I remember there were nights when I lay still in bed, on my side, facing the door like I always did. Eyes shut tightly, trying to fade away from the present and past and the future that swirled below me, a pool of sorrow that I constantly dangled above.
And when I finally settled into warmth and fuzzy, blurry nothingness the door would creak and I would be sharply pulled back into the world. And then it would be just you, shuffling against the floor and that hoarse breathing…and the hesitation I could feel and I would open my eyes just a little.
And then you would say quietly, as though you shouldn't, I was cold and then um…and did I say okay or was it you?
I would close my eyes and sink back and then it would be the same as before, but warmer. You pushed your cold, skinny hand into mine and I could feel the rough scarring on the fingertips from years of guitar and you would clutch tightly because you were afraid I would let go. It was always like that with you, years of being let down by friends, girlfriends and life and you wouldn't let this go, not this tangled, stained friendship that seemed to be nearing its end.
You fell asleep still holding tightly and yet I would remain awake, suddenly not wanting to sleep, not wanting those secret hours of you stolen away by pointless dreams. There would be plenty of dreams to come, months of dreams and memories of the hours when I wouldn't sleep, just listen to your ragged breath. And I lay the moth-eaten comforter over our shoulders and tugged it to your neck, so I could preserve the faint heat I felt from your body.
Sometimes while walking through the park or buying a newspaper everything comes back, not a rush of emotion but a gentle wave. And I think, I had a friend, didn't I? Didn't we used to take walks together…and we stopped when you were in withdrawal because you couldn't, no wouldn't, leave that stuffy, awful apartment where you punched the walls and threw plates and sobbed with the pain. And you didn't believe it would get better but it did. I told you it would.
And then when we thought you were alright, suddenly you weren't and we slid back down. I couldn't pull you back up but I tried, your fingers slipping away from me in those last few months.
They have names, September and October and November, capitalized not for the sake of the language but because of the events they represent, at least for two people and now one.
September when we sat in the park, you wrapped in a ratty blanket and the sweaters we bought half-price in June, because nobody else at Macy's needed to be bundled up that sweaty summer.
And you played guitar and sang and I didn't say anything about your raspy voice and the coughing. And sometimes you slept on the bus ride home, while I pretended to pay attention to the stops and not care about your CD4 count or what I could salvage for dinner.
October when I forced you into the hospital and that sterile, teal bed with guard rails and you said I don't need to sleep in a crib and I wished you wouldn't make this harder for both of us…
We seemed to be back in kindergarten that month, learning the alphabet…meaningless combinations of letters and numbers with unlisted side effects that we discovered as we went along. AZT that turned your fingernails black and made you so nauseous we spent whole days together sitting by the toilet, you panting and sweating with fever and me wiping your forehead with a damp cloth, watching the hours blend into each other. And you were losing weight, 3 pounds and then 5 pounds the next week when you had pneumonia and I couldn't visit you.
We stopped counting in November. I brought you home from the hospital. I remember so clearly that you were wearing a dark green windbreaker and my black sweater that drooped around your thin shoulders and you had that blanket I had to throw out after because it smelled too much like you.
Maureen came over and hung up tinsel around the windows and we had butter cookies, which Benny was embarrassed to have baked. You were resting on the sofa and we sat around in mismatched chairs. Benny kept rocking back and forth on the uneven legs of his, clicking against the wooden floor the way your cane did when I made you use it.
We talked and laughed and you smiled that big grin that covered your whole face, exposing your pale gums and yellow teeth and it made me smile because you hadn't laughed like that since August, but that's another memory...
Merry Christmas, though it wasn't yet December, we hurried through the holidays, clutching hands and laughing and crying and watching the blur of people who visited pass by. Time went by so quickly I lost my bearings and ended up upside, all the feeling draining out of me on December 5th, a day the used to mean nothing and now meant everything in the world.
Oh, Rog, would you forgive me that I sat in your seat by the window, hoping so hard I would become you, somehow? Clutching your guitar and not knowing who I was anymore, I just sat watching the snow swirl down. It was so thick I couldn't see past the frozen fire escape, only the beads of rainbow colored light that reflected off the snowflakes.
You would have liked that, Rog. December was your best month, and it always had been.