Our friend John died in the hospital of complications from AIDS on December 4, 1996. Neither Tom nor I can fathom that it’s been that long. I was there that night, and if I ever shared John’s equivalent of an E! True Hollywood Story, I’d probably be in serious hot water. I will leave it at this: There are compassionate ways to let someone go and lean on one another in a time of crisis, and then there is what happened that night. For a number of years, those events left me raw. Time helps, as does having other people who were there and have the same perspective that I did.
John’s love James was with him when he slipped away. Afterward, we went to John’s apartment, where his roommate gave us all the time we needed to do–oh, those kinds of things we might tell our best friends, “If I die, go to my place and get rid of X, Y, and Z before my family shows up.”
While we were doing that, James suddenly cracked up laughing and handed me this card.
“I was with him the day he bought this,” he said. “He intended to give it to you. I guess he forgot.”
I opened the card and read this:
When I looked at James with confusion, he reminded me of the first day John brought James to The Compound to meet Tom and me. I’d known John for several years and foolishly had been caught in the middle of a bad breakup between him and my beloved friend Jeff (who’d died in 1995). During the bad breakup, Jeff kept telling me things he thought John was doing to mess with his head, and I kept vowing that John would never do those things.
So on this visit with James and John, John began to tell me all the things Jeff had been right about. I sat there open-mouthed, occasionally sputtering, “I defended you, you brat!” As more stories were told, I had a few confessions of my own to make of things I’d done to help Jeff try to get accurate information about John. James and Tom laughed at our “True Confessions,” and later that afternoon, when James and John were in Montrose’s legendary (and now-closed) bookstore Crossroads, John picked up this card for me.
From time to time, I still use this phrase with my friends: “I think it’s time you turned yourself in,” to let them know that those things we do (and maybe hope no one finds out about) are probably more funny than awful. Within friendships, there should always be room for laughter and forgiveness.
I still remember, from tenth grade, the quote from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” With John, there was no evil. There was just life, and life can be crazy and messy and flawed and absolutely wonderful all at the same time. I’m so grateful I was part of his life; he will always be a part of me.