The Storming Bohemian Punks the Muse #20: This Mortal Coil
Socrates: All men are mortal.
The Storming Bohemian: I’m a man.
Socrates: Right, so…
The Storming Bohemian: Uh oh.
Today, as I write, one of my most valued friends turns thirty-five. He is twenty-five years younger than I am. He is healthy, productive, from a good family, one of the shining ones. His friends will probably not die of HIV disease, and I’m happy for him and his millennial buddies. But, when you are an aging gay man in the new millennium, there is something about birthdays, one’s own, and one’s friends.
My youngish friend has outlived many of the friends I had when I was his age. I spent my thirties in the worst years of the AIDS epidemic, and saw many men die before forty. There was Tim, my first serious boyfriend, tossed out by his mother at fifteen for being queer. Running away from foster care, he found his way to Hollywood (from New York) and survived as a street hustler. When I met him, he was a dazzling lad of seventeen, a slender six feet two, with the movements of a dancer or a martial artist, and a startling resemblance to Peter Fonda. He could sing, dance, and act like a professional (although he had no ambitions in that direction), was fluent in three languages, and supplemented his hustling income tooling leather on a street corner so he could eventually afford an apartment with my help. We were together for two years. Later, in his twenties, he earned a degree in computer science from a community college and was one of the earliest professional coders. Before turning thirty, he ran for public office in the San Gabriel Valley. He died at thirty-four.
Can you bear another? This one was a classmate at UC Irvine, five years younger than me. Another beauty, the spittin’ image of River Phoenix. After graduation, he joined the Peace Corps but returned early from his two-year commitment with a mysterious illness. He became a school teacher in inner-city LA, received his AIDS diagnosis, and also died in his early thirties. There is a computer lab named after him in the high school where he taught for two years.
There was the friend who fronted a rock-and-roll band that got picked up by a major label before several members (including my friend) got the call, along with his beautiful lover, an incredibly charming cokehead who, after being diagnosed, found his soul when he returned to his home town in the Midwest. At his request, his obituary identified his occupation as P.I.G. (professional international guest). Trust me, you would have loved him.
Okay, that’s enough. Everybody’s heard stories of the epidemic, right? So, why am I telling you about this?
Like many a gay man my age, I have survivor guilt. It isn’t talked about a whole lot, you know. But every time I sit down to write, or start a project, or pursue efforts at political activism, I feel I’m doing it for all those who didn’t get to make it this far. And it’s never enough, man. It’s never enough. How dare I complain about what I have or have not accomplished, when so many died so soon, having accomplished so much more than I likely will or could?
This week I had my first cancer scare. Everybody who sees sixty will cross that Rubicon, if not for themselves, then with a friend or a parent or a sibling. My knock arrived with a routine PSA test: elevated. Test again months later: still elevated. So, yesterday I went for a prostate biopsy.
It was like getting a prostate massage from a Klingon, or sex with Darth Vader. No fun. In a week, I’ll learn the results. My doctor says her suspicion level is low, but… The Internet is less encouraging. My own brain, well, it won’t shut up. My supportive partner, the reclusive Argyle C., keeps the quiet tenor of his ways.
I’ve outlived many friends by thirty years or more, and that’s something, but from the top of the hill where the river starts flowing in a new direction, thirty years doesn’t seem so much.
Old age (the final third, G-d willing) is like a thrilling down slide on a loop-de-loop rollercoaster with no climb to follow. Put your hands in the air!
Now here’s the odd part: I’m strangely relieved. I can feel the turn of the tide and the rising of the shadow (just beginning) and it’s alright. I kind of like being old. There is nothing so pleasant to give up as ambition. Giving up tobacco was a lot worse.
But I want to see Trump trampled in the dust before I go. Is that so bad?
Look, this is a morbid column, but remember, I haven’t been diagnosed with anything (knock on wood). It’s just that when Darth Vader (the Dark Invader) comes, you get to thinking.
Don’t waste time, friends. Fight the bad guys, whoever they are, wherever they are: fight ‘em in your subconscious, fight ‘em in the White House, and fight ‘em in the academy. Thirty-five, sixty, or ninety—do not go gentle, okay?
And remember: Trump is a fascist. Pay attention.
[Earlier this week, Charles received his test results; the biopsy was negative. We are all very relieved to know the Storming Bohemian will continue fighting the bad guys. –Ed.]
Rumpus original logo and artwork by James Lorenzato, aka Argyle C. Klopnick (ACK!).
“The Storming Bohemian Punks the Muse” was originally developed as a column under the editorship of Evan Karp at Litseen. An earlier incarnation of this work can be found there, along with many other interesting things.