Robert's Walk With AIDS (Part 5): Where I Came From

08/07/2012 10:29 am ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016

This is the fifth installment in a series of blog posts chronicling life with my partner, Robert, who died of AIDS March 21, 2002. Read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here, and Part 4 here.

Before I met Robert, I hung out with a man who bore a European title, a "Count" to be exact. I hesitate to use the word "date," because that would imply some normalcy to the relationship, and my relationship with Frankie* was anything but normal. Looking back on it now, I believe I was more of a servant, or at best, a tall escort. Reasons for this unlikely pairing have, and always will be a mystery to me. I met Frankie at the party of a mutual friend. Not really wanting to go to the party in the first place, I put it out of my mind until the very last minute. When my friend, Melanie, called and reminded me of my social obligations, I relented, and told her I'd meet up with her in an hour.

After jostling for a parking place in Rahn's neighborhood, where the party was held, I thought I'd just come in, pour myself a drink, find a good chair, wait a respectable amount of time, and then go home to a good book. Small talk bores me, and listening to a gaggle of Washington gay guys talking about their European vacations, new cars, and Latin boyfriends always makes me feel like I'm missing something that I don't really want in the first place. Meaningless drivel meant to impress one's friends and associates usually falls on deaf ears, because the ones you are speaking with are always trying to think of something they have accomplished even more impressive. Such is how boys in D.C. like to party.

When I entered the kitchen to fetch another drink, I noticed someone new. Clad in beige linen slacks with a matching shirt, sat a tawny-skinned, pony-tailed man speaking what sounded like French. "Euro trash," I thought to myself. When I returned to the living room, Rahn approached me and said that that someone wanted "to be presented to me."

"I'm Count Francisco de Palma. You can call me Frankie. Pleased to meet you," said Mr. Euro trash as he extended his hand.

While everyone at the table sat with little smirks on their faces, I replied, "I'm Gary, that's it, just me, Gary. What are you a count of? A country? Do you work?"

"I'm from Rio, but I spent most of my youth in Paris with my sponsor. I live with him now in Washington. I have a contract to design a spring line of clothing for Neiman-Marcus. That's what I'm working on now," Frankie replied.

"Oh, I'm getting ready for a spring line up too, of the Virginia Standards of Learning Tests. I'm the Test Coordinator for my school. Maybe we can plan a corresponding timeline somehow," I said cattily with my claws extended.

He stared at me with his big, bronze eyes and asked me to join him out on the deck for some privacy. I complied.

"You're very reserved, until you open your mouth," he told me.

I told him I was sorry if I offended him with my sarcasm, and that I was just a little jaded.

"Well, I like you. You are real. There are, how you say, phonies, in my world. They just want to use you," shared Frankie.

"I know what you mean. Posers, they're here at this party," I admitted.

Frankie asked, "Could you please take me home? My driver brought me here, and I'm afraid he's off this evening."

I took him home that night, but not before we stopped at The Crew Club and another sex club in the S.E. quadrant of Washington where we watched two guys taking turns "fisting" each other, one of Frankie's favorite past times.

"You know it's very safe, if you use a glove," confided Frankie.

As I pulled into the embassy residence that Frankie shared with his "sponsor," I found myself angry at the kind of person I had become. My life was a series of meaningless adventures that left me feeling numb. I knew I was changing when Frankie invited me to the annual Red Cross Ball to be held in South Beach, and I didn't get excited. Ordinarily a chance to rub elbows with the rich, but not so famous, would at least pique my interest, but I didn't seem to be interested at all.

"I will call you. I've got your number," said Frankie.

On the way home, I passed by the place where the bar Friends used to be. I missed that place. Everybody there was friendly. We were all there to celebrate our love of disco and show tunes. "The world is different today," I thought to myself. I wasn't sure where I belonged.

When I got home that night, I turned the TV on to quell the lonely sighs I was making. It was one of those country stations that had been playing "The Best of Dolly Parton" the afternoon before the party. June Carter Cash was being interviewed. I listened.

"Well, right now, at this point in my life, I just want to matter," she said.

I knew what she was talking about. It was as if June Carter Cash brought me out of the heat into the shade. It was a purpose in life that I was missing. I wanted to matter, too.

After work the next day, I stopped by the local HIV/AIDs service organization and filled out a volunteer application. Christmas was around the corner, the season of giving. For the first time in my life, I felt in sync with the rest of the world.

*All names have been changed, except Robert's and mine.