I met him in Alberta in May 1987 during a job interview. It was one of those job interviews for a really cool summer job that ended at the bar. The interview, not the job. We meshed instantly. I was isolated in the bible belt and needed friends. I not only gave him the job but I also immediately hired him as my new best friend.
After our 2nd beer he looked at me very seriously and told me “I know with certainty I will die young.” By this simple and complicated statement I knew JD was gay and it wasn’t only because I couldn’t picture us in bed together (I was weird, this was my personal gay-dar back then) but because I got the feeling he knew he would eventually get AIDS. It was a weird feeling but I just knew I was right about that assumption, and sadly I knew he was right about his fears.
I waited a few weeks before continuing that conversation, I needed time to let things sit and he needed to learn to trust me. Our friendship grew but at the same time we always kept a safe distance, it was as though he didn’t want to get too close, kept his guard.
JD’s family was a mess. His dad had made a poor choice for a first wife, of which 3 kids were born. His two older (biological) sisters also lived in Alberta, and he was there to see if any bonds could be created. It must be hard to be the brother of a prostitute…
His father’s second choice for a wife was solid. His step-mom occupied the choice position of real mom in his heart, just as his step-sister was his real kid sister with whom he chose to share the laughter. The second he realized his family ties (by blood) were a lost cause he packed up his meager belongings and headed back home to the East coast.
I begged him to stay, but he needed to be near his family.
Nearly a year later, I also decided to return East closer to my family, and JD and I reconnected. I found a job close to where he lived and we decided to rent an apartment together. I had another friend, L.A. who found the perfect place and needed 2 roommates. Again, another perfect fit. We shared that apartment, repainted the kitchen, risked electrocution when we changed the dining room light fixture and laughed nightly until we fell asleep. We woke up daily to the sweet smells coming from the bakery next door. It was fun. We were like 3 kids at a permanent sleep-over party.
One day I came home from work to find him alone, sitting on the couch, distant. Very distant. “My test results came back, it’s positive.” I let myself fall on the couch and stayed next to him, silently waiting for the growing darkness to finally allow our tears to spill. We didn’t move until he gave in to the night and went upstairs to his room and quietly closed the door.
His depression crept over him like a cloud you could see coming in the faraway sky. The cloud started light and puffy, but slowly and increasingly got gray and dark. Eventually there was no more shrill laughter in the apartment. “Today I wanted to hang myself, but since we don’t have any curtains yet, I didn’t do it. I don’t know if it’s because I don’t want to freak the neighbors or if it’s because I’d be ashamed, even if I was dead, to be seen that way.”
I immediately made a mental note to myself: do not ever buy curtains － leave the windows bare.
I engaged in a discussion with L.A. about his depression. L.A. was a social worker, like the shoe smith who allows his kids to walk bare feet, she regarded my comments as whining and making his problem be about me. I was trying to warn her about the seriousness of the situation, and how the gray cloud had totally taken over JD. She waved me away, saying it wasn’t that bad.
Eventually I got hired by another job, over an hour away. I grabbed that opportunity to move in with my boyfriend. And to run away from the darkness before it took over me as well.
One week after moving in with my boyfriend JD called me. In a cryptic conversation he made sure I was happy, and that my choice was the right choice. “I’m glad you’ve got your life all well taken care, and that you’re happy”. Three days later L.A. called me, in absolute shock all she could say was JD… JD… JD… JD… She’d found him hanging by the handrail. She bought new curtains the day before.
I told her to go somewhere else, she couldn’t stay in the apartment. Then I faced one of the first real grown-up conversation I’d ever have… How DO you tell a parent his son ended his own life? There is no right way because the purpose is nothing but wrong from beginning to end.
L.A. still refuses to speak to me. For some reason she blames me.
Years later, I was at an out-of-town meeting. JD’s aunt was also there, and by Sunday morning she asked me if I could ride back home with her, she needed to talk. “You were JD’s friend weren’t you? And you were living with him when he … died?” This is when I found out JD never told his family he had AIDS.
I wanted to give her explanations helping his family understand and be relieved from the guilt. He loved his family and considered the new re-constructed family his real family. He hadn’t planned to end his life that day. His bed wasn’t made, his dirty clothes were still on the floor and a handful of blood covered tissues were in the trash. JD was a neat freak. He didn’t leave a note. He started a cold, must have coughed up blood and decided it was the beginning of the end and didn’t want to drag anybody down that road with him. He was on a 3-4 month waiting list for one on one support at the Canadian AIDS Society. 3-4 months is a long time to wait for help.
At his time of death, I owed JD $20. I doubled the amount and made a small donation to the AIDS society with a letter of explanation. I never heard back from them.
This, I remind you, all happened in the late 80s. AIDS was still a gay disease. AIDS was still a death sentence. Although I’m glad things have changed, I think we now allow ourselves to sweep this under the carpet with other diseases with which we’d rather not soil our hands. A list of ugly things we’d rather forget until one day somebody we love gets the sentence.
I wrote this a few years ago. It was as a guest post for Micael Chadwick, an online blog friend from Texas. Since the blog it was originally written for has long been shutdown, I asked Micael if I could re-use it. I’m missing out on skating with the San Diego Derby Dolls in the Pride Parade – so instead I’m offering this to you.