Sunday, October 23, 2005

Growing Pains Part 2



Growing Pains Part 1

To say that life was obscenely different after my brother told me had HIV would be an understatement.

A couple days after the Houlihans dinner Douglas ushered me into the bathroom that we shared. He opened up his drawer which I never assumed to go into but was shocked to see that it was brimming with prescription medications. Orals and injectables it was an ad hoc pharmacy. He pulled out several bottles of medication. Some were for nausea, depression, diarrhea, the usual things that people with terminal or chronic illnesses have to have at their side. The last thing Douglas pulled out was a cube shaped bottle with Retrovir written on it. He opened the bottle and put a capsule in his hand. He looked at me and said, "This pill is AZT, it's poison. You are under no circumstances to take one of these pills or even handle one unless you absolutely have to." The moment was so heavy that to this day that etched in my brain is the white and blue capsule with the blue stripe on the center of it and the association of danger.

Next, he opened up the cabinet under his sink which housed boxes of syringes, needles, and a sharps container. He became even more serious, "I have to inject some of my drugs on a daily basis. Do not touch any of these needles and especially do not touch any of my used needles." I was told never to put my hand into the sharps container and that if I saw a needles that had fallen out that I should call him to come and dispose of it. His razor and toothbrush were stored in a drawer and I was told to not use them. For most twelve year old kids at the time the reality of HIV/AIDS was only experienced and understood through the ephemeral and innocuous babblings of the mainstream media. My situation was for more tangible.

After the medication orientation things seemed to return to normalcy as much as could be expected. There were the occasional bumps some upsetting and some amusing. The phone rang one day and it was my grandmother. She was halfway intelligible, in fact hysterical. She had just read the letter that my brother wrote her informing her of his status. The list of questions she howled through her tears were echoes of the ones that flooded my mind the night he told me. Additionally she was pissed that she was the last one to find out. No one was home to take her call but I eventually got her calmed down so that I felt ok with getting off the phone with her. It was the first and only time that I would see anyone else in my family react to the gravitas of the situation until shortly before my brother would die.

School was improving. I continued to excel academically and I was starting to make some friends. Fellow outcasts mostly which oddly seemed to compose mostly of Jews that had some kind of roots in the east coast. My brother started to volunteer at my middle school and church which I always thought was very bold. He was a tutor for students struggling in math and science. He would also donate his time to my school band by driving our equipment truck to California for our band trip. Not that he was never altruistic but seeing the situation that he was in I always thought that he would be trying to fulfill his own needs, filling his last years of life with experiences meant to only benefit him. Instead he chose to donate his time, his most precious asset at this point, to other people. Whether or not it was his intention he was demonstrating qualities that would leave an impression on me.

One of the most amusing things to happen at this time was that my English teacher, Ms. Telesko, had developed an affinity for my brother. A new hire to the district, this woman was simply put a gay man trapped in a woman's body. She worshipped the movie "The Body Guard" and proclaimed it was the best movie ever made. Between class periods when we'd all shuffle into her room she would subject us to the soundtrack of the movie before the second bell rang, indicating that she put away Whitney and start teaching us literature. During the days before the holidays when teachers seem to have no knowledge to bestow upon their students she graced us with an in-class viewing of The Body Guard. One day after class she pulled me aside, "Adam. Is your brother single?" I answered truthfully, "Yes." She continued, "Oh that is so great to hear. He is just so handsome! Do you think..." She stopped herself and realized that she was speaking to a student. I so wanted to tell her that he was gay and what a fool she was making of herself in front of me. I walked away from her classroom quite amused at her behavior. Doug and I had a terrific laugh about the whole situation after I told him that afternoon.

Seventh grade persisted on. In the spring I was socially active attending the many Bar and Bat Mitzvah's of my now many Jewish friends. Douglas coordinated and dressed me for each one bestowing on me knowledge of men's fashion. Douglas would give me my first non-clip on neck tie; an over the top silk print tie from Emmanuel Ungaro which I still have to this day. One time after he got me dressed he removed a plastic garment bag from his closet and unzipped it on the bed. Inside was an exquisite black wool suit and a silk tie with a pattern that matched perfectly. Douglas told me that this was the suit he was going to buried in. My initial reaction was shock but only for a few minutes. This is the first time that I had come to terms that although he looked healthy he was going to die in the next couple of years. Slowly my brother was preparing me for his death so that when the day arrived it wouldn't be so hard. I told him the suit was beautiful and joked that he would be the best dressed person at his own funeral. He looked and me and smiled, "You know I would never have it any other way."

Summer came and Douglas was preparing for an extended stay in Italy. He was to be staying in Florence and take classes on Italian art and literature. I hated that he was leaving but I knew that this was his time. He'd be back in the fall for a few weeks and then he'd be off on a cruise to Turkey. My mother and I took him to the airport. I have a photo of him waving goodbye to us from the entrance doors to the terminal. It would be the last time that I would see him as a healthy man and it would be the last time that he would fully recognize me.

Throughout the summer I would receive many post cards and gifts from Douglas. Every one of them was written in Italian and signed, "Ti amo fratello! -Claudio." My brother always traveled in Europe under his Italian alias, Claudio. The postcards came from Rome, Sienna, Florence, Milan. There were packages filled with gifts of chocolates, notebooks, and Italian comics. It was in this summer that I would have my first homosexual experience. It would be at boy scout camp with my friend and bunkmate whom I had a crush on. The experience didn't amount to much but I felt like I had broken some kind of barrier and I had many questions. I wanted to write Doug a letter and tell him about it but I lacked the maturity and the candor to do so. I would wait for him to come home and discuss it with him then

Summer wound down and the post cards were coming less frequently but still came. I got a photo of Claudio in the Tuscan countryside but he looked tired and his cheeks seemed less supple. My mother saw the photo and started to worry. The postcards stopped coming and my parents informed me that my brother had gotten very ill was taken in by a family in Florence. My father got on a flight to Florence immediately. I had never seen my father like this. Up until this point in my life I had never had much of a relationship with him. Always working for his job or for the house I didn't think that he saw his children as much more than hired help to clean his boat and help him with weekend projects. This facade melted away immediately at the news of my brother and I think for the first time I saw my father in his true form. He was a man who loved his children with an intensity that I could never imagine. Frantic and intent, he dropped his life and rushed to my brother's side. He would go to Florence and do whatever necessary to get my brother healthy enough to come home for the holidays.

(To be Continued)

8 Comments:

Blogger tornwordo said...

This is heartbreaking. I find myself wanting more, though I know it's going to be tough. Well done, as usual.

6:08 AM  
Blogger Spider said...

I hate to tear up at work... Like tornwordo, I know the next part will be tough but I want to hear more... your writing is beautiful and touching to say the least...

7:23 AM  
Blogger Adam said...

thanks you guys. its been difficult to write this and i appreciate your comments and support.

7:59 AM  
Blogger BRETTCAJUN said...

Very moving post Adam.

9:06 AM  
Blogger Brian said...

I am very touched. I admire your clear and fervent style of writing, and I look forward to more.

12:42 PM  
Blogger epicurist said...

Adam, thanks for sharing this very personal story. As a gay man with HIV I am touched by this story and the reverence you hold for your brother. I look forward to reading more.

2:09 PM  
Blogger Kody said...

I think everything I could think of saying right now has been said already... Very touching Adam.

3:45 PM  
Anonymous rob said...

Wow, this is beautiful, but difficult to write I'm sure.

12:50 AM  

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