|Stanley M. Fried|
There was this one time with Abbot. It was winter in New York and I was visiting. The radiators gurgled their heat into the stuffy air that was cut by the snap of cold entering the room from an opened window. Snow falling outside. It was quiet in Manhattan .
The night before, we had been up until it was almost dawn. I had not seen him since college. I had all but forgotten about him. A few messages from him since school. People returning from visits to New York with hello's from this person or that. Always a word from Abbot. But I never could remember his face.
There I was at an art opening when he entered with Natasha. Natasha who walked from the East Village to Tribeca with bare shoulders and plumes in her hair through a snowy night. Abbot encircled her. He protected her while drawing attention to her. He spewed forth a constant patter in his nasal voice. Natasha's paintings always scared me. But I was the one who helped her through a psychotic episode at school. I took notes for her during it. It was her eighteenth birthday and she was convinced she would die that night and rise to become a new star in the heavens. A poetic psychosis. She had it under control now and had it encircled by Abbot helping her to keep it in control.
I could not remember his name at the time. But he was so familiar. I'd had a crush on him once. But I could not remember his name. Just as before when I could not remember his face when I heard his name.
Carey prompted me, just as she had all night. So many people in that gallery who were from school. So many I had not seen for so long. They seemed to remember me, remember my name. I could remember so few of theirs. There were others who I knew there, not from my days at school but from living in L.A. or San Francisco . Others I'd known from earlier times in New York . Carey didn't need to help me with their names. It was only the swirl of people who I'd known at school who now passed through this space awash with wine, surrounded by Diane's photographs and Erika's installations. Carey helped me through it all as one after the other remarked that they didn't know I'd moved into town and asked how long have I been living in the City. Carey couldn't figure it out. Why did they all think I lived there? It was Abbot who later had the answer. I couldn't piece it together. My hair was dyed black. My clothes were black. My skin was pale from long days at work. My father died just a few months earlier and I was in mourning. My expression of grief was taken as being normal for a New Yorker.
When Abbot first saw me, he came over, reached up on his toes to kiss me, and he said, "You know, I've always loved you." I felt the same. But I could not remember his name.
After the opening, a large group of us traveled through a number of cafes and bars to drink and eat and talk. Then, after all the others left to go their ways, there was only Abbot and me. We walked together through lower Manhattan in pre-dawn hours, talking and talking. Stopping at times in coffee shops for fries and coffee and a place to piss. In the early morning we split the taxi fare: me to Mid-Town; Abbot to Washington Heights .
This was the first vacation I'd taken in many years. The stress from my father's death necessitated some break in my routine. I needed to be somewhere that was without sympathy but not entirely foreign to my nature.
In my haste to get away from everything, I left San Diego without contacting anyone in New York . Without enough money to stay in a hotel, I arrived at La Guardia with my baggage and an out of date address book. It was late morning when I arrived and not many people were home. When I finally tracked down somewhere to stay it was with Gene who had been Judy's boyfriend. Judy, who I used to work with in L.A. I'd only met him once and that was a few years earlier. But he did have space for me to stay even if he didn't have time to entertain me. That was fine. I didn't want entertainment. I needed to deal with the sense of self-pity enveloping me.
When I got to Gene's flat, I was exhausted. He soon left for an audition and I did not see him again until the morning of my departure. A quick shower. A nap. Some telephone calls - contact with people I had not seen for a long time. It was Carey who told me about the opening. She was no longer composing music and writing poetry. She was now an art critic. I was reticent about going, but went anyway.
The whole trip would be a disaster I thought on the airplane when I realized I had no place to stay. Why was I doing this? It would just be more stress.
There was this one time with Abbot in his apartment that he shared with his lover Derek. There was this one time when the snow fell onto the banks of the Hudson River as Abbot and I watched it together from his apartment, from the room that was his studio filled with the paintings of the last few years.
It was the next morning, after the opening where Abbot and I had re-established our friendship. I took the subway uptown from Hell's Kitchen where Gene lived on the A Train past that stop I had so often used when I lived with my Aunt and Uncle off Central Park West so many years earlier. I thought of the time I hitched across country just to see my Aunt Sylvia before she left to meet André in Zurich where she is now buried.
