This is the 10th 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, Part 4 here, Part 5 here, Part 6 here, Part 7 here, Part 8 here, and Part 9 here.
For some people it's easier to take refuge and comfort in thoughts of dying than it is to paint themselves into the landscape of the living. Their pain becomes so great that all those things they love about life suddenly mean nothing to them. It's a state of mind that just about any of us can find ourselves in, particularly when we're sick.
Robert came home from the doctor and went right upstairs to the bedroom, skipping any pleasantries directed toward me, not even a "honey, I'm home." After about 15 or 20 minutes he descended the staircase purposefully, as if he was getting ready to greet dinner guests for an evening.
"I want to go out to eat, someplace nice, and don't take me to 2400 Diner," he said curtly.
"Well, what's the occasion?" I queried. "Good news from the doctor?" My questions went unanswered, and I'd learned earlier in life never to pursue unanswered questions. In Robert's case I learned not to ask any questions about his health or how he was feeling. At first he would say something like, "Let life unfold. You'll find out everything you think you need to know." Later on he would just give me an icy stare, and that would usually shut me up.
"I just feel like I need to get out tonight," he said. "Steak and shrimp. I'm hungry for steak and shrimp. Old Towne Steak and Seafood! I'll make the reservation now." There was urgency in his voice, as if he was preparing for a storm. Without even a before-dinner cocktail, I was in my dress slacks driving us to the restaurant.
Crystal candle holders and hickory-scented smoke from the fireplace had been waiting for us at Olde Towne Steak and Seafood. When everything about life is starting to look perfect, a plate of lobster tails with garlic mashed potatoes won't be too far behind. The bread was moist with butter. It had been drizzled on top, right after the loaves left the oven. For a while Robert let go of all that had been bothering him and enjoyed himself. He was at his best. To me there was nothing better than seeing him happy. Laughing and waving at anyone who looked his way, he was being the quintessential diva I had admired years ago in the piano bar in D.C. Now he was with me. I took my hand and held it under his cheek and told him I loved him. He gave me an "ahhhhhh" and told me he loved me, too.
"Thank you for an enchanting evening," he mused. "Now, let's hurry home before your car turns into a pumpkin."
The TV was blaring in the bedroom when we got home, and Robert found his place in the bed, right in front of the TV. I put on my silk PJs and asked him if he wanted anything downstairs.
"Bring me an apple, if we have any," he said.
I had started a habit of cutting off chunks of apples with a knife some time ago, and Robert adopted the same habit shortly after he moved in with me.
"It's not very sharp," he said. "Can you find another one?"
"Oh, good God, Robert, can you be any more of a diva?" I responded. I retrieved another knife.
When I returned, I found Robert stroking a swath of skin right underneath his rib cage. He looked directly into my eyes and said, "I can do this." I was stunned. What had been a magical night was now quickly developing into an anxious "what do I do now?" moment. I sat there with Robert on the bed, in silence. "And don't treat me like I'm one of those 8-year-olds you work with," he told me. "I know what I'm doing."
Is this a test of some kind? I thought to myself. A drama he planned, perhaps to make me stop loving him? The more I thought about it, the angrier I became. My anger wasn't so much directed at Robert but at AIDS. Now this third evil presence in our relationship was messing with his mind. It just wasn't fair to either of us.
Robert was starting to sweat. His eyes were filling with tears. He was holding the knife in front of his face. His arms and head were vibrating. The knife dropped onto the blanket. Then Robert curled up into a fetal position. The moment of desperation was over just as quickly as it had begun.
"I guess I want to live," he whispered. "Sorry."
"I'm OK," I said. "Let's go to bed." I put my arms around him.
"Don't leave me alone, OK?" he pleaded. "I know I'm being selfish, but I just don't want to be alone."
"I won't leave you, Robert, no matter what," I told him. As I snuggled up next to him, I noticed I was sweating, as well. I pulled away to get some air between us. Robert held my hand even tighter.
"One more thing," he added. "If it looks like I'm going to die, take me to the hospital. I'll die there. I know how you believe in spirits and all that. You'll stay awake all night, thinking I'm going to jump out of the closet and haunt you. Don't let me die in this house."
"OK, Robert, it won't happen here," I promised. This is probably not a good time to tell him I invited Frankie down next weekend, I thought. That would have to wait. I wondered about his doctor's appointment, as well. Something was going on with him, and whatever it was, it wasn't good.
To be continued...