Fri Feb 8, 2013, 06:20 PM
DonRedwood (4,011 posts)
Dear DUers who have lost a child...I need your advice. [View all]
A Fine Friday to You My DU Friends,
I fear this post will generate many shared stories that will lead to some shed tears and some real soul searching. But, I’m in the middle of some soul searching myself and I need some advice.
The year was 1992. I was just getting ready to leave L.A. after my two year experiment of living there. I hated it and was more than ready to go. I was way over Southern California I was ready to get back to the rainy Northwest. I was starting to pack. I was so close to heading home.
And then my phone rang. One of those phone calls that, at the time, you don’t realize will effect your entire life. One of those pivots where you go suddenly off-course and find yourself somewhere you never expected to be.
It was my good buddy Don in Palm Springs. We were best buds in college where he had been one of the early positive HIV tests. He was a great guy, super cute, super funny…and trying to figure out how a single 21 year old lives life with a (then) death sentence, in a rural small-town college. Damn did that man stand tall where most would have bent or fallen. He’d fled to Palm Springs the minute he graduated.
“I’m not sick yet but I am going to have to move home…” Don told me. Home for Don meant back to a tiny, redneck, coastal Oregon town with his parents. “Unless you’d be willing to move here and be roommates. I could stay if you moved here.”
And so I found myself on a new path. Leaving L.A. during the Rodney King riots, I drove up to Baldwin Heights and looked out across the L.A. basin. Hundreds of fires were burning across the city. Holy hell was fate telling me to get out of L.A. and never look back.
but I disliked Palm Springs more than L.A.. Hot, gross, sweaty. I got a job teaching and signed my contract. Don’s mom arrived a month later. Though Don was not ill yet she took over his life. She started sleeping on the foot of his bed to watch over him. She wrote on all of his credit card bills (without his knowledge) “I have AIDS and won’t be able to pay my bill. Cancel my account.” She started brainwashing him, telling him how sick he was and how he should move home. He had bought a new car a few months before. She gave it to his brother.
Mind you, he was working full-time, had never been sick, never missed a day of work, he was just skinny…like always. But he couldn’t stand up to her.
But I sure the hell could. And she and I fought like cats and dogs. (but not my cats and dog…they get along fabulously). I called her on her crap. One day Don and I were up first. We were drinking coffee. He was in his dark blue Ralph Lauren terry cloth robe and jammie pants. It was sunny and pretty and he looked handsome in the sunshine and I asked how he felt. He yawned and said he felt great. Then mom walked in the room.
“No, you slept terrible. You kept tossing and turning. You must be exhausted. I think you should go back to bed.” She just kept talking about how sick he was no matter what he said.
A little while later his friend showed up to take him to breakfast. “How are you feeling?” She asked him. He looked dejected, down, “Not so good, I didn’t sleep well.” And he passed on breakfast and went back to bed.
So, his mom and I fought bitterly over the credit cards (I took one of her letters out of the mailbox so I’d saved his VISA card, at least) the car, her horrible attitude.
And she hated me. And a month later (she was still there) and he gave in to her. A day or two later his dad showed up in his car and they packed up what would fit and they left. Don was basically forced to give up everything (they allowed what would fit in the trunk and left the rest for me to deal with…20 years later I still have his dresser and a little table of his…and his blue bath towels got used and used until they became camping towels and then dog towels and then my mom sewed them up into little rags of which there are two last little squares left…I just don’t seem to be able to throw them away).
Anyhoo…I had to stay for 8 months to fill my teaching contract. I was stuck in Palm Springs now with not a single friend, a terrible job and a new spider infested apartment packed full of all my stuff and my recently moved friend’s.
So I really disliked his mom. I went to see him at the end of the school year. He was working at a restaurant, in the middle of nowhere on the coast, as a waiter. Very lonely. He’d got his car back from his brother but I knew he was living in hell. He was just trapped. The credit companies knew he had AIDS, and she’d closed the accounts, so they were hounding him--hoping to get their money before he died. He was really skinny but had still never been sick. But he was sort of fading away. His sparkle was pretty dull and he’d always been super sparkly. You know what I mean?
So he passed and I didn’t go to the funeral. It was far away and…well…funerals are for the living, I figure, and I wanted no part in comforting his mother. I was pretty young, you know? I couldn’t see that she had a side in all this. Her baby had been given a death sentence and she wanted him close by hook or by crook.
I sent a card.
And time went by, a year at least, and a note showed up from his mom. “I’m sorry,” she said, “You were right, I shouldn’t have closed Don’s accounts.” There was more to it than that but that’s all I remember now. She admitted she didn’t handle it well. My friend was dead, regardless. I was just mad he didn’t get to face it on his own terms.
I never had contact with his family again.
And here is where I am asking your advice. I’ve been home with the flu and bored as anything. I went through my old photographs and stumbled upon a layer of pictures that date back to those sunny bright Palm Springs days. There is my dear friend David looking incredibly handsome, squinting poolside. Baby blue eyes sparkling like diamonds. A man walked up and gave him a card that same weekend. He was the marketing guy for Marlboro cigarettes and he was ready to sign David up to be a Marlboro man.
So, if you haven’t noticed, I’m a bit of a sentimental guy. Like a lot of gay guys, we’ve lost a lot of friends and each one of them has left behind a variety of mementos and keepsakes. I have my friend Todd’s collection of weird Spanish greeting cards, Ken’s marble top table, David’s dresser…many photographs of cute dead guys. My across-the-street-neighbor is in her 80s and all her friends and family are dying. She gets it. All those people leave something behind to remember them by. A very used blue rag becomes something that makes you think of something important.
And looking at Don’s smiling face I remembered those painful times, reflected how sad it is that he died young and so few probably mourn his passing. And then I thought of his mom. My arch nemesis. And that anger still flickered up but looking at Don’s face I saw the whole thing from an older person’s perspective. His mom didn’t do things very well. But jeez…she was losing her son and how can any mom function very sensibly in such a wretched situation?
And I suddenly felt some real forgiveness for the lady for the first time. And then I wanted to send her the pictures… but then… perhaps, the last thing she needs is to get a note in the mail from me…but, I have these beautiful pictures of her son here. One is a beautiful close up where you can really look deep into those blue eyes and see the sparkling humor of an imp hiding in there. It is sad looking into those eyes, but seeing that twinkle again is wonderful. But I don’t know if I should send them on to his mom and dad, his brother. I truly am not sure if the pain that will go with the pictures is worth it.
So, my dear DUers, those of you who have lost children or loved ones, what do you think? Would a surprise packet of photos tear you apart or would you welcome a chance to explore some pictures you’d never seen before? I have several of both her boys together that surely would melt any mom’s heart. But surely the same pictures are going to break that heart.
Your advice would be appreciated.
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