Uptown: to Columbia Presbyterian Hospital Station; past the crowds of people milling in and around that hospital; past the student apartments; to a row of older apartment buildings all looking similar in their gray granite façades with snow settling upon the window sills.
There was this one time with Abbot.
We talked about our work, about our jobs, about our art. He showed me his slides: his drawings, sketches, paintings. I described my stories to him. Later, I sent him some. The distance: of time since school; of space across the country: faded. His grandmother recently died. He was close to her. The distance soon faded into an intimacy of words and bodies. Lying naked together, we caressed and held each other in that air that mingled heat and chill: from the radiator; from the opened window. Our communication extended from sounds we made to contact we felt. A long time was spent there together in the contact of each other's bodies; of each other's sex; without care or want or need of release or ending. There was only the continuing embrace of our beings; the pleasure of our being together at that time.
No music played that I remember. The Bach ended much earlier. Now there was only the gentle touch of our hands entwined, our bodies entwined, our mouths against each other's, upon each other. We were at that moment because of each other. Ending with an eye to the clock and an errand to be done. Without release, it still continued through the damp subway ride to the village and the stops that followed.
Abbot and I were all but inseparable for the remainder of that visit. Oh, I saw other friends. Saw Josh and Guy. Saw Jeff. Saw more of Carey. But, each day Abbot and I would meet somewhere. Even talking, we were as close as in bed. He and Derek met me for dinner. It felt right. Abbot's love was completed in this relationship with him. Ours was an affection of intimate friends.
On other visits to New York that came later, I stayed with Abbot and Derek. Our intimacy never again became physical. But our intimacy remained. We wrote, called each other. If Derek answered when Abbot was out, he and I would talk of Abbot. He would speak little of himself, even though I asked. He mostly spoke of Abbot. Then, when Abbot would later return my calls, we would pick up the conversation where it had ended with Derek.
A time passed when I had not been in New York for a while. Abbot called to say he was coming to California for a visit. He had been ill for most of the winter and needed to get away from his flat and from his job. He needed a change of light from the greyness of New York .
He would stay with friends: in Los Angeles, then in the desert. He decided that we would go to Baja for a week. First to Ensenada , then to San Felipe.
When he arrived, Abbot was different. He was aloof. His humor was all but gone. The winter had been difficult and he had done very little art. Having shingles and a blood infection only made it worse.
He told me about staying with Ida in the desert who performed her usual charade of witch's formulae to heal him. Ida, who almost burned down the dorm at college one night when some paperback-witch ritual of hers got out of hand.
Abbot was aloof and he was angry. This trip to Mexico with my dear friend, this trip that I so looked forward to taking, quickly turned into a fiasco. He could not concentrate on things and would change his mind on the slightest whim. He wanted to be in Ensenada. That's where we went. Then at 4 A.M. he woke me to say that he wanted to leave right away. He didn't care where. He just had a sense of: needing to go, to move, to be on the road, a fear of staying there. I drove to La Bufadora. He had no idea where we were headed. He could not allow himself to enjoy the landscape at sunrise. He could not leave New York behind. It was dawn at La Bufadora standing on a hillside overlooking the water spew up into the air. Eating breakfast later in a cafe that was not even open when we got there but they opened early for us anyway. Broken Spanish with the owner's broken English. A pleasant moment away from time or the problems of a day. Abbot only complained that it was not what he expected. He was not finding what he wanted there.
On the way to San Felipe, he regained some of his old self as we crossed the bouldered hills eastward towards the Sea of Cortez . Until he saw a rooster hanging from its feet on a fencepost along the roadside. He made me stop so he could examine it. It was a marker to him of some evil thing. A sign to someone of impending death, of revenge. He withdrew into himself again.
Finally, in San Felipe, he became calm. He walked, swam, ate fish. He lay in the sunlight and felt good again. He complained less. On our return, he felt a spiritedness and playfulness that began to shake me as I drove up the mountainous road from Mexicali to Tecate. Up La Rubarosa on a mountainside with no guardrail, my Honda swerving from the rush of busses passing me at racing speeds. The landscape was seductive and my vertigo made me weave on the road. I envisioned our deaths along the hillside where crosses marked so many others. Abbot did too, but he rejoiced in the thought.
