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23 Years Ago Today…

It was December 30, 1993, and I had just woken up in bed next to a dead man.

He was my partner of 8 years, and he’d died in the night of complications from AIDS. The killer, I suspect, was a brain tumor that had taken out his speech centers the night before, making him mostly unintelligible just before bed time.

As you do in death, he shit himself. He’d been wearing adult diapers to bed for a while [because disease and death enjoys nothing more than humiliating you with loss of control] so no worries.

I can’t say I recommend this as an uplifting morning routine.

Details are sketchy [it was 23 years ago], but I can only assume I covered him and made coffee before the long list of phone calls had to made. Family, friends, mortuary and the like. It was probably early, too. I have a pathetically sturdy circadian rhythm, so I probably woke around 6 am and, nice guy that I am, wanted to give everyone a chance for their own coffee and quiet time before I shoveled a steaming pile of bummer into their New Year’s Eve eve.

Interestingly, I learned that morning that you don’t have to call the police when you wake up next to a dead body, so long as the death is not a total surprise. Unless you suspect foul play, you’re good. Unless you think something other than an health-related something or other did a person in, you don’t have to have an autopsy, either. Good to know, right? You’re welcome.


Phone calls were made. His sister arrived (and can I say, damn! black women know how to grieve). Undertaker arrived. Case manager from the health center arrived. Doctor. A whirlwind. Aside from his sister’s operatic grief, the only things I remember clearly are the morticians carrying him out, still wrapped in our bed clothes, in a black body bag, and the arrival of my friend T. with a fifth of bourbon.

While the details of the day are hazy at best [and hazier, after the liberal application of bourbon as we held a tiny wake], I am visited by ghosts of that day, regularly: the dawning realization of death beside me in bed; the cold stone of his forehead against my lips; his sister’s wailing.

Some days, like today, they all pop in for a visit: curling up in bed with me, so we’re all cheek by jowl in the wee-smalls; just skating by the peripheral of consciousness and tickling the nape of my neck so I am suddenly misty at work; finding myself Googling long-lost friends of the time to see how they’ve changed. All that.

I won’t lie. It’s been a bad, bad year. Battling depression. Battling assholes who don’t understand depression. Battling the world at large. Fighting your own demons. And the ghosts.

As you get older, you collect more ghosts. More dates that should be circled in red on the calendar because someone died on that day. Or the birthdays of your growing circle of dead friends and relations. Social media is also fan-fucking-tastic at reminding you. Thanks, Timehop! And pets, lets not forget them. Days you want to crawl into a hole and pull the hole in after. Days you need to be kinder to yourself and other people because you’re liable to be a dick.

All this while your heroes are dropping like flies, too, in the wake of this great flit gun of a year. Around Christmas and New Years and Hanukkah and solstice and whatever the fuck else you’re pressured to celebrate and be happy about. Oh, and work, too, where you’re supposed to suffer fools gladly and smile while you do it.

Meanwhile the ghosts keep circling–a set for New Year’s and another for Little Christmas. Christmas itself is the festival of absent friends and loved ones, a Swiss Cheese of a holiday defined by who and what have gone missing over the years, until it itself is the Ghost of Christmases Past, gibbering in a sheet and clanking its chains.

So, uh, yeah. Holidays are rough. Jingle, jingle.

Congratulations on getting this far, both in this ramble and the year. Help is always handy, if you need it, here or here, and you can always Google up some free or low cost local mental health services near you, if you need in-person attention.

Peace out.

Published inAutobiographical