April 9, 2012
In the Summer of 2008, I received a curious package from Bonnie Goldman, the editor of TheBody.com. Inside was a Flip video camera, what was then a new-fangled device that allowed you to take video footage with a camera the size of a pack of cigarettes.
It came with a simple note. "I think you should try this," it said.
How did she know? I wondered. I had never mentioned to her that I once taped a special for my newborn niece, back when video cameras were the size of footballs and editing consisted of painstakingly recording segments from one VCR to another. "Carly's Video" consisted of magic tricks, songs and a dramatic reading of "Yurtle the Turtle."
And yet, Bonnie had the notion that I might have some fun documenting my life as a gay man living with HIV. Immediately, I bought editing software online and started to learn it. But I had my doubts.
There wasn't anything particularly special about my life, I complained to her in a phone call to her New York office. And a lot of it, like my ongoing struggle with drug addiction, was downright seedy.
"Tell the truth," she said. "The more honest you are, the better it will be."
I trusted her judgment. In my writing for TheBody over the previous years, Bonnie had always demanded the best of me. We regularly debated topics and my approach to my written pieces, and anything that sounded too easy, that contained more platitudes than honest emotion, was questioned. The same would hold true for the video episodes that I quickly began producing.
In September of 2008, "My Fabulous Disease" premiered on TheBody.com. The first episode was an introduction to my life, and already I was being playful with the camera and the potential of video. It concluded with the mantra that Bonnie had instilled in me. "I can't promise this will always be entertaining," I said. "But I can promise I will always be honest. So. Let's see what happens ..."
Since then, plenty has happened. When I spent time in Michigan caring for a brother dying of cancer, the camera was there. When I was treated for facial lipoatrophy by getting injections of facial filler, I brought the camera. For everything from my thoughts on barebacking to touring a gay sex club to drug relapses to HIV criminalization to the international AIDS conference in Vienna, I documented everything using the inventive gift sent to me by Bonnie Goldman.
When Bonnie left TheBody a few years ago, I missed her counsel and her friendship. She was maddeningly hard to reach in the two years after, and I wondered if our friendship had been purely professional.
And then the news, in January of this year, that Bonnie had died after a long struggle with cancer. She had fought it privately, and I felt ashamed for having wanted more contact during what was clearly a difficult time.
Only now, months after her passing, am I finally writing about her death, something so deeply felt I haven't found the words. I am searching for them still.
Life keeps showing up. New people populate it, projects come and go, video episodes of My Fabulous Disease are made. And it has been too long since I have said her name out loud. Bonnie. Bonnie Goldman.
We all come across things, tokens from a person, from a life we treasured but has faded from view. A photograph on a shelf that we pass in the hallway. A shirt in the closet. A book. A recipe.
A broken video camera that has outlived its purpose, that I cannot bear to throw away.