Then, a year.
It passed so quickly.
Here is a story for you. In the spring of 2012, he walked the Appalachian Trail. He got on a train in Penn Station, took it to the last stop then started walking. My friend didn't bring a coat. He didn't bring any money, or food or buy a return ticket. This was going to be it -- the end, that final disappointment, as Peggy Lee would bemoan.
From the last stop -- he walked. He walked all day and he walked all night. He found the trailhead and just kept going. When night fell, having no skills to make a fire or forage for mushrooms and grubs, he sat down against a mighty oak tree. He could feel the bark on his back and it felt good. Listening carefully, he realized the forest was in many ways even louder than New York City. It can be, at night when the crickets, the owl, the fighting and feeding between the nighttime crowds become a stir of echoes. It is nature's discotheque, forever spinning its remixes -- waxing and waning with the cycles of the moon.
He fell asleep -- he was that tired; tired of living, fighting, barely surviving on social security and AIDS service organizations, the kindness of strangers, Blanche Dubois and that bare light bulb going off over his head. That ideation, the moment he decided to give up and hit the road -- this was the weekend, by choice, he stopped taking antiretrovirals. He threw his Atripla in the trash at Penn Station.
In the middle of the night he awoke. Mosquitoes had covered his flesh in welts, and he itched and scratched at them until they bleed. He thought about all those mosquitoes getting AIDS. Even though mosquitoes don't get AIDS -- he still wanted them too. There was something comforting knowing they would pay for their crimes, even though he knew they would not pay a red cent. If he sat there long enough, they would continue to feed on his blood like television vampires. But he did not mind a death by mosquito now.
As morning light broke, he found himself walking back to the train. It took hours, and by the time he reached the station there was only one train left back to the city. A group of tourists, young twenties, Germans, reached out to him when they saw him so distressed. They fed him some chips, a granola bar, water, and they gave him the cash he needed to get home.
Home, it had changed quite a bit. Home was now anyone's couch. Once, he was a very successful lawyer. Now, with AIDS, he was homeless -- shuffling from couch to spare bedroom, where nothing worked and the dressers and closets were always already full -- no place to hang a scarf or even stash your pill tray. There were children sleeping, and sounds of well fed domesticated animals snoring in their sleep. But in his ears, he could hear the waves of the Appalachia. He could hear the forest, but could see no trees.
His heartbeat, and the cool calamine lotion on his skin reminded him he had failed at his attempt to "get lost" in the woods. So, he sat awake that night and came up with another plan. He would let himself die of AIDS. And on October 23, 2013, he did. I was there. I carried him. He was a thing I carried in the end, one of many men I've watched die. I bathed him. I dressed him. I helped load his body into a black bag and heard the zipper lock him away.
My new BFF left off the last F. He left a photograph on his cell phone of his foot. Just his foot. That's all -- his selfie foot is all I have left. All the memories, the shared dreams, the plans are all gone. The foot that walked was once alive, resting on my rear deck. But within a month or two of this footed selfie the soul walked right off the face of the planet, and I was left alone to panic and grieve.
You try and put it right in your mind -- this death from AIDS in 2013. You float it in your mind, around and around like a pig on a spit roasting over a huge fire. The fat that boils off the flesh and drops into the blaze sizzles like tears. And you never really get over it, you just learn to live with it. And before you know it, three hundred and sixty-five days have passed. Then, on that day, a year seems like yesterday moving back not forward. Time heals some wounds, but like a deathbed scene you wait patiently for others to die. Then, a year, and you realize that bloody memory will only die with you.