the day i stopped dancing


image credit: ryan pfluger

(this post was originally published in 2007- 3 years into my recovery- i’ve worked through a lot of trauma and grief since then- but i still remember- and give thanks)

i am working on my thanksgiving post a bit early as i have a full day on thursday. i am supposed to jog with my buddy first thing in that morning, but it is also supposed to be very, very cold and i don’t know if i will make it. i am cooking a turkey for the rocky mountain roundup speaker/dinner, dropping it off, and going to my cousin and his partner’s home for my actual meal. my mom, aunt and uncle are going and they haven’t done a home dinner in the last few years. they have eaten out because they don’t have to cook or clean up after which makes some very good sense to me.

i am looking forward to the whole day, and i’m spending tomorrow night at my cousin’s house. i’m sure we’ll hear some of the same old stories that usually get told at family functions. we were a pretty close knit crew in illinois and that has carried over to most of us here. it’s not the same, but it’s very familiar and that is a blessing.

one of the stories i will not hear this year is my last thanksgiving in chicago. i am going to write about it here and hopefully the tale will unravel itself a bit differently than it has in the past. i have spun this yarn on a few occasions, but i have always kept the focus the part where i am the victim. and honestly, thanksgiving still is a challenging emotional trek because of the drama on this day. it really is the day i stopped dancing. the last day that is until i started channeling velvet- but that’s a tale for another day.

in 1985, i had gotten an apartment with my best friend paul the previous year. we had shopped and hunted for 3 months for that beautiful soon-to-be condo on logan blvd. 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, full kitchen, dr, front and back balcony. it truly was stunning. but on the day we were moving in, paul was completely tuckered. i remember him sitting on the back of the rental truck, saying he just couldn’t move any boxes. He was exhausted. and before we finished, he insisted he go to the hospital. we complied, and he was admitted and was in the hospital for about a month.

i went to visit him in that place every day. the first couple of days, i donned a hospital gown, mask, and gloves, but soon decided to put them aside after that. i wasn’t going to be looking at him dressed like an alien, or like i was afraid to be near him. i wasn’t. i loved him. still do. and i wasn’t going to cause him any extra anxiety. i would bring him meals from some of our favorite restaurants. the hospital food sucked, of course, and i knew he needed to eat. we had a very pleasant time being food snobs in there and would laugh together and became closer, without ever really discussing the elephant in the room. i couldn’t go there emotionally.i now know it’s called denial, but then i thought of it as survival. i remember one day going to visit him, and finding him in his room alone, with a fever so high that his body was convulsing, jumping up and down on the bed with no assistance. it scared the shit out of me, watching him jerking up and down like darryl hannah losing life in blade runner. i left in horror and came back a couple of hours later, never speaking a word to him about what i had seen.

my drug use started to escalate after this. the cocaine use was incessant and i drank vodka to counteract the effects of the cocaine. numbing became my priority. this actually caused paul to move back in with his parents, and my friend robbie (foxy)moved in. poor fox- he had no clue as to the mess he was entering. but that’s another story.

fast forward to thanksgiving 1986. paul had been living with his family for a few months now. he had been in and out of the hospital. i had invited about 8 friend over for a holiday feast. i spent all day preparing the food. turkey rubbed with butter and tamari, baked with apples, onions, and cranberries, stuffing, brussel sprouts, home-made cobbler, etc. as the day progressed, the weather took a turn for the worse. a thunderstorm took hold. one-by-one calls with cancellations started to come in. it had become dark outside, and the last call came from my friend blue. i think he really had waited until he absolutely knew he couldn’t get there. no cabs were running etc. i remember sitting at the head of the table, looking at the fitz and floyd and the crystal candle holders and feeling stunned. the phone then rang again, and it was paul’s brother on the phone. he wanted to let me know that paul had passed a few hours earlier that day. he had gone peacefully and was no longer suffering. i returned back to my seat and looking over the empty but well laid table, clutched my wine glass and took a big swig. a huge lightning bolt back lit the entire sky, was followed by an earsplitting crack of thunder, and the power in my apartment was knocked out. there i sat in the dark, and found myself feeling more alone and more confused than i could remember. and i was a victim. and i had imprinted that pained mask onto myself and held it there for a good 20 years.

i have managed to let go of that branding i did. i honestly loved paul, and was completely a mess having lost him. i laughed so freely with him, and he understood so many things about me that i always felt shame around, and never did anything but expect me to succeed. we dined a lot, and we read a lot of books- mostly the classics, and the “gay” authors. we participated in salons of a sort with a few other friends, and would drink wine and read aloud from books like “To The Lighthouse” by Virginia Woolf, “On The Road” by Jack Kerouac, and my favorite “Orlando” by Woolf as well. We talked about Vita Sackville West and Virginia, about Paul Bowles and his entourage, Kerouac and his mary-men lol, Stein, Toklas, and the ex-pats….

today, i am thankful i have let go of that old albatross that was choking me through the years. i have moved on to another perception of that time and that day. i am not frozen, i am living and participating again. i am again among the living, and am not in the throes of the walking wounded. i can celebrate today without anesthetizing. i can struggle and maintain. i can look forward and think of a future in practical terms, in lieu of living in a fantasy and only seeing the future as a sparkling illusion. i am so very glad paul was in my life. i am so blessed that he saw me for exactly who i was and loved me because of it. this is something that will never be replaced. and something that will never be lost.

today i see that life is a banquet, and i spent way too much time
starving myself. there is more to life than one singular sensation.

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