After the fog of confetti died down from the New Year’s Eve celebration, I realized how much drinking was affecting my tolerance of alcohol. The next day I was without even the slightest headache looking at my jeans that were caked with the vomit of Hunter’s girlfriend who was drinking blueberry vodka all evening. She was whisked away by Anthony and set in the car of a visiting straight, very handsome friend named Will while Hunter continued to bartend for the high-paying Oil Can’s patrons. Next to my pants sat a bar towel a shirtless twink used to wipe my leg after the incident. He was a sweet kid. I’m not one to shy away from shirtless twinks rubbing up and down my leg, but eventually I saved him the indignity and finished the job myself as best I could. I left the twink at the bar and took the bar towel home with me. It’s a great metaphor to start the year.
Anthony and company were celebratory, trying to release a year involving a move back to Austin, a new job, the score of a decent bartender, and having our triad brotherhood back together again, even if Jeb was absent for that particular night. I was not as eager to let go of 2007 as I was afraid of what 2008 was going to bring. I wanted to celebrate, I wanted to get drunk. I wanted to toast the release from a sick six-year confinement babysitting a man-child who makes his misery everyone else’s problem. I wanted to drink to success of finding a groove with Jeb what wasn’t awkward or weird, although there were certainly moments of staring blankly at each other. It was a good year, a lot of positive movement in the world of me. It was so nice I didn’t want to let it go. I feared releasing of 2007 meant an expansive area in which 2008 could fill… and I knew 2008 was not going to be good to me, to all of us, to everyone at that bar. It’s going to be worse to Jeb. I felt I would most likely be alive to be at the same location in 364 days to celebrate 2009, but he would not… but not by his choosing.
I put aside my ‘artist in pain’ pity party to wait for Jeb’s return from San Angelo. The New Years was right at the beginning of the work week for normal folk. I, with my freelance job was able to selfishly dive into a much needed sleep coma uninterrupted for a few days, walking around the house naked, and watching porn with the office door open., experimenting with food in the kitchen. I had forgotten what it was like to be a free man living on his own. It was nice to be reminded how much I love eating food straight from the refrigerator in my underwear.
Jeb’s trip to San Angelo started its planning stages about five to six weeks before New Years Eve and only became definite after we recovered from the haze of Scot‘s retirement party. With his loss of strength, failing eyesight, and his inability to walk a straight line he wasn’t going to be mobile to a large extent for very much longer. I know this was difficult for him to accept as a lover of independence and freedom. Oddly, it was mentioned in the Hospice brochures how our “loved one” will be experiencing frustration as the autonomy of self-sufficiency begins to erode (here, I worded the situation much better, of course). “I need to see my family” sprang from out of nowhere one day, randomly. He was especially wanted to see his young nephews who he adored very much. He loved to play with them, roughhouse, horseplay. That enjoyment was no longer an option, he feared… or it wouldn’t be an option for very much longer. If he couldn’t stand on his feet for a few hours a day in a DJ booth, he certainly couldn’t roll around in the grass with two growing energized boys.
Within the month of December we both (or at least I) accepted the idea of him ‘lasting for years’ on Hospice as fantasy, an unrealistic want we both liked holding on to. Like many other things in our joined life, there was much that was hidden with a curtain of jokes tightly stitched with the finest sarcasm. This was us being as ruthless to reality as reality was being to us. We liked throwing a “fuck you” back with the same force turmoil was thrust upon us. But now, it was beginning to be a sad instinctive reenactment of an ostrich-type nature. In truth, ostriches do not bury their heads in the sand to the extent humans who “imitate” the birds do… but leave it to humans to turn an conceptual evolutionary absurdity into an art form.
