In Support of World AIDS Day


I feel very strongly about supporting the work of AIDS campaigners. The HIV virus devastates so many lives the world over, it’s utterly heartbreaking. All year long I save up my copper coins and five pence coins and come the end of November I count them up, take them to the bank and donate whatever I’ve saved to an AIDS charity – this year the UK branch of The Elton John AIDS foundation. It’s only ever a fairly modest amount, but I like to think it helps. The following little story is an adjunct to a series written under the guise of Tarn Swan and I present it here in the hope it will help raise AIDS awareness and just maybe encourage some small donations to AIDS charities.

 

 

A Letter from Steven - introduction

 

In the first instalment of The Stardust Diaries ‘Swan Songs…extracts from my life with Stardust Twinkles’… I make mention of a posthumous letter sent out from our friend Steven after his passing away from AIDS complications. This is a transcript of the letter in question, along with a postscript by Steven’s partner, Brian.

I hope that those of you that might read it will be moved to give at least a small donation to an AIDS charity, such as AVERT, or one of your choice. It doesn’t have to be much, just a few pence, cents, whatever you can spare.

AIDS is still very much a concern for all of us. It’s a global tragedy that impacts the lives of millions of men, women and children. Please give them your support. At the very least buy and wear a red ribbon on December 1st every year in memory of those whose lives have been stolen by AIDS.

Thank you

Tarn Swan
 

 

 

A Letter from Steven…


 

My dear friends,

Bear with me as I ask a seemingly abstract question: where does loneliness have its origins? Answer: I don’t know. I wish I did. Some people are never touched by loneliness while others are haunted by it all their days, even when in company. Maybe it’s a genetic thing, something you’re literally born with, or conversely something born with you as you pass from the safe, warm darkness of your mother’s womb into the sharp, uncertain light of life. It might lie dormant for a time, like a virus that you carry hidden within the cells of your body, just waiting for the right moment to announce its presence.


I was in my late teens when my own particular loneliness made known its full presence. Until then it had been a vague shadow, something that stalked the corners of any room I happened to be in. It was a thing sensed and glimpsed, but without clear form.
One day while walking through a summer marketplace crowded with people, the assorted vendors shouting their wares, the place a hubbub of sound, colour and motion, I suddenly stopped short for no reason I could think of, much to the exasperation of the busy people whose path I was blocking.


I felt all at once disconnected from the world around me. All I knew was that I was achingly lonely. Hard on the heels of this sudden understanding came awful awareness of something else, one day I would die. It took my breath away this sudden knowledge of my own mortality. A terrible sense of premonition washed over me. Standing there in the heat of a beautiful, shimmering August day, a day full of life with fresh strawberries and peaches scenting the warm air, I cried. I cried because I was lonely and I had suddenly become aware of my own mortality. From that moment on the tears never really stopped.
I saw a doctor who told me I was depressed. He sent me to see a therapist who in turn told me I needed to admit who I was to myself, and to then share that knowledge with whomsoever I chose. The implication of course, was that my ‘coming out’ as gay would make me less lonely and consequently less depressed.


So, I came out when I was nineteen, almost twenty. I had a good family who did not reject me after all. I also discovered the meaning of true friendship, though in the process I scored several names from my address book.


I took sex partners, perhaps I should say lovers, but in all honesty they were not lovers, they were just sex partners, fuck buddies as our American friends might say, lots of them. I, you see, came out with a vengeance, determined to be who I had been created to be, to have a good time and to banish the frightening spectre of loneliness. For a time I succeeded. Life was good. I was young, free and desirable. I had no time to be lonely.


Then a few years down the line, I got sick, with the flu. Only, as it turned out, it wasn’t the flu virus my body was harbouring it was HIV. My days of sexual liberality had caught up with me.


Suddenly I was back in that summer marketplace with life going on all around me, while I stood weeping from loneliness and a terrible awareness of mortality. The sense of premonition I’d experienced seemed justified. Death went from something that would occur sometime in the hazy future into something that might happen at any moment.
I crept back inside myself. My only bed partner was a shadowy creature called AIDS. It retired with me at night and woke up with me in the morning.


The first six months after diagnosis were the worst. Every blemish on my skin was a sign I was developing Kaposi’s sarcoma, every sneeze, every cough a sign that pneumonia was imminent. My depression returned and I entertained thoughts of suicide, of killing myself before this thing called AIDS killed me. Then I realised in effect I had already committed suicide. I had been playing Russian roulette with my life every time I had unprotected sex and I had lost, only, the bullet was still some way off yet, in suspended animation.

 
Gradually I calmed down and with some counselling I slowly learned to adjust and come to terms with my HIV status. The bullet would still come, I knew that, but then death is a bullet that comes for all of us at some point. The moment we enter into life it sets in motion, there is just no telling when it will strike. In my case it could be weeks, months or years. Drugs were getting better all the time and I could just as easily be killed in an accident as be killed by the thing I carried hidden within the cells of my body. I made an effort to continue with my life.


