Twenty years ago, my brother died of AIDS. I think about him a lot – nearly every day – and for some reason I am compelled to talk about him now. This is probably going to be a ramble so if you don’t feel like indulging me, it’s okay.
He was a funny kid – a bit of a loner. Chubby from day one and always made fun of by the other kids because of it. Looking back on it now, I wonder if he was diabetic, it does run in my family and he was positively addicted to sugar. He used to drink Hersey’s chocolate syrup straight from the can.
Whenever we argued about what to watch on television, he would win the argument by sitting on me. Decision made.
He was an artist. He always could draw and paint and did it effortlessly. And he would draw on anything. The last piece I had of his, was drawn on an old grocery bag – it was a self-portrait – very telling because I could see the resignation in his eyes.
He also was an actor and a comedian and was in countless school plays and skits. His most notable performance was of the father in the musical “Bye, bye, Birdie.” I remember sitting in the auditorium and watching him be so goofy onstage and how much people laughed at his antics.
When he was 21 he married his first and only girlfriend, Ginny. She was a sweet and shy girl. They had a daughter, Rebecca about a year later. Adorable, with big brown eyes with the nickname of Bunky. My parents adored her.
I fell out of touch with him for a while – sending and receiving the occasional letter. He was in Michigan and I was in California. Mom sent me pics of their new son, Andrew and a bit of news here and there.
Then came the letter. He had realized he’d been living a lie and was gay. I was stunned and yet not. Maybe somewhere in the back of my mind I had wondered about it. Naturally, since I come from a midwestern, blue-collar family, all hell broke loose. My parents ending up divorcing – his ex moved away and took the children. Alan, my brother, stayed in Michigan for a while and then moved to parts unknown.
For years, I interogated my mother about Alan. Did she know how he was? Where he was? How I could reach him? And she always insisted she did not.
About six months before he died, I had a horrible dream that we were both trapped on a tropical island and I watched as two men killed him. I tried to call out but could make no sound. I couldn’t move, I was helpless to help him. I woke and called my mother and asked her if he was sick or if something was wrong. She insisted he was okay but still would not tell me how to reach him or where he was.
In the summer of 1986, my little sister came out to spend the summer with me, my other sister was living in California at the time and my mother was on a cross-country vacation with her new beau. When she landed in California, we decided to all get together for a girl’s night. Which turned into a nightmare.
After a couple of glasses of wine, mom started to break the news to us. Alan had AIDS and was dying. Both my sisters and I were stunned and freaked. Not knowing what to say or do or how to feel. It was one of the most horrible days of my life. Fear and concern for him, regret of all the time I didn’t spend with him, all the laughs we never had, all the forgotten birthdays, the ‘I-love-you’s’ never spoken.
A sense of urgency overtook me and I stayed up all night writing him a letter – telling him everything that was in my heart. Telling him that there were no axes to grind, I loved him and always did and that was all that mattered. And that he shouldn’t worry about anything. He was loved, nothing to forgive. Period. I fed-exed the letter and heaved a sigh of relief when I got confirmation he had received it. I was mad at myself for not having the money to fly out – so broke at the time. I should have found a way, but I didn’t.
I called his ex, who had recently resurfaced with the kids and told her about Alan and gave her all the contact info for the hospital. I called my father and aunt and just everybody trying to find out more information because my mother had just disappeared on her vacation and nobody knew where the hell she was.
The next day my aunt called and told me Alan had passed away. His lung had collapsed and he didn’t survive the surgery. I spoke to his doctor and to his nurses. They were wonderful and kind people and talked to me for hours. For that, I thank them. I also spoke to the two friends who were with him the whole time, to the bitter end – Barbara and Jamie. To me, they are angels. I thank God, that they were there and that he didn’t die alone in a hospital in Boston.
I discovered he received my letter and his friend, Jamie read it to him many times before he died. And that the letter meant something to him. God bless Fed-Ex!
Unfortunately, Ginny didn’t have the time to get to Boston with the kids to say goodbye to their dad – but at least they knew where he was and what had happened to him. What comfort that is for them, I don’t know. And I have tried over the years to be whatever kind of connection I could be for them to him.
He was my brother and I loved him. And I miss him still. The world lost an artist and I lost my first best friend.