Later, in Tijuana , we shopped. Abbot bought devil figurines from Michoacan for himself and Ida. More seafood, then on to San Diego for one more night. Glad when he left for L.A. Glad to get him away from me. I was angry at Abbot for his lack of consideration. Angry that he was so self indulgent. That he was so transfixed by images of death and dying. In San Felipe, he stood one morning naked before me showing me the rash from his shingles. The doctor told him he needed rest but his mind ran so fast from idea to idea, from fear to fear, that he could not rest, could not slow down to relax, to enjoy himself. The intimacy we had passed. It became difficult to call or write.
Summer passed without word or comment from Abbot. Then Tom called from L.A. Had I heard about Abbot? He had AIDS. Aviva called me a few days later. She just heard from someone else. Did I know? She was crying into the telephone. I called Josh in Brooklyn . We both wondered why we didn't cry. A litany of names began of others we knew and had known. Others from college. Others from later, after college. Others the other did not know.
It took me a while. I finally called Abbot. Angry when I called. Why didn't you tell me about this? Why did I have to find out from someone else? I was angry and wanted to be with him. I wanted to hold him as I had held him before. I called again when I knew Abbot would not be home. I spoke with Derek. He would stay with Abbot. Abbot's mother was supportive. It would be alright. But could I come visit?
I called irregularly. It was difficult. I was beginning a new business. It was hard to get away.
When we talked, his voice spoke scattered thoughts. It was becoming hard for him to focus. More of a chore for him than when he had visited. Pneumonia again. Then again. It was hard for him to breathe, to talk. Maybe he could come west for the winter? Get out of New York , the cold, the snow we had watched. I could get a place for him and Derek. But he wanted to be at home. Maybe after the winter was over. Maybe he would come in the spring.
Abbot had been in hospital. He called to tell me of the humiliation. No one would come near. Derek had the flu and could not visit. His mother was sick. Attendants put food trays by the door where he could not reach them. No one would come into the room to help him out of bed to urinate. Or change his sheets when he could no longer contain himself. He was in quarantine. No one would respond to his calls. He was left to lie for a day and a night in a urine soaked bed before some silent attendant would enter in a mask and with gloves to finally change things.
He called from home. No matter what, he would not return to hospital. He would not die in a strange place surrounded by people who did not care. He was angry. He was crying. His voice dissolved into coughing. The receiver of the telephone kept dropping away from his mouth making it difficult to hear his already weak voice.
Then it was time for a short vacation. It was in February of '86. A stopover in Newark on the way to Brussels . Enough time for a phone call. Derek answered. Abbot was out. I called on my return flight. But, there was no answer.
Just after the business opened, I called Abbot. A long talk on the telephone. Expressions of affection to each other. But his mind meandered. His talk rambled. He just finished a new set of paintings. The opening was a success. There were good reviews and some sales. But there was talk about people I'd never known. There were references to events in his childhood. Problems when shopping. Political anger. He referred to all of this as if I had been there a part of all of it. Slipping in and out of his thoughts, in and out of himself. I could not let myself cry as I spoke to him. I could not let him know anything was wrong. I wanted to provide support. But I did not want to be dishonest with him. He asked me if he was making sense. I told him that it didn't matter. That all I wanted was to hear his voice. He asked me if I could come visit soon. I could not get away, the business just opened. I told him I would come.
It was a week later. Aviva called me at work. More tears. Abbot died that morning. She called to talk to him, but Derek answered to say that he died. I called Derek. It was pneumonia. Abbot had been to the doctor the day after we last talked. He and Derek discussed the matter. Abbot would not return to hospital. Derek would stay with him. Abbot finally could not breathe. Derek could not help him. Abbot was dead. Derek was with him. Abbot was dead.
His name is still in my address book. His voice and gestures remain in my mind. I think of Abbot often. His affection. His body. Each time I hear of another person diagnosed or dead with AIDS., I think of Abbot. I think of there being someone else who wonders what to do with their affections when their friend dies. Someone else who will miss what had been shared. More and more friends dying. Someone's love. Someone's child. Someone's parent. Dead. More and more. We are so vulnerable in our lives. We are so vulnerable in our feelings.
There was this one time with Abbot. It was winter in New York and I was visiting. Snow falling outside. We held each other naked in our bodies and our affections. It was quiet in Manhattan .
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