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Emotional Hegira

Leaving California: 2) Loss

 San Francisco, 1998. I should never have gone to the Keith Haring exhibit. I have never been a fan of those distorting funhouse mirrors–the ones we had before psychedelic drugs, before Nintendo.

Sure, those were days. New York, 1979. I could see myself at the Transit Authority–the brash, young whippersnapper of a fundraising consultant. Delighting in defending the “vandal” who so vexed the bureaucrats. “Can’t you see?” I’m saying, “There’s something so fresh and fun. Why would you want to arrest him? You should put more blank paper out to encourage him.”

And damned if they didn’t.

Anything was possible in those days. Everything was possible. When I could move mountains. When I could dance through the night. When I could eat the proverbial oyster, for breakfast and for dinner.

New York, 1987. Whatever happened to that autographed Keith Haring T-shirt I gave you, dear? The four-color Gay Pride one? I remember saying “You know, this will probably be worth a lot of money someday.” You’d have liked that. The money. I dunno if you ever gave a flying fuck for the artwork. Or me. Or anything. Except maybe where you were getting your next fucking high.

I suspect your mother took the T-shirt, along with everything else. She was one sharp bitch. I got to keep the memory of the horrified nurses in spacesuits, walking in to find me in your bed, in streetclothes, holding and rocking you. I got to keep the memory of all those weird concoctions we tried for cures, straining even my optimism. I got to keep the memory of your screaming rages.

All I wanted was you, but you couldn’t stick around. I understand that now. Perhaps it was all for the best. I don’t think I could have managed you, as all the other beautiful men–many of them, as you knew, with roots in me far deeper than even yours–were pulled away. Until the day came when there were no more beautiful men who remembered me when I was young. And oh so passionate.

The T-shirt, I suppose, ended up in some Goodwill store in Duluth. Hopefully not in the Salvation Army. Hopefully, not a rag. Hopefully, it became a windfall for someone–someone who loved the art.

I came to California because I had lost my passion. I don’t think I even realized it at the time. The world where anything was possible evaporated. Not quickly. Slowly, the way the sun evaporates a pan of water. You can’t see it happening, but you can tell there’s less water now than when you last looked. And you try to avoid looking. Then, at some point, you notice the pan is bone-dry and you wonder how long it’s been that way? And is it worth refilling? With what? Maybe tears. Then the salt would at least leave a residue, some testimony that something was really there, and now it’s not. That something has been transformed.

Sure, there are films and videos. There are the paintings. There are the words and the words and the words. But they are just static fossils. They are like bones that have to be held together with screws and scaffolding in order to give the viewer any idea of what they might represent. The vaguest idea.

They do not provide a story of how this happened. (Perhaps it was a comet?) How we got from there, to here, and why those bones look so silly in their current state. Why we look so silly in our current state. Well, I’ll speak for myself, at least.

I came to California because I had lost my passion. That is not what I thought at the time, of course. Then, I thought I was just burnt out, tired of the activist rat race, the struggle of New York life. A little R&R and then… well, I had no idea.

(Three years later, I still don’t.)

I suppose it didn’t matter where I went. Baltimore or re-run Chicago, or Portland (either one), or the Southwest, or here. Here was logical. Here was simple and convenient. It didn’t matter that I had no passion for here, either. That wasn’t the point.

But here the land runs out. Here the sun sets–instead of rising–in the great blue sea of possibilities. Here one stops.

There was a time, I confess, that I considered perhaps a life without passion was not a life worth living. Death was too familiar to fear; the only fear I had was that somehow, in this life, I would not have been useful.

I had already begun to sort through my papers–the very ones destined for the fire–when I came across a letter from a young man in Texas or someplace, someone I didn’t even know. The letter said, so simply, “Thank you. You changed my life.”

Pause. There was my out.

“So fuck it,” I said to myself. “Now go change your own.”


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