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I Shall Miss Loving Him

By Eric L. Watts

July/August 2004

Eric L. Watts

It's one thing to grieve for all the many loved ones you've lost to AIDS. It's another thing entirely to start mourning for someone who isn't even dead yet.

For nearly a decade, I was a member of the Atlanta Gay Men's Chorus. It was just a couple of weeks before our annual Pride concert several years ago, with only a few rehearsals still scheduled for our upcoming performance of When We No Longer Touch -- A Cycle of Songs for Survival, a work comprising seven movements. My lover, who was HIV positive, and I had gone out the night before and he had spent the night over. He knew I had a rehearsal the next morning and asked if it would be okay for him to sleep in and wait for me to get back. This was during an early stage in our relationship, only a month or so after we had finally declared our mutual love for each other after having dated for about three months. As I got showered and dressed quietly, he lay in bed soundly asleep. All I really wanted to do at that moment was to crawl back into bed with him, snuggle into his warm embrace and drift off to sleep with him together. It was a huge effort to force myself to get up and leave. I kneeled by his side of the bed where he was laying with his back side towards me, gently put my arms around him, laid my head flat between his shoulders, whispered "I love you" into his ear, stroked and kissed the back of his head and then quietly left for rehearsal. I half-hoped he would still be asleep when I got back so I could get back into bed with him.

During the previous two months, the chorus had rehearsed the various movements of When We No Longer Touch in random order, focusing on portions of sections that needed special attention. As with most concerts, a sense of continuity never really materializes until just before the performance date, when you start rehearsing "run-throughs" -- starting at the beginning and running the show straight through to the finale. This particular Saturday morning rehearsal was one of our first run-throughs, where we focused more on artistry than on technicality. When We No Longer Touch is one of those rare works where the totality of the piece is greater than the sum of its parts, and on this particular morning, we took it from the top. Poignant and painful songs of fear and loss are followed by songs of grief and hope. In a classic case of not having seen the forest for the trees, the impact of the entire piece hit me hard halfway through it. It was near the end of the sixth movement that I finally fell apart:

I shall miss loving you
I shall miss the Comfort of your embrace
I shall miss the
Loneliness of waiting for the
calls that never came
I shall miss the Joy of your comings
and the Pain of your goings
after a time,
I shall miss
I shall miss loving you
I shall miss the
Comfort and,
after a time
I shall miss

I was already missing him when I got to rehearsal. He was on my mind while we rehearsed these songs. Because these songs were about the loss of a loved one, I couldn't help but to sing these songs as if I were singing about my loved one. What would I do if -- when -- he died? How could I face life without him? I shall miss loving you. ... I completely lost all composure and broke down right there, in the middle of the rehearsal, a big, fat, 225-pound sissy, wiping tears off my face with a hanky and covering my mouth to stop sobbing. It was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life -- and yet, one of the most powerful. Never before and never since have I been so powerfully moved by a piece of music. Never before and never since have I cried ... for the living.

The man around whom my entire life had begun to revolve was into his fifth year of being HIV positive. Although he was fully asymptomatic and in otherwise perfect health at the time, how much longer could I reasonably expect that to continue? By that time, I had already buried so many friends and loved ones ... so how could I possibly think of our relationship in any terms other than ... temporary?

It's been ten years since that emotional breakdown, and in that time, I've lost far too many more friends and loved ones to this dreadful disease. But amazingly enough, the man who lay in my bed that memorable morning oh so long ago is not one of them. At least, not yet. Halfway through his second decade of living with HIV, he remains healthy and asymptomatic. How much longer does he have? How much longer do we have? Will we grow old together? I don't know. But these questions continue to haunt me every day, and every night, I pray that a cure is found before I learn the answers.

* "I Shall Miss Loving You" from When We No Longer Touch -- A Cycle of Songs for Survival; lyrics by Peter Williams, music by Kris Anthony.

This article was provided by AIDS Survival Project. It is a part of the publication Survival News. You can find this article online by typing this address into your Web browser:

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