He Is Risen
The door buzzer startled me, as it always does, and I scrambled unneccesarily to press the "talk" button, as I always do.
It was Keith. The "JOSEPH?" thing is an old joke between us, from when I was apartment hunting and an old man decided he needed to teach me how apartment buzzers worked in NYC.
"I'll press da button and say "who is it?" and den you say "JOSEPH" and den I'll press da udda button and let youse in."
Keith was slow climbing the four flights to my apartment and by the time he got to the door, I was putting my coat on.
"Sorry to make you come all the way up, I shoulda just met you downstairs," I apologized.
"It's OK, I have to use your bathroom anyway," he said.
A few minutes later we were in his car, headed to meet friends for brunch in Chelsea. While he drove, Keith skillfully managed to answer his cell phone about five times, while cursing cab drivers, while smoking, while complaining about his ex-boyfriend, while changing the CD about 10 times, "Have you heard this? Have you heard this?"
Stopped at a light on 23rd Street, he said, "Sorry I was late getting to your place. My dad called me on the way to wish me 'Happy Easter', and I had to pull off because I just burst into tears."
I'm used to Keith saying things like that so I dryly replied, "Oh? I didn't know Easter was that important to you."
"Well, I told him that when I come home to see him next week-"
"To Atlanta?" I interrupted.
"Right. I told him that I had something very important to talk to him about. And he said my mom called and told him "It's HIV. I know it's HIV. Your son has HIV."
"Your parents are divorced, right?"
"Oh, yeah. For about 20 years," Keith said.
"But you're closer to your dad? That's kinda weird for a gay boy," I mused.
"Oh, my mom has always made it very clear that my brother was her favorite. Maybe I should have committed murder and gone to prison and she would have liked ME, too."
I looked at Keith incredulously. "Is that what your brother did? Killed somebody?"
"Yeah, but in his defense, I've heard it was negligent homicide," Keith said.
"'In his defense'? How long is he in prison for?"
"Life," Keith said and lit another cigarette.
If my thousands of hours watching Law & Order have taught me anything, it's that you don't get a life sentence for negligent homicide, but I didn't mention that to Keith.
"So how are you going to break the news to your dad?"
Keith is 37 years old and tested HIV positive several months ago.
"Well, I probably won't have to. He'll take one look at me and know," he said.
"From the weight loss?"
"Honey, you know you haven't lost all this weight from HIV," I pointed out.
"Well, which is worse? Should I tell him his son is a raging crystal addict? That I've spent the last few years going days and days on end without sleep or food while I fucked half of the city?"
For the last couple of years, Keith, once a mainstay of my New York world, had faded from my social life, appearing only randomly and unexpectedly. And I'd missed his sharp wit, his passion for music, and his generousity.
"And you think it's better just to tell him you have HIV?" I asked.
"HIV is something he's probably been expecting for 20 years. That I'm a tina whore isn't."
"Yeah, it probably isn't," I nodded.
"Anyway, I think the weight should come back pretty quick, now that I've stopped."
"How long has it been?"
"Last time I used was Christmas, so I've been clean for about 3 months," he said.
"But are you still wanting to do it?"
"Oh, all the time. But I've decided to get back out into the world and try to fill my time with the things we used to do, like you taking me to The Eagle last night. I could see some of those guys looking at me thinking, "I thought you were dead.""
"You don't think being in a nightclub around partying people might trigger you?" I asked.
"Sweetheart, crackheads like me aren't going to bars, we're sitting at home in front of the computer trying to hook up."
"Anyway, I told myself that 2005 was going to be a new start for me. This new job, the new apartment, breaking up with Carlos, getting clean. I'm starting over again." he said, and flicked his cig out the window.
"It's a whole new YOU!" I laughed.
"The bitch is back!" he said with a snap of his fingers.
We parked on 8th Avenue and I followed Keith into the restaurant, happy...but worried.