After anger and fear, guilt was the hardest thing to overcome, guilt about whom I might have infected while I carried the virus all-unknowing. Most of the men I had slept with didn’t even have names, well, not that I could remember, let alone phone numbers and addresses. They represented sex without commitment, one night stands without responsibility and one of them had infected me, and who knows how many I had then infected. I had little excuse. The dangers were known, but they happened to other people. Now I had to face a hard truth. I was one of the other people.


Coming to terms with my HIV status was one thing, but I found I also needed to come to terms with my reawakened loneliness. It stuck to my bones, a constant ache on waking and sleeping. It sat at the dinner table with me, worked at my desk, accompanied me to the cinema and the pub, a companion to the other virus that dwelled within me. There seemed every chance I would be lonely for whatever remained of my life. I tried to accept it as a form of destiny, perhaps even a punishment for my reckless promiscuity.


Then I met Brian, on a train of all places, on a bitter cold day in February. The train in question had broken down. We had exchanged glances throughout the journey and my mind was going through the evaluation process of, ‘is he, isn’t he gay, is he, isn’t he looking at me, am I projecting my own desires?’ Then suddenly he started a conversation about the halted train and how long we were likely to be stuck between stations.


Before long I had discovered his name, his favourite foods, his favourite films and books, plus the music he liked and how he earned his living. Those of you who know Brian know just how much he loves to talk.


I discovered he co-owned several bars and nightclubs, of which his personal favourite was a small establishment going by the name of The Pink Parrot. He described it as a leather and transvestite heaven peopled by exotic angels, and quite a few devils.


It was cold on the train and Brian noticed me shivering. Taking a flask from his pocket he offered me a sip of brandy. I hesitated, and he looked at me quizzically asking if I were teetotal. For some extraordinary reason I blurted out the fact I was HIV positive. I waited for one of the reactions I had come to expect, the slight drawing away, the look in the eyes, disgust, fear, or the opposite response of pity.


There was nothing. He just gave the flask in his hand an impatient little shake and I took it and had a sip of the warming fluid it contained. Then he took off his scarf and draped it carefully around my neck, tucking it inside my jacket. I almost cried at this tender kindness from a stranger. It was one of the most intimate things a man had ever done for me. This, I suddenly realised, was what I’d been searching and longing for all my life.


My greatest mistake was to equate sex with intimacy. I’d indulged in frenetic sexual activity when what I’d actually wanted was someone to put a scarf around my neck, to straighten my tie, to brush fingers through my hair, to help me shave, to hold my hand, someone to watch the sunset with, and someone to kiss me goodnight and kiss me again in the morning.


When I stepped off that train wearing Brian’s scarf, his hand at my elbow, it was as if I had passed through a portal and been reborn. I left something behind me, loneliness. Its ache had vanished from my bones.  The rest, as they say, is history, and if you’re reading these, my rambling written thoughts, then my dear friends so am I. I’m not bitter, so don’t cry for me. I’m so lucky I found Brian and through him some wonderful people who became wonderful friends.

Thank you all for the fun, the laughter and the support. I came to discover something he said on the train was true. The Pink Parrot is indeed a heaven whose exotic angels, and devils, accepted me without judgement. I love you all so very much.


I’m not ready to leave Brian, but I must. I knew my own particular bullet was in motion, travelling to catch up with me after the first bout of pneumonia, we both did. We talked and we planned and we made love and we enjoyed life and each other and we have said our goodbyes. I’ve told him he has to take other lovers, but I’ll be the only one waiting for him on the other side. There’ll be a train at a station and I’ll be in it, waiting to be reunited with my soul mate. I have no doubt that we’ll meet again.

Love you all, take care, live life, use condoms.
Steven K. xxx

 

Brian’s Postscript


I’ll always remember the ethereal silence, the subdued hush of that last day. Steven was too ill, too tired, too drugged to be able to speak. It didn’t matter. We no longer had need for verbal communication. All that remained to be said between us was being said in the simple touching of hands. Our touch grew stronger from fingertips to the warm embrace of palm against palm. Clasping tighter, I knew the time was approaching.


As his breathing slowed our eyes met for the final time. He smiled, I smiled back, and then his hand slipped from mine leaving a residual fast cooling sweat. Never in my life have I experienced such a profound sense of loneliness.


I know my life will go on, but I also know I will never love again, not with such intensity, such beauty. We were meant for each other and I thank God for the time I shared with Steven, my only wish is that it could have been longer. Even now when the phone rings unexpectedly my heart begins to beat faster and a futile hope emerges, that somehow the past few weeks have been a terrible nightmare and it will be Steven calling to say he’ll be home soon.


I will spend the rest of my days seeking his face on crowded buses, on busy streets, while knowing I am pursuing a lingering dream. I will treasure for all time the final moment when our two hands touched and communicated a simple, but perfect message of trust and love. He and I shared a unique experience of life. We had a shared consciousness, which is hard to explain, soul mates he said. I believe he was right, we were soul mates indeed. I look forward to the moment when I board that train and find my darling Steven waiting for me.

Brian