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This column appeared originally in The Washington Blade in 1989.|
By Lawrence Biemiller
"How come you don't use the little loop for your belt buckle?" the incredible boy dancer asked when I stood up. He was stretched out sideways on the sofa, his legs in Terry's lap.
"That's what that loop's for? The buckle? I could never figure that out," I said. I looked down at the diminutive loop, which is just below the button at the waist of my khakis. "And I've had these pants for months."
"I'll show you," said the boy dancer, bouncing to his feet as though he were spring-loaded. The next thing I knew, he was unbuckling my belt.
Mind you, it's not easy to be nonchalant while a handsome young dancer unbuckles your belt in front of his lover. Do you watch him work, even though that means looking down at an uncomfortable angle? Or do you give in to temptation and stare at his muscular shoulders? Do you try to continue the conversation, even though your faces are now only inches apart? And what do you do with your hands?
"See, you put the tongue of the buckle through the loop, like this," the boy dancer said. "And then you put the belt back through, and the loop keeps the buckle from riding up too high." He patted the end of my belt into place and then bounced back onto the sofa.
"Truly amazing, ladies and gentlemen," I said in my master-of-ceremonies voice. "Now can I get myself something to drink?"
"There's seltzer in the fridge," said Terry.
"Anybody else want anything?"
"I'll have an AZT," said the boy dancer. "On the shelf behind you, where all those medicine things are. It says 'Retrovir' on it."
And so it did. I had come to New York because a friend's book of photographs of people with AIDS was being published, and I wanted to go to the reception. As soon as it ended, I took a cab down to Chelsea to have dinner with Terry and the boy dancer, who promptly pulled the book out of my bag and began leafing through it.
"What's that?" Terry asked.
I started to answer. "It's the book that ... "
"Is this about living with AIDS, or just about dying?" the boy dancer interrupted.
The question caught me off guard. "A lot of the pictures are of people who seem like they're determined to live," I said. "But not all of them. You have to read the statements they wrote underneath."
He turned the pages quietly for several minutes. Terry was looking over his shoulder. I was fidgeting -- I know how Terry gets if he thinks something is too negative.
"I should show this to my mom," the boy dancer said. "I think she'd like it."
"You can keep it if you want," I said. "I'll buy another copy at home."
The boy dancer looked at Terry, who kept his eyes on the book. "Um, no, thank you," the boy dancer said at last.
"If you want it, take it," Terry said. "It's fine with me."
The boy dancer reconsidered. "I think I would like it," he said slowly, glancing at Terry, then me, then back at Terry. "To look at 10 years from now -- you know, like a record of our time."
"You still want macrobiotic for dinner?" Terry asked him, closing the book. "It's getting late."
"I need to change," the boy dancer said. He paraded across the room and down the hall, slipping out of his sweatpants and wiggling his behind at us as he disappeared.
"Macrobiotic" turned out to mean a postmodern restaurant at the end of the block that served me nasturtiums in a delicious salad and vanilla soy milk to lighten my coffee. Since the boy dancer discovered his first Kaposi's lesion last fall, his diet has become one of his primary concerns. Soy milk and tofu and carrot juice have become staples.
Several days later, he brought a large paper cup of fresh carrot juice on the uptown Broadway local when he took me to see two movies at a gay film festival. We stood in the middle of the rocking subway car, hanging on to one of the poles. I could see the scar on the underside of his arm where a lesion was removed for biopsy. Behind him was a grim AIDS poster from the New York City Health Department. I hoped he wouldn't turn around. The poster -- like so many of the newspaper stories and TV spots and the books -- was about dying.
People can easily forget that having AIDS is much more about living. Society, and especially the media, seize on the most tragic aspects of the disease because they make easy, compelling stories. Less often told are stories about day-to-day challenges and frustrations, about small victories and little pains, about hopes and fears, about regimens and side-effects and T-cell counts and diets and the business of living as normally as possible under whatever circumstances exist at the moment. Those stories are essential.
The boy dancer, for instance, is not living out a tragedy: This spring, a dance company with a national reputation chose him as one of its members. I can't guarantee that all of his bravado is genuine, but he's making every effort to take good care of himself. His skepticism and his sense of humor, both essential faculties, seem as strong as his shoulders.
Terry cooked us dinner when we got back from the film festival, and in the middle of the meal the boy dancer got the hiccups. Without leaving his chair, he made a minor comic performance of his plight, opening his eyes wide and thrusting his chest forward with every spasm. "Heee-rold!" he said, pronouncing the name in two sharp, exasperated syllables.
"Harold?" I said.
"Our friend Harold used to get the hiccups all the time," said the boy dancer. "He died last year. So whenever I get the hiccups, I think it's Harold coming back to visit." Then he opened his eyes wide and thrust his chest forward and hiccuped again. "Heee-rold!" he sang, one note higher than before. "Stop it!"
Copyright © 2002 Lawrence Biemiller. Published originally in The Washington Blade.