Thursday, August 23, 2012

wash that man

an parked his car in the lot where the road ended near the top of Mount Tam to meet a rocky trail that circled to the peak.  This is what Jerry wanted, the kind of thing some New Age tourist would want done, but Dan had promised.  He looked towards the summit and saw a red tail hawk float in a lazy circle against the blue as he hiked up into a dusty odor of wild fennel in the Indian summer heat.  Two people on their way down nodded pleasantly when he stood aside for them to pass.  As he made the top a breeze came up and Dan saw that he was alone, perfect.  He undid the band at the back of his neck and bent slightly to let the wind shake his pony tail loose and protect his neck from the sun.  Jerry had hated that long hair, ``The Summer of Love was twenty years ago, get over it.''
A 360 degree view, off to the west a haze that would be the Pacific ocean, to the north the country ran clear up to the redwoods, south was the City and east was the Central Valley and all the rest of America.  Dan stood there and gauged the wind as he pulled a plastic bag carried in a brown paper one and held it above his head and away, trying to think of something to say that might add meaning to the act, to make it something more than mere littering.
``So long Jerry,'' as he shook the contents into the air.  Gray ash dropped and sifted and rose to stream away in a rapidly disappearing cloud.

n retrospect the China trip was a mistake, it had the opposite effect from that of bringing them closer.  The long flights, stuck, squirming in their seats, the time changes, the round the clock companion became an ordeal as emotionally exhausting as the evening a year before when Jerry told Dan he was positive and had to tell him why.  They sat up all night talking, just talking; they had been so careful for so long.  Or at least one of them had.
Dan could remember their first night together.  They met at the River, Dan should have realized at check-in when he glanced across the lobby through the sliding glass to the pool deck where burly men with trimmed beards wearing Speedos and construction boots stood around holding drinks, hairy bellies protruding from unbuttoned leather vests, that he might want to spend the next two days at some other resort.  A Bear weekend, having to listen to their nauseating word plays in a Folsom Street bar was bad enough but you could easily leave a bar;  here Dan would be stuck.
He overheard ``Looks like someone could use a hug,'' before he was able to order a drink, caught the snide observation from men down the bar that ``There are other animals in this zoo,'' and nearly gagged when one grizzled guy growled, ``Come to pappa,'' because Dan mentally inserted the word 'bear' into each sentence.
If he had a gun Dan thought gazing around, he'd make himself a bearskin rug.
Jerry was not the kind Dan ever would've imagined he'd become involved with, but for a weekend fling sure why not.  Fate put them next to one another out by the pool, Jerry making catty remarks about everyone that passed by,  ``Jeeze, does that queen really believe anyone would believe she's a top?''  Introductions were unnecessary.
Dan couldn't tell exactly when he began warming to the guy but the next afternoon sitting in the sun again they ordered drinks, ``My treat,'' Jerry grinned as he looked over to wink, ``Honey.''
The obviously new waiter, swamped, visibly flustered, took forever to bring the two drinks and, after asking for three dollars and seeing the twenty Jerry held out, apologized, ``I'll have to go back inside to get your change.''  Jerry raised his head from the deck chair to peer up at the kid.  ``Keep it,'' he said as he rolled away, ``Maybe you'll be a little quicker next time.''
Reclined there on the wet concrete surrounded by sounds of splashing and carousing Dan saw the cub behind that gruff burly exterior.
So a weekend turned into weeks and then it made no sense to keep two apartments, Jerry enjoying the redecorating (``A place to hibernate, you know.'') and Dan plotting trips for him and the homebody.
But in time the playful curmudgeonly quips that had once made Jerry seem so personable and quick witted, that made you forgive him even when he overstepped bounds, became caustic and crude; eventually Dan moved out.  ``I'll make you regret this!'' Jerry snarled.  So when Dan got the phone call that Jerry was in 5A at SF General he joked to friends, ``I didn't realize the lengths Jerry would go through to make those words true.''
After that first crisis Dan stayed at Jerry's overnight, listening to him come awake from some terror; Jerry was so afraid to be alone, some tough guy.  But as the trips to General became more common, the priest coming in the room, the last rites, holy water and solemn incantations, maligna discordia, then Jerry pulling out of it and being released.  Dan would try to go back to his own place, ``Jerry the doctors said you're stabilized, they can't do anything more for you, I want to go home and get a good night's sleep for work.''
He'd take personal leave during the day to drive Jerry to the various appointments, the aerosal pentamidine, exams, counseling, the waiting rooms, he'd clean the fridge, toss out the foil containers, their white cardboard tops penciled with the contents, unopened, uneaten, delivered each day by Open Hand.
Dan remembered that last night with Jerry, once again last rites, the priest gone, after they discharged him, after they'd gotten back from the hospital.  Dan helped Jerry get into bed and then went to the doorway and turned.  ``I'm going home, I've got to work tomorrow, the doctors said you're OK.''
Jerry was adamant about Dan staying, begging, ``I'll do anything, just stay here with me this one night.''
``Do anything?  Anything, Jerry?''  Dan was overwhelmed by what he felt, exhausted mentally, physically, how many years now had they both been part of this?  ``Anything?  You're never going to get better.  If you'll do anything for me then you'll just die.''  Jerry's face contorted into a fierce scowl and then he realized how Dan meant those words.  Dan watched as the glaring face softened, as Jerry let go of his fear and lay back relaxed, at peace.  Jerry smiled at Dan as he closed his eyes and settled in for a long winter's nap.

s Dan watched the remains spread off into the blue above Mt. Tamalpias it seemed like Jerry got back at him one last time.  The wind shifted, whipped around to reverse its flow as the ash suddenly buoyed with spirit.  Dan screamed ``You fucking asshole!'' into the enormous sky overhead as a hard grit blew across his face and eyes, scattered into his hair and covered his clothing.  He drove back across the bridge working his mouth to clear the dry gravel irritant.  When he got home Dan stood in the shower looking down at his bare feet on the enamel of the tub, the water flowing sleek over the back of his neck and splatter to a swirl of shampoo suds pooling into the drain.  ``Right out'a my hair,'' he sang, ``Gonna wash that man right . . . right . . . right.''

❖       ❖       ❖

Dan was left to clean Jerry's apartment, toss out the last dinner boxes in the fridge, pack up personal mementos to send to his mother; he kept all the amber bottles of pills because you never know.  On the floor of a closet shoved to the back he found a box of porn videos, most showing a blond surfer type on the cover and thought, ``Thank god I dyed my hair before going to the River that weekend.''
You hold the yard sale, watch the posessions go to strangers because friends don't want to take advantage, what doesn't sell goes to Community Thrift, then you carefully pull the door on the empty room.  That's it, that's a life, end of story.  Next to nothing to show that this one person had ever existed on the planet.
Dan kept the apartment key for few months more, he just liked the feel of it in his pocket.  He made a quilt panel using a borrowed sewing machine and when he previewed the three foot by six foot blanket of cloth spread out on the living room floor Dan felt something was missing.  He got a pair of scissors, reached behind his head and cut off the pony tail that Jerry always hated.  Then he pulled a corner of the cloth back up to the machine, folded an edge over that length of hair and sewed it into the lining.