When I Was Barely Twenty-One...
When I was barely twenty-one, I dated this beautiful high-school boy. Oh, my! So pretty you wanted to cry. Lovely eyes, and golden-brown hair and a heart to match. Don’t worry, he was legal, although barely. I fell head-over-heels in-limerance. (I think I knew even then that I wasn’t in-love, but it could have turned into that with ease.
His name was David Mitgreeknameopolis. We met in the Walden Bookstore I was working in. I was at the register and it looked to me like some kid was looking at a Playboy or something, which we weren’t supposed to let kids do. And he looked like a kid, believe me!
I sorta snuck up behind him to my surprise, it was Playgirl he was looking at. Before I could say a word, I got one look at him and well, he took my breath away... So instead of kicking him out of the store, I whispered, “If you give me the money, I will buy that for you...”
He looked up at me (yes, up!) with those big doe eyes and with a trembling voice said, “Oh, would you? Could you?”
I did. The lady at the register, while a good friend, frowned at me. “You shouldn’t really do that, Ben...”
“I know. Are you gonna tell?”
She frowned again and said with a sigh, “No...”
I took the magazine to him in a bag and I didn’t know if he was going to cry or kiss me in gratitude. I gave him the magazine. He gave me his number. And when Rose saw him, she shook her head and admitted that she didn’t blame me at all.
Was this terrible that I would have kicked him out for looking at Playboy, but not Playgirl? Maybe... But I knew the agony of wanting to see naked men and not being able to. Most boys had the opportunity to sneak a Playboy, but there was true danger in being caught looking at Playgirl! I can even remember which issue it was!
Oh, I could sigh a million times thinking about those few dates. Dinner at my apartment, getting rid of the roommate so we could be alone (roomie didn’t know I was gay yet), taking him to his first gay bar (yes, illegally). Twice. Three times?
I realized that I might be falling for him about the time he realized he really was beautiful and that just about every gay man who saw him wanted him. That was exciting for him. Between one of our dates, a “friend” of mine took him to a bathhouse, where he proved to be very popular. Funny how that broke my young heart. He was telling me he didn’t want to date me anymore, he was saying he wanted to enjoy his coming out experience. A guy can get a bit giddy when he finally gets to be sexual with other guys. I certainly enjoyed the hell out of my first year. How could I deny him his?
I just didn’t want to share him.
Oh, he was so sweet... That night I nearly got in trouble with the law. Seemed David was a week or two short of that eighteenth birthday, so he wasn’t exactly legal either was he? I just want you to know that he was on the edge of seventeen and eighteen and I was barely twenty-one! Anyway, I got him home a tad late and his mother wrote down my license plate number. Was going to call the police! It was my Dad’s car! A coming out and possible jail sentence all in one!
David told his Mom that if she called the police, he would move in with his Father (his parents were divorced) and never talk to her again. It was a nerve-wracking 24-hours for all! But I didn’t’ get outted and I didn’t go to jail.
Amazing young man.
This “friend” I was telling you about convinced me that I was more worried about myself than I was of David being outted to his parents. Well, maybe I was! I was young myself. And I was looking at jail. David was looking at a life-style change. It may have sucked, but he wouldn’t have gone to prison. And I was no slouch in the looks department at twenty-one myself! So I would have been popular in the big house, and I doubt I would have like it one bit.
We parted company, all went our separate ways, but I couldn’t stop thinking about that young man. Ran into him a year or two later and he looked even better. Twenty-one suited him.
Now years pass...
I’ve been with a woman six yars, had a kid, dated some men, been in a ten year relationship with a man and broken up with him. This is right before I met Raymond, my lover of near nine years now. I am working for a doctor’s office that gets some free long-distance calls...
Okay, now, the scene is set.
I decide to try and call David. I check the Chicago white pages and discover - surprise! - there is only three Mitgreeknameopolis’! I call them. For old time’s sake. The first is a hang up call. The second warrants a gasp.
It’s a woman, David’s aunt. David died two months before. Two months. Shit. I am crying again.
His aunt starts crying. Seems she was pretty much the only family member that didn’t reject him. Not because he was gay, although it meant a rift started. It was because he had AIDS. He died alone in the hospital. His brother, whom he worshipped, wouldn’t come visit him.
The aunt wanted to know who I was and all I could say was that I briefly dated him and cared for him a lot and that I wished I’d called earlier. She wished I had too. I certainly couldn’t tell her that I took him to his first gay bar and through that he found people who put him in the fast lane, could I? She’d blame me. And wasn’t I already blaming myself. If I’d never bought him that magazine, never dated him, never taken him to a bar, would he still be alive today?
It’s not my fault I tell myself. Right? Even if he had waited until he was twenty-one to go to the bars, he could have contracted HIV at any time. In 1981, when I took him out, we didn’t now what HIV was. We didn’t really hear about GRID (the first name for AIDS, Gay Related Immune Disease) for another good three or four years. Larry Kramer didn’t write his play "The Nornal Heart" until, when? About ’85? (note: I didn't even know about the play until about '90) We didn’t know a whole lot in about 1984. They still thought poppers might be part of the disease!
All I know is that if Reagan had been willing to do something, who knows where this disease would be today. If the warnings had gotten out, would gay men in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s have played safer? Who knows? It was the gay sex liberation. We were fucking for our rights!
I tried to be straight there for awhile. I was with a woman the years that very first wave of HIV was really spreading. When she and I split, science had developed an even better test. I wasn’t sexually active with men when I was with her and that is probably why I am alive today. Or at least negative.
A whole lot of men aren’t so lucky. A whole lot aren’t with us any more. All because of AIDS.
I can’t do much about it. But I can walk. I don’t do this out of guilt. I do it so other young gay men can come out and be stupid when they're young (weren’t we all?) and make mistakes and not have to pay with their lives. I do it for all gay men who have died or who are dying. I am doing it so that I can do some small thing to help bring an end to this madness.
Is there an AIDS Walk in your city this year? If so, walk! It’s only like three miles. And you will be with hundreds of others unified together against AIDS/HIV.
No walk? Can’t do the walk?
Then will you sponsor me? Will you sponsor me even if you are walking? If so, you can go to my page and sponsor me at this site: http://www.firstgiving.com/kc_risenphoenix
Thank you for reading,