It's not about the house.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Faithful Friends

When I was 21 years old, I worked at a store called The Christmas Dove. There were a few of them; the one I worked at was in Faneuil Hall.

On my very first day there (I remember, because it was August and the air conditioning was broken, so I spent my first day in Christmas Town mopping my brow like Louis Armstrong at the DEA) I fell head over heels in love with my new boss. All that came of it, though, was that we got to be bosom friends. Because -- as I was well aware on that first clammy afternoon -- my boss was, um, a gymnast. He did the window displays. He quoted Mommie Dearest randomly. And he flat-out worshipped Whitney Houston.

He had a boyfriend, is what I'm trying to say.

In fact, you would recognize this boyfriend-person if I told you who he was. He's famous now, and also famously gay. But back then he wasn't publicly known or publicly homosexual. The minor celebrity status that he did have, pretty much within the tri-state area, came from his role on a basic-cable children's tv show. So for public purposes, for the sake of his career, he wasn't gay. And even though they were together for six years, my Boss was always introduced as Boyfriend's cousin from out of town.

Long story short: When Boss gave up his North End apartment to finally move in with Boyfriend in Manhattan, he learned that this publicly-straight Boy-so-called-friend had been privately shtupping his way through Central Park for years. And he didn't really see any reason why he ought to stop. Boss still wound up moving to Manhattan, but into the apartment of a different (and genuine) friend.

A few years later, My Boss tested positive for HIV.

Now, just for the record, in case any of you have figured out who The Boyfriend is and want to get me sued for slander: Boyfriend is clean. Allegedly. From what My Boss told me, Boyfriend had been getting himself tested all along, and even when Boss called to sound the warning, Boyfriend rolled himself snake eyes again. But I've always blamed him anyway. Because it wasn't any of the other folks Boss had to talk to, either (and there weren't that many; certainly fewer than I'd've had to call if it were me). I don't know how he did it, but I just know he was the one. Maybe he's one of those magicly-immune people or something. Bitch.


My Boss (who was, of course, no longer My Boss at that point, but who still worked for the Dove in their Manhattan store) gave me this ornament that year for Christmas (this is a post about an ornament, remember? A Christmas decoration? Right?). It's a Christopher Radko AIDS memorial collectible panda bear. I'm not sure what panda bears have to do with AIDS or anything, but there you go.

And then, a few years later, My Boss dropped off the face of the earth.

I called his phone number one day, and a Spanish-speaking woman answered, and after that I never heard from him again. It wasn't unusual for us to go whole years without speaking, so I didn't think twice about it for a while. But when a year went by and I still hadn't heard from him, and I tried the phone number again only to find it disconnected, and I called information and couldn't get a listing in New York anywhere, well, then I began to be worried. But what could I do? I did know where his mother lived, but I couldn't bring myself to call her. Because what if something awful happened? How could I call and ask after her son if, god forbid, the virus had caught up with him and he was gone?

More years went by. I know I tried calling the Christmas Dove store that he worked at, but I don't remember why that didn't work. I even went down to the one in Boston that we used to work at, specifically to ask if anyone there knew him, but I chickened out because I wasn't ready, yet, to know for sure. And because I didn't want to hear bad news and wind up crying in the store.

Then 9/11 happened. The Manhattan store he worked at was in the South Street Seaport, which is right next to the World Trade Center, and he would have been just coming up from the subway at the worst possible time. I scanned the websites for survivor lists, but when I didn't find his name on them anywhere, I just stopped imagining My Boss alive. If the virus hadn't got him by now, I thought, then the falling towers probably did.

So every year, at Christmas time, when I pulled out my Panda Bear, I'd sigh a bit and shed a couple tears.

Then, one day last spring, I'd had a couple of beers while cleaning the attic, and started flipping through an old notebook full of poetry from when I was twenty-one (bad idea! don't do it! why did you even save the notebook in the first place?). There, on the top of one of the pages, was a phone number for a girl I'll call Babbette. Babbette was Boyfriend's cousin, and one of My Boss's best friends in the whole wide world -- even after the breakup and everything. The phone number was more than ten years old by the time I found it, but I went ahead and dialed it on a whim.

I got an answering machine. It was still using the mechanical voice it came with, so I couldn't tell if the number was still hers, but I left a message. Long,  rambling, and apologetic, and hanging up before remembering to leave my number for her to call back -- so I had to call again and leave another message like a nutjob.

A week or three went by, and I'd forgotten that I called her by the time she called me back. She remembered me, if only barely, and after making sure I wasn't the nutjob I made myself out to be on her machine, she gave me My Boss's number. And I called him.

He's alive!

He met a nice Brazilian boy -- who also, incidentally, has HIV -- and moved up to New Hampshire where they bought a house and sold antiques. "Like," as My Boss put it, "a couple of cliches." We met for lunch the very next day, because he still works for The Christmas Dove up in New Hampshire, and he was coming down to help them close the Boston store for good. He still looks as cute as ever. Hasn't aged a day. If anything, he seems healthier than he did the last time I saw him, probably because of all the clean-ass living the drug cocktail forces him to do.

That was in May or so. I haven't talked to him since, but it's nice to know for sure he's out there. It's nice to know he's happily okay. And it was very nice to unpack my Bear this year and, instead of crying when I thought of My Boss, smile...


Anonymous said...

That is an awesome story! A testimony to the fact that many people are LIVING with AIDS rather than dying from it. We see at least one pg mommy every couple months in a special program for treatment to reduce viral load in mom's blood before delivery and so far... knock wood- ZERO babies have converted!

Renovation Therapy said...

Awesome post!!!

12ontheinside said...

that is a really nice story behind that one.

Sparkle Plenty said...

Getting caught up...getting caught up...ORNAMENTS! ORNAMENTS (hyperventilating)! And stories!

This one was particularly great. I kept reading along with one eye kind of winced...waiting, waiting, waiting...But, no--happy ending! Hoo-wah POW. One in the eye for the grim repo.*

*Right now, "grim repo" seems clever and coherent. Soon, it will not.

ege said...

Anonymous -- are you my CuzDonna? or am I just particularly appealing to the OBGYN community? (PS Yay for sero babies converted!)

RT -- Thanks! Long time!

12 -- Shocking, isn't it? No poo or swear words? (Well, except for the bitch.)

Sparkle -- HI! I like the grim repo. Maybe HE can tell us once and for all if John Wayne was a fag. (For those of you who think that is an odd thing to say after reading this post: it is a movie reference. And it is funny, dammit. Laugh!)

su said...

ly mommo