The third time I lost a lover I was 36: it was my first husband, the father of my children, the heart of my heart, a gay ex-figure skater I met at Mardi Gras in 1983, which had started out looking a lot like 1982 but was transformed into something else entirely. He was a beautiful young man, and beautiful things formed effortlessly in his wake: double axels, rosebushes, pale yellow-green cocktails made from Pernod. When I saw him tending bar in the French Quarter, I fell in love with him immediately, as did everyone.
Improbable as it seemed and seems, he loved me back. And so began his remarkable transformation from tank-topped Disco Thing to ponytailed stay-at-home dad. It helped that he was a person who felt no need to make sense of things, that despite his cool affect he was driven purely by emotion. Skater, hairdresser, gardener, lover of wall treatments, Virgin of Guadalupe icons and synth-pop compilations on cassette tape: yet when you saw him with his little sons, who slept in their baby seats on the floor of the hair salon, there was no doubt as to his true calling.
By the time we got married, we knew he was positive and I wasn’t. His old friends were already dying. I wholeheartedly believed we would be spared, but perhaps he did not.
There were six good years and two nightmarish ones, during which we took a fair shot at outdoing the virus in wrecking our own lives. Then there was the day he checked out of the hospice and came home to die. He had lived too long in the valley of the shadow, where time bloats up as if having an allergic reaction to your presence, where a week has a million days.
It made me sick when just four months after he gave up, better drugs were announced, but I don’t know if he would have waited even if he knew. Our brother-in-law, The Carpenter, had sent him postcards from a road he never wanted to see.
Many years later, when they were almost men, I gave his boys the tape he made them before he died, a tape I had listened to once and slipped into a drawer. They sat side by side on the bed, unbearably tall and handsome, one with the recorder on his knees, the other pretending to do something on his laptop. What sports do you play? asks their father, his voice high and soft from the morphine drip. He thinks he’s talking to the little guys who just visited him at the hospice. Are you taking good care of Mama? Do you remember the day at Grandmom’s when the boat floated away and Daddy had to jump in and save it so we could get home?
Marion Winik is the author of First Comes Love (Random House, 1996) and The Glen Rock Book of the Dead (Counterpoint, 2008.) Her other books are Telling (Random House, 1994); The Lunch-Box Chronicles (Random House, 1998); Rules for the Unruly (Simon and Schuster, 2001); Above Us Only Sky (Seal Press, 2005) and Highs in the Low Fifties: How I Stumbled Through the Joys of Single Living (Globe Pequot Press, 2013). She has also published two books of poetry, Nonstop (Cedar Rock Press, 1981) and Boycrazy (Slough Press, 1986).
Marion’s Bohemian Rhapsody column appears monthly at BaltimoreFishbowl.com, and her essays and articles have been published in The New York Times Magazine, The Sun, The Utne Reader, O, Salon, and Real Simple, among others. Her commentaries for All Things Considered are collected on the npr.org website, and she regularly reviews books for Newsday and Kirkus Review. A professor in the MFA program at the University of Baltimore, Marion was the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Creative Non-Fiction and has been inducted into the Texas Institute of Letters. She has appeared on the Today Show, Politically Incorrectand Oprah.
To learn more, visit marionwinik.com.
This piece appears in The Glen Rock Book of the Dead.