While I would work or paint (when I worked or painted), he was free to do his own thing – but his “own thing” was in limited measure. His time was divided between “prepare for work,” “work, “recover from work,” “sleep.” That cycle took up his entire life. With three of the four major time consumers missing he didn’t know what to do with himself. While he could still get up and drive, walk and explore, he decided to just see Austin… all of Austin. It seemed appropriate that he should spend some time saying goodbye with the town he loved and called ‘home.’ He would come home from Cissi’s Market or some new store with stories of what he saw and people that he met. I liked that he was out of the house as it gave me time to bleach the second bathroom, clean out everything with latex gloves (of course) like I did so many years before while working at the bathhouse. His ventures kept him smiling and entertained, but eventually he wanted to see his family – and his parents… together. His mother and father were divorced and his dad remarried a woman who was described in a number of ways but due to the fact that I don’t know the woman I feel unfit to repeat such definitive pronouncements. He wanted to see him mom. He wanted to see his sister and play with his nephews. He wanted to talk to his dad a bit. It was time he gave one last visit to all those who he called ‘blood relatives’.
I’m not sure of his reason for waiting, per se. I can only say in my own life I went through something similar where I was insistent our entire family sat down to a homemade dinner at home before my father went into the hospital and later passed away. It was thrown together almost as a moment of panic. Something about the scene of it brings a comforting familiarity from the past that makes the uncomfortable present easier to digest. It’s almost like a conduit to a “happy place” in real life when the imaginary “happy place” becomes clouded or polluted. Also with Jeb, I’m sure there was a factor to see if he could actually pull something like getting his two parents in the same room at the same time without a bomb going off. But in this scenario it wasn’t about them, it was about him. It was no easy accomplishment as he was not particularly close to any of his relatives. He called his mom by her first name. He barely spoke to his father. Rarely saw his sister. He had a very different life than what they knew or would even be comfortable with comprehending, so he made little attempt to keep them up-to-date… especially with the HIV and he never talked about the Hospice care. But as the nature of those who look upon the chalkboard to see the days ahead of them distinctively numbered in floating white powder, he felt it was something he should to do. After all it was he who kept them in the dark for many years, not the other way around.
This habit his obviously had not changed come the latter part of December. He insisted, in several arguments that his mother, that they all drive to Austin and stay with him at his apartment… the apartment void of furniture or presence that he still kept but was going to lose in January due to lack of money. He wanted them to drive down and stay at Brian and Ed’s before Christmas, for Christmas, after Christmas… anything. His mother did not see the logic in a crowd of people visiting Jeb, when the singular Jeb could just take the four hour drive to San Angelo and see them all in one place. Jeb would insist and argue, plead and bitch only to slam the phone shut in frustration at the lack of cooperation from the able-bodied.
Of course, being his defender and extension, I only wanted what was best for him (irony!). I was frustrated right along with him, minding my place in comment while trying to find a solution to his necessity as I understood what he needed and why he needed it. I didn’t know these people, but it seems if your child calls with a vocal sense of urgency, desperation, and determination then perhaps there is something going on that you should pay attention to… especially if that child has HIV. Jeb didn’t make demands of his family often, so the occurrence should have been a tip-off… and maybe it was. Maybe it was also denial. It would be another six months before I realize that Jeb didn’t have HIV and he didn’t die of AIDS… it was “cancer,” or some other ailment that he told people off the top of his head whenever he was asked, and people asked. He was a vibrant person slowly fading into a shadow, a skinny guy losing what little weight he had… every year a new picture of him being taken with the family showing a man slowly being erased from history… of course people are going to ask. So maybe part of their reluctance was warped in denial, but most of it was that they didn’t have all the information.
Before the holiday week started Jeb packed up his car and headed over to Brian and Ed’s for a day as that would make the drive only three hours instead of the four hours from Austin proper. This seemed workable and I reluctantly agreed to this (as if I had a say). On the way back, the process would repeat – he would stop at Brian and Ed’s for the first part of the week, then come home. I didn’t hear from him the entire time he was gone. I thought maybe we both needed a break from each other, he being the grumpy husband and me the enabling housewife. This was the most time the two of us had ever spent together in our lives… ever. So in that week I didn’t hear word or anything, and I was just fine with that. In the first part of January I was simply minding my own business, doing my own thing (in my underwear), and going about life waiting for him to show up.
One day there was a knock at the door. Jeb was there with the keys to his car. He collapsed in my arms. I lead him to bed. I took his luggage out of the trunk while he went to sleep. He slept for four days.
James P. Perez © 2014