When I arrived in SF, everyone I met seemed to be searching for an identity that incorporated not only our sense of personal selves, but also our sense of being both a community and angry oppressed minority as well. Edward already inhabited this triangular identity, forced there by his early infection and kept there by his sense of justice and the love the community had for him. I had the kind of adolescent awe of him that one has for the people who come into your life and gently shed you of your ignorance. There were circumstances and conflicts inside him that I’d never seen before even if they were and remain all too common in the world around me. The funny thing is that however I admired him, when we started seeing each other, our private time was not about activism or spent engaged in the queer political struggle The times I remember best were hours in the soft light of his orderly room or walking from the Mission to the Castro, shivering and pulling each other close as the fog came in, happily talking about time and language and words, about Proust and Virginia Woolf, about the moments and images passing in front of us. I knew his HIV status, but if there was any sense of mortality in our exchanges it remained hidden inside the pleasure we took in each other’s company.
Nights were different though. We got dizzy with the fun of the times, fun that celebrated a strange, addictive mix of both pleasure for its own sake and as a resistance to the presence of death and despair. New to it all, for me those days had what Angela Carter (another author we both loved) called a queasy glamour. We protested, drank, danced till the everything seemed to shimmer before our eyes, knowing the whole time that this sparkle came from edges of the world that were hard and sharp as knives. In the late, red eye hours, off kilter in the wake of parties and 24 hour breakfasts Ed and I would make love passionately, but always with a nervous edge, a fear on my part and a recognition of that fear on his. His body was long and thin and soft – you could feel the bone beneath the muscle, easily feel his pulse increase as we got excited, feel the whole of him yield and soften even more as he came. Afterwards, as he slept, I could also feel him sweating heavily – a sweat that carried leftover sex and booze. I could feel his breathing quicken as dreamed and murmured uneasily. Some nights I felt him tremble. Almost always, at some pre dawn hour, I felt death come into the bedroom, and creep over the need of our minds and bodies to connect, leaving both of us alone in the dark. Perhaps it was only me who felt this, only my fears that cast the isolating pall over everything. I can’t ask Edward now and it’s with great shame that I write that I didn’t stay with him because I was afraid, not of infection – no one I’ve been with was more responsible, careful, or concerned with safety than Edward, – but because I was afraid of caring for someone who would be taken away, and selfishly because I was afraid of even the abstract nearness of death to my own life.
But if I owe to Edward’s memory to admit that I fled from even a glimpse of what he had to live with (and did so courageously) then I owe it to his memory to remember his face widening in a broad smile; the gentle, ironic light in his eyes that sprang from the hard irony of his humor; his deep romance with time and words; the brilliant, woozy, sometimes frightening comedy of his drunken states and the deep anger and pain behind them; and finally, the soft way he had of handling his books when he talked about them, wiping his hair out his eyes when he had something serious to communicate, of reaching out and touching my face when there was nothing else to say. A soft sleep and a peaceful sleep to you Edward.
* Photo by Brook Dillon