmanuel wrote. “He did it all, and his mother, too, with dignity. During the night he said a few things – It's dark, I'm scared, Hold my hand! - but that was all. In the early morning, he died, and we called the police. The police came. Then the undertaker – from Soho – a woman in Norma Kamali – put him in a bag. Very chic. His mother left yesterday after his cremation and when I walked her to the cab, she said to me: “I think the reason I was put on earth was for these last two months.”

The day the Times ran an article by another writer with a book out about AIDS, Emmanuel put the paper down, turned to me and said, “But I have more lesions than he does.”

Bobby's Grave

In retrospect, Bobby seems that rarest, most wonderful thing: fun. More rare than we suppose, I thought, as I stood there thinking of all the people I knew down here. Witty, honest, down-to-earth, sometimes malicious, perceptive, great fun to sit and talk with, about others or himself. Only now he was not in a chair on the porch. He was under the ground. Along with, I thought, all that virus. Finally defeated. No longer replicating. Unable to infect another host. Finished. Stopped. Dead. End of the line. Along with the CMV and toxo and MAI. At what point did the cellular activity of all these organisms cease? The minute the heart stopped beating, or later, in the ground?